Balancing act

If the employees of Oracle Corp.'s federal division in Reston, Va., ever have to locate their boss after hours, they should check area swimming pools and soccer fields. And during certain times of the year, they may find him at the venue of the Special Olympics Games.

Since taking the helm as senior vice president at Oracle Federal 14 months ago, Steven Perkins has set aside a chunk of his schedule for volunteering. That means some evenings he's poolside at his daughter's swim meet judging strokes and turns. Or he might be found on the soccer field helping coach his son's team. Or if he's not there, he's probably squeezing in an event to help the Special Olympics.

Perkins has worked for Oracle since 1993 when his friend and former boss at Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc., Ray Lane, recruited him. But Perkins' commitment to volunteering arose when he became head of the federal division and when Lane, president and chief operating officer of Oracle, asked him to contact the international headquarters of Special Olympics Inc. in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the company.

Perkins admitted in an interview this month at Oracle's new Reston building that donating his time was not something he previously had realized he could squeeze into his schedule. "But I think as you get a little older, work is extremely important [and] family is extremely important, but you look for opportunities to do more than that," he said.

Just a few days before the interview, Perkins was in North Carolina handing out medals at the Special Olympics Games and hosting a group of Bosnian athletes and coaches. Hundreds of Oracle employees donated frequent flyer miles to pay for the Bosnians' flight to the United States, and the company also created a World Wide Web site for them.

As Oracle's executive sponsor of the Special Olympics, Perkins led the effort to get the frequent flyer miles pledged, and he also sent 100 Oracle volunteers to the event. His goal is to get 10 percent of Oracle's 43,000 employees to volunteer for the Special Olympics, he said.

That will require a chunk of free time, which isn't in abundance after long hours working to improve Oracle's already large share of the federal database market. And although Perkins finds his volunteer work rewarding, he still enjoys making the drive from Reston to Washington, D.C., to meet with his customers.

It is familiar territory to Perkins, who started his career in government after earning a master's degree in public administration from American University.

"I grew up as a product of the very late '60s, early '70s, and there was this [spirit of] 'Let me go help somewhere, find someplace where I can make a difference,' " Perkins said. "And it struck me that I could do that through some kind of government service."

Perkins worked as a budget clerk at the Agriculture Department while earning his degree, and it became clear that "you had to have some affinity for computers," he said. So he enrolled in a post-graduate course on Fortran and took a job with General Electric Co. writing code on the graveyard shift.

But he discovered the night hours weren't for him. And when an opportunity arose on the finance staff at the Justice Department, Perkins returned to the government and more civil working hours. He spent five years with DOJ building custom accounting and budgeting systems.

But the notoriously slow pace of government frustrated him, and working closely with consultants from the major accounting firms attracted him to that line of work. Perkins joined Ernst &Young LLP and began consulting with government agencies, including the Navy Fleet Material Support Office, Mechanicsburg, Pa. In the process, he learned even more about the government's computing needs.

Some of the government systems he worked on as a consultant are still in place. But the trend has been to replace those home-grown applications with commercial off-the-shelf solutions, such as the products that Oracle now sells to its federal customers.

Perkins is not blind to the irony of selling products that will replace the systems he helped develop. "It is funny," he said. "I've worked on a whole variety of things that are now being replaced by COTS applications."But the benefit of his government experience is paying off now because he knows how hard it is to build custom systems and keep them up and running.

"There's nothing like writing one from scratch to know what everybody needs and how it operates," he said. "And I can identify a little bit with the people in the government who say it's a little difficult to leave your legacy behind."

Perkins' legacy at Oracle now reaches beyond computers and time in the office and into places he might not have seen, with people he might not have met, had he not taken up volunteering.

"I have made a life choice that those three balance—family, work, volunteerism," Perkins said. "I need to strike that balance. That balance is an art form."

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