Embracing change

When Jerry Agee was growing up near Roanoke, Va., one of the things he wanted most was to see the world. He has spent his career fulfilling his wanderlust.

In 21 years with the Navy and 11 with TRW Inc., Agee, who was promoted last month to vice president and general manager of the company's Federal Enterprise Solutions Strategic Business Unit, visited places from Kentucky to Sri Lanka. Along the way, he learned to embrace change - an attitude that guided him through the military and corporate ranks.

"I do not like to do the same thing time and again," he said. "I become bored about every two or three years. Once a job became routine, it was not very intellectually stimulating, [so I] tried to gather more responsibility."

After graduating from Florida State University, Agee enlisted in the Navy in 1965, as the Vietnam War was heating up. He was assigned to intelligence - another early ambition - traveling to Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe as he rose to the rank of commander.

Over time, he saw how information technology played an increasingly important role not only in gathering intelligence but also in other government operations. By the time he was ready to retire from the Navy, in the mid-1980s, he had decided to launch his next career in the IT industry. TRW hired him in 1987.

He has continued to travel frequently, visiting customers across the United States as well as in China, Japan and several European countries.

His most recent position was program manager for TRW's $300 million Integration Support Contract with the Internal Revenue Service. TRW managed integration for the IRS' embattled Tax Systems Modernization project, landing the company in the crossfire between the agency and Congress. When the project failed, TRW helped the agency pick up the pieces by crafting the blueprint guiding current system development efforts.

For Agee, the experience was evidence of what is now conventional wisdom in the federal IT marketplace. "On something of this magnitude, it really takes the contractor and the government working in partnership to make it happen," he said. "There can't be simply one person going off and doing the work with his back to the other."

Now Agee has charge of all of TRW's civilian business, including some of the federal government's largest contracts. The company runs the Treasury Department's data network under the $1 billion Treasury Communications System contract as well as a $187 million pact to provide data-capture services for the 2000 census, a $120 million piece of NASA's Earth Observing System program and a $187 million systems engineering contract with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Agee describes himself as a hands-off manager. "It's not possible for any one individual to manage the scope and complexity of an organization this size," he said. "What I've been able to do successfully is find some very smart engineers and proven managers - people with strong entrepreneurial skills - and provide them with the opportunity to grow the business in their areas. My job is to stay out of the way."

But he also learned early in life how to get people to follow his lead. As the oldest of eight children, Agee helped care for his youngest siblings. "I was either the ringleader or the nanny - usually the nanny," he said. Consequently, he gained experience in motivating others to do things, even when they did not want to listen to him.

In his new position at TRW, Agee is looking at his next frontier: expanding his involvement with electronic commerce. He agrees with others in government and industry that e-commerce applications will be critical for agencies to provide services in the future.

"TRW and other contractors must be familiar with that technology and help our customers apply it," he said. "What the government needs to do is ensure [that] the environment is there for vendors to [sell] those products and help agencies interact with the citizens."

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