Boosting Wang's recovery
- By Margret Johnston
- Aug 02, 1998
James Hogan, president of Wang Government Services, may not have much experience with the federal information technology market, but that does not seem to have hindered his ability to run a company geared toward serving federal agencies.
Hogan graduated from the General Electric Co. training center outside New York, where GE sends its managers for development courses that include sessions with the company's legendary chairman and chief executive, Jack Welch. Hogan said he has been able to apply Welch's invaluable lessons— focusing on strategic planning and the value of people— to his duties at Wang.
"One of the things I pride myself on is being with General Electric for 25 years," Hogan said in a recent interview at the division's office in Tysons Corner, Va. "I went through that whole era of Jack Welch, so I'm very deeply rooted in strategic planning.
"Hopefully, I brought [to Wang] some of my previous experience with GE," he added. "Because I was managing those kind of industries there in which things were moving very quickly and [I] had to make quick decisions."
The management background he gained witnessing Welch's reshaping of GE has proved invaluable at Wang, one of the oldest and best-known IT companies and one of the few that has returned from the brink of ruin.
Hogan is in his second year as president of Wang Government Services and in his eighth at Wang Global, which earlier this year capped its comeback with the $390 million purchase of Olivetti SpA, its new computer and network services subsidiary.
Hogan started in the finance department at GE in 1964. He migrated to marketing after nine years, holding a variety of jobs before becoming general manager of the audio/video systems operations for the company's consumer electronics business. In that fast-moving environment, Hogan gathered the experience needed to survive the cutthroat competitiveness of PC sales.
"The whole nature of the consumer electronics business focuses on how you make the product better and cut the price," Hogan said. "That's why I was asked to come to Wang, because the parallels [with the PC industry] were very much the same."
In 1990 Hogan started at Wang Laboratories Inc.— the company's moniker before it became Wang Global— as a senior vice president and president of PC systems. He arrived only a few months after Joe Tucci, who became chief executive in January 1993 after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Wang, despite its reputation and size, missed the PC revolution, but Tucci initiated a turnaround.
Tucci's first move was to ditch Wang's hardware business. The company emerged from bankruptcy in 1994 with a solid imaging software business and its Network Services Division intact. Tucci decided to run with services, selling the imaging division for $260 million and using the proceeds to fund an aggressive acquisition strategy.
Hogan clearly approves of Tucci's plan. Hogan defines one of the first laws of marketing as identifying a business segment in which you can be the leader. And for Wang, that business segment is services, he said.
He added that procurement reform in the government sector ran parallel with, and in some ways helped fortify, the comeback of his parent company.
"We knew that if we wanted to grow [in Northern Virginia], we had to look at new innovative ways of [selling to agencies]," said Hogan, who was born in the Bronx but speaks in a businesslike manner with the clipped cadence of a New Englander. "There have been a lot of changes down here in terms of the way people want to buy."
Wang still lands major contracts, but task-order-generated deals comprise an increasing percentage of its government business, Hogan said.
In his self-described role at Wang Government Services as a "change agent," the division has received contract awards that reflect positively on his leadership. In June the division got a piece of two of the biggest federal outsourcing contracts ever awarded as one of seven vendors on the $13 billion Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA and one of eight on the $9 billion General Services Administration's Seat Management program.
Promoting Internal Awards
Earlier this year Wang Global become a preferred service provider for all Dell Computer Corp. products used by federal agencies, expanding an existing relationship between the two companies. It also renewed and extended relationships with Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc.
Hogan also is proud of his move to re-invigorate an internal awards program at Wang. He oversees the quarterly presentation of a "presence" award and a "values" award as well as awards handed out by each of his vice presidents. Hogan said the awards are important mechanisms to emphasize the value the company places on its employees. "We try to single out not just individuals per se, but just to create role models," he said.
In addition to the awards, the company has increased spending on training. Hogan said awards and training go hand-in-hand with improving retention and assimilating the cultures of Wang's newly acquired companies. Hogan also views them as his biggest challenges.
The company came up with an innovative way to tackle the labor shortage by offering a new incentive program to reward employees with cash and a grand-prize Volkswagen Beetle for recruiting IT talent. On the day of the interview, Hogan was scheduled to participate in the kickoff of the program in an appearance before the local troops— an appearance that required him to wear a Hawaiian shirt and dance to Beach Boys tunes. In the spirit of Jack Welch, Hogan seemed eager to take the pitch directly to his employees and communicate with them outside the formal corporate structure.
Wang is no longer looking into the abyss. But Hogan knows that in today's corporate world internal communication can keep the company from revisiting the precipice.