Changing with the times

Ira Kirsch has ridden the Unisys Corp. roller coaster long enough to appreciate the peaks. Particularly because Kirsch, president of the federal government group, now finds himself — along with the company — soaring high.

His 30-year journey with Unisys began in a school lunchroom when his former football coach handed him the business card of a guy looking to hire a sales employee. Kirsch, a substitute teacher fresh out of college, followed the lead. "I would say the rest is history," he said recently at Unisys offices in McLean, Va. "I've been with the company my entire career."

Before there was Unisys, however, there was Burroughs Corp. And at Burroughs, working in sales and advancing to management thanks to his coach's connection, there was Kirsch. When the company merged with Sperry Corp. in 1986, Unisys was born and he stayed on board.

During the next 15 years, Kirsch moved around the country with stints in the company's financial, commercial, public and federal government sectors. To date, he has racked up more than 20 years of management experience. "I had quite an opportunity to have a vast, global view of Unisys," he said. Still, "I would honestly have to say it's really like having worked for many companies."

The biggest transformation took place during the past five years as Unisys retooled its image to focus on solutions rather than technologies, according to 54-year-old Kirsch, who showed that he, too, could change with the times.

"My [evolution] really has been [that I] started out and grew up on the technology side of the business," he said. Then, "I had an opportunity to get into services about five years ago. I was fully willing and prepared to move out and go in the direction I felt our company and industry were going — not only [toward] technology, but consulting and services."

And a year and a half into his current job, he landed the deal to prove it: the $1 billion contract to build the high-profile Transportation Security Administration's information technology infrastructure.

TSA awarded the first two work orders on its IT Managed Services (ITMS) program to Unisys last month. ITMS emphasizes managed services, a relatively new procurement strategy in which an agency pays a company for technology solutions that solve a particular problem.

"For Unisys, the deal is a major win, especially since as recently as December 2001, it actually considered exiting the federal government IT services market," officials at research firm Gartner Inc. wrote in an Aug. 19 report. "This deal, the largest outsourcing agreement Unisys has signed with the U.S. federal government, affirms Unisys' commitment to the U.S. federal market."

Kirsch agrees with the analysis. "It's a great testimonial to what Unisys really is today," he said. "We leveraged every piece of" the company.

Colleagues say it's also a testament to who Kirsch is today. "Unisys would not be in this position without the leadership of Ira Kirsch," said Greg Baroni, president of the company's global public sector.

Kirsch oversees about 3,400 people in the federal government group — "probably the most rewarding position I've ever had," he said, describing his main responsibility as delivering "the highest level of client satisfaction to the government agencies I service." And on a larger scale: "That is what I believe my mission in life is."

Kirsch, like Unisys, seems to have devoted every piece of himself to get to this point. But the ride isn't over yet. "I've really learned how to build, develop and go to market with an organization," he said. "I would like to keep my hands in it for as long as I can."

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The Ira Kirsch file

Home: Recently built his dream home in New Jersey, his native state. Commutes to and lives part time in McLean, Va., for work.

Family: Married for 30 years and has a 22-year-old son.

Hobbies: Jogging, golfing, boating and kayaking.

Currently contemplating: The merits of being a Redskins fan vs. a Giants fan and a vegetarian vs. an omnivore.

Reads: Biographies, mostly of past presidents.

Primary motivation: "I really have a passion for people, both our clients and our employees."

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