Life after the Air Force
EDS Federal president takes
on new challenges
- By Judi Hasson
- Jun 04, 2001
Al Edmonds, the new president of Federal Government-Information Solutions at Electronic Data Systems Corp., cut his teeth in the world of technology when the military ran the civilian communications infrastructure in Alaska.
As a young Air Force official in the late 1960s, Edmonds was assigned to sell "White Alice," the code name for Alaska's civilian communications network and the military's early-warning system that used microwave, radio signals and cable systems to communicate.
He sold the system to RCA — the first step in a career that has been running for three decades and has taken him from Guam to the Pentagon to the lightning-swift world of technology in the private sector.
"We spotted him at that point in time as a real comer," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Lee Paschall, Edmonds' friend and mentor, who selected him to work on a wide variety of tough projects for that military service.
Edmonds was one of only a few African Americans working at the Pentagon in the early 1970s. "When I came to the Pentagon in 1973, they didn't have many minorities working [there]," Edmonds said. "I didn't have enough sense to know it was an issue in the Pentagon. [Paschall] pushed me and coached me. At the time, I did not realize he was doing that."
Edmonds soared, both in the military, where he became a three-star general and worked with Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and now secretary of State, and in the business world, where he now leads one of the major federal contractors in its business-to-government ventures.
Edmonds has a "wealth of experience that, from a leadership standpoint, matches what industry needs. He understands industry and its relationship to the government as customer," Paschall said.
Edmonds was part of the team that helped win the Navy Marine Corps Intranet contract, a $6.9 billion program to modernize the service's global communications network. He defends the project against criticism from those who question whether NMCI will work effectively.
"I think people are going to be very surprised," he said. "Contrary to what people believe, we are two months ahead of schedule. This type of contract is really a great model. And when we finish it the naysayers are going to fall into line."
Edmonds is used to challenges. He grew up in modest circumstances in Columbus, Ga. His mother worked in a textile mill. His father was a construction worker. And college was out of the question until Mrs. Knight, his former fourth-grade teacher, helped him win a scholarship to Morris Brown College in Atlanta.
"I have a very good appreciation for growing up in the South," Edmonds said. "Some of the things you went through, you didn't know there was anything different. I didn't know not to like it."
Edmonds likes to read Tom Clancy thrillers and motivational books such as "Every Business is a Growth Business" by Ram Charan and Noel Tichy and "Reagan on Leadership" by James Strock. "They are great references for my current job," he said.
And there is nothing better than spending time with his three grand.children, taking them to T-ball games and gymnastics classes. Edmonds and his wife, Jacquelyn, are now taking birthing classes and will be in the labor room to assist their daughter, Sherry Holder, when she gives birth to her first child this month.
"It is important to put your family first because they'll always be there for you," Edmonds said.