CSC's guiding hand
- By Michael Hardy
- Jun 21, 2004
In the weeks immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Paul Cofoni, only months into his new role as president of the federal sector of Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), spoke with expansive confidence about the company's role in the federal business world that had suddenly been redefined, and his own ability to lead.
His role, he predicted, would be hands-on and involved. An Army veteran, he said then that he relished chances to get out of his office and visit customer sites, to learn about their business needs and how they run their organizations.
"I've always been in the field," he said then in an interview with Federal Computer Week. "I feel comfortable picking up metal slugs on the bottom of my shoes. I feel right at home."
Since that time, CSC has weathered many storms that included missed deadlines and cost overruns on major programs such as the Internal Revenue Service's massive modernization project. Meanwhile, the market has not developed as CSC officials predicted. Through it all, though, Cofoni has remained resilient. And he still gets out of his office to visit customers as often as he can.
"I'd always rather be out there on the front lines," he said. "I grew up on the factory floor. It's always an effort to keep things in balance. It's very easy to get trapped in your office. I've always had to fight against that."
Cofoni visits the IRS about once a week to track the ongoing multibillion-dollar project that CSC officials are working on there. He had done the same at the FBI until the company completed its phase of that agency's Trilogy modernization effort this spring.
"As these things start to deliver, I'm starting to shift my time more toward the new-customer side," he added.
Indeed, Cofoni's emphasis on solving customers' problems is refreshing, said Roy Beauchamp, former deputy commanding general of the Army Materiel Command. Now a senior vice president at Washington Group International, Beauchamp worked with Cofoni on the Army's Logistics Modernization project.
Cofoni is effective without being dramatic, Beauchamp added. "Paul brought a quiet courage and resolve to this process, and the ability to assemble a good team and to work with them," he said. "Paul is not a yeller and a screamer and [is not] ricocheting off the walls. I don't mean reserved, but he brings a calm
Cofoni said resiliency and the ability to adjust to changing circumstances are crucial qualities for a business leader. CSC has foundered some since 2001, but he said he tries to keep a steady hand on the wheel while the world shifts around him.
The company predicted faster growth in information technology outsourcing, Cofoni said. At the same time, CSC officials underestimated the growth of the defense, intelligence and homeland security side of the business, he added.
"Fortunately, in the technology industry, things change all the time, so we're very used to change," he said. "I think we adapt pretty quickly to change. Every couple of years there will be some fundamental shift that will occur."
Cofoni attributes his personal and professional demeanor to several influential people in his life, starting with his mother, Sarah, who died in 1990.
"A lot of how I deal with people came from her," he said. "My mom always looked for the positive in people and the value that people bring. She taught all us kids that basic value system."
As a young man, Cofoni, now 55, spent four years in the Army. When he was a junior officer, he received leadership training that he has never forgotten. Then, he learned good project management and general management skills from mentors at General Dynamics Corp., the first major private-sector company he worked for.
Lessons that Cofoni learned from a supervisor named Mel Barlow may have been particularly useful during CSC's struggles in recent months.
"He taught me the value of being able to measure and knowing what to measure, how to effect corrective actions," Cofoni said. "It felt a little torturous at the time."
Cofoni had been a technician, and Barlow forced him to work in a management model that had more discipline and structure, he said.
All of the experiences he had before joining CSC in 1991 formed the management style he brought with him, he said.
"Looking internally, I'm deferential [to people]," he said. "When I look at a person who is part of our business, I don't just see an employee, I see a person. When things get tough, I can get pretty tough to demand the standards necessary, what has to be done. There are times when you just have to say, 'OK, we've made this commitment. Here's what we're going to do.' In those times, I probably look least charming."
Charming or not, Cofoni said he believes the best way to motivate people is to give them a sense that what they do will matter after the work is done, a sense of enduring purpose, he said.
"I'm always looking to find those things, to get people excited about what they do," he said.
When he's off the clock, Cofoni tries to get to the golf course, something he said he manages only once every two or three weeks. He also plays with his four grandchildren and tends to the flowers and berries he grows.
Those two activities are related: His grandchildren harvest the berries when they're ripe, he said. "I try to arrange it so that from June through August there's something new to pick."