Ballard in command at Perot Systems GS
Former Navy submarine engineer plots a course into the federal market
- By David Hubler
- Nov 13, 2006
Perot Systems’ decision to aggressively pursue federal information technology contracts was no fluke, said Jim Ballard, chief operating officer of Perot Systems Government Services. It was a carefully considered decision by company founder H. Ross Perot and his son, Ross Perot Jr., chairman of the board.
“What they told us was they were looking for steady growth, a stable platform,” Ballard said.
Ballard was chief operating officer at ADI Technology when Perot Systems bought the company in 2002. H. Ross Perot asked Ballard, a former Navy submarine engineer, to remain onboard. Ballard led ADI from 1997 to 2002 when its annual revenue grew from $7 million to $67 million.
To further establish the new company in the federal sector, Ballard orchestrated the purchase of IT provider Soza and Co. The companies came together as Perot Systems Government Services (PSGS).
As a midsize company, PSGS has considerable flexibility, Ballard said. “We can afford to be maybe a little quicker, maybe a little more agile than some larger company that is tens of billions of dollars in size and has a similar bureaucracy as the government.”
Under Ballard’s leadership, PSGS has grown from $4 million to $270 million in annual revenues in four years, according to data from Perot Systems.
“Some of the larger companies have gotten so large they’ve lost touch with their customers,” he said. “Some of the smaller businesses are not able to jump in and do the large things the government needs to do.”
Ballard spent the past four years steering PSGS into partnerships in the intelligence and homeland security communities and with the Defense Department.
“We’ve gone after very specific agencies that we think have a penchant — or at least some inkling or desire — to perhaps make a change, to take a chance,” Ballard said. “We’ve made sure that we’ve done very well in those markets so that the agency we’re working with develops a level of confidence in us and trusts what we can do.”
Ballard said two large contracts the Education Department recently awarded PSGS are examples of how he expects the company to operate.
“We were able not only to be successful and start a very nice partnership and relationship with the Department of Education, but we delivered ahead of schedule,” he said. The goal now, he added, is to use that experience to show other agencies how PSGS performs.
Ballard said he wants to double the company’s current annual revenue in the next few years to make PSGS a long-term, middle-market player. “That’s a reasonable target,” he said, adding that the company is a member of Boeing’s SBInet contract team and a prime contractor on the Homeland Security Department’s Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge Solutions contract.
“Clearly [homeland security] is an area we’re going to grow in,” he said.
Ballard said he believes that now is an extraordinarily challenging time for government, which is suffering from a generation of retiring executives, budget reductions and attempts by Congress to make federal agencies run more like businesses. “All that’s created an opportunity for us to step in,” Ballard said.
Ballard’s willingness for PSGS to embrace risk and take on tough tasks flies in the face of what he learned at the Navy’s Defense Management College. “The thing they told you was, ‘You’re not going to get fired if you hire IBM.’”
Ballard acknowledges that he and his staff spend months getting to know various agencies and departments and assessing their needs — “standing in their shoes,” he calls it — before making a sales pitch.
“There’s nothing worse on the government side than having someone who’s an IT person coming in and saying, ‘OK, I have this IT solution. Do you have a problem that might be able to work with it?’ instead of the other way around,” he said.
Dan Cornell, an investment banker at Stifel Nicolaus, said Ballard is a skillful deal- maker. Cornell helped Ballard sell ADI and buy Soza, deals that would not have happened, he said, if Ballard had not been an effective relationship manager. “He made sure the relationships between the founders of Soza and the people at Perot stayed strong. Jim was very instrumental in getting the deal done.”
Cornell said in merger and acquisition deals Jim showed concern for the employees. “Everything from Jim’s point of view was, ‘How do we take care of the employees? I want to take care of the employees.’ [It was] not ‘show me the money and how to get it.’”
Despite his heavy workload, Ballard squeezes in time for travel and leisure activities, such as mowing his lawn. “I like the way it looks when it’s done,” he said, laughing.
David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.