Force of nature

Maybe it was the cows. Ernst Volgenau, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of SRA International Inc., spent his earliest years on a farm in western New York, milking cows and caring for livestock, which instilled in him a sense of duty and responsibility that has marked his life ever since. Those qualities were further strengthened by a lengthy military career before he founded the systems integration company in 1978.

Since its beginnings in Volgenau's basement, SRA has grown into a 3,100-person firm with a range of defense and intelligence customers, as well as public health, environmental science and bioinformatics operations.

Colleagues say SRA is a tree that reflects the seed Volgenau planted nearly 30 years ago.

"This is a very intelligent guy," said Edward "Ted" Legasey, who joined SRA when it was still in Volgenau's basement.

"He has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, especially about technology and how technology is used in society," said Legasey, formerly executive vice president and chief operating officer and now a member of SRA's board of directors. "He has an abiding intellectual interest in the business we're in. It's not just a business for him."

Volgenau credits the company's accomplishments to the intelligence and drive of the workers, those he brought in and those who came after the early years.

"We have fundamentally good technology here," he said. "We're not a software firm, we're a services firm. But we have people well versed in technology."

He credits his Air Force career with reinforcing his commitment to hard work.

Military officials have "always focused on the importance of leadership, the importance of ethics," he said. "Those things have stayed with me through my career. The military imbues people with a sense of service. No one goes into the military to make money. I didn't start SRA to make money."

Volgenau founded SRA soon after retiring from the Air Force. He had a particular vision for the company: a firm that would approach its work as a means to solve problems in society.

Since its early days, SRA has added counterterrorism, health care, public health, environmental science, and command, control, communications and intelligence to its specialties.

Volgenau, with a long year career behind him, is now exploring ways to pass along what he's learned. Years ago, he co-authored an engineering text; now, he is working on books of his own.

"I haven't published yet, but every weekend and every evening, I write," he said. "Right now, I'm interested in a history — a prospectus — of information technology that looks for patterns that repeat again and again."

In pursuing that research, Volgenau said he has found patterns, some dating back to the 1940s. His challenge now is making the information useful and interesting.

"You've got all this stuff — it's more than a mile wide and more than a mile deep," he said. As an observer and an author, "you wonder if you can bring some perspective to it."

MORE INFO

The Ernest Volgenau file

Title: Founder, chairman and chief executive officer of SRA International Inc.

Military service: 21 years in the Air Force. Retired as a colonel in 1977.

Education: Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1966; graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1955.

Family: Married 44 years to wife Sara. Three daughters, nine grandchildren.

Favorite vacation spot: Aspen, Colo.

Recommended reading: "Paradox Lost: Images of the Quantum" by Philip R. Wallace.

Featured

  • Management
    people standing on keyboard (Who is Danny/Shutterstock.com)

    OPM-GSA merger plan detailed in legislative proposal

    The White House is proposing legislation for a dramatic overhaul of human resources inside government and wants $50 million to execute the plan.

  • Cloud
    cloud applications (chanpipat/Shutterstock.com)

    GSA plans civilian DEOS counterpart

    GSA is developing a cloud email and enterprise services contract inspired by the single-source vehicle the Department of Defense devised for back-office software.

  • Defense
    software (whiteMocca/Shutterstock.com)

    DOD looks to unify software spending for 2020

    Defense Department acquisition head, Ellen Lord, hopes to simplify software buying and improve business systems following the release of the Defense Innovation Board's final software acquisition study.

Stay Connected

FCW INSIDER

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.