2015 Industry Eagle Winner
Venkatapathi Puvvada: The coalition builder
Photo by Zaid Hamid
Venkatapathi Puvvada is not your typical corporate chieftain.
He has the accomplishments, to be sure: The 23-year veteran of Unisys, known to nearly everyone as PV, is now a four-time Federal 100 winner. In 2010, he was named Government Contractor CTO Innovator of the Year by the Northern Virginia Technology Council and Washington Technology. And after several years as vice president of Unisys' civilian agency business then seven months as acting president of Unisys Federal Systems, Puvvada was formally tapped for the top job in early March.
He has doubled the staff in Unisys' Application Modernization Center of Excellence and saw the company's federal projects receive excellent performance ratings across the board. In a declining market, Unisys' federal business grew organically by 10 percent in 2014, and the company won more contracts in the final two quarters than it had in years.
And yet the man still answers his own office phone.
That cheerful approachability "is who I am," Puvvada said. "You don't assume anything is handed to you. You are no different than your colleague, even if they are working for you.... At the end of the day, to be humble is an attribute that is really important for people to understand."
Moreover, he said, it's important to remember "not only where you came from, but who you need to work with." That list almost always includes collaborators in government and at other companies -- one reason why Puvvada is so active in industry groups such as the Professional Services Council, where he is currently a board member, and the Industry Advisory Council.
"We cannot solve the [big] problems as an individual company," he said. "But leveraging the strength of the industry or the strength of the government, we can change things.... It doesn't happen unless you collaborate, unless you share what you have."
Success stems from more than smiles and sharing, of course. Puvvada has aggressively sharpened Unisys' federal strategy and put a special focus on complex enterprise-level cloud projects. The General Services Administration's cloud-based email system is a Unisys project, as is the Internal Revenue Service's cloud storage initiative. And Puvvada's team recently helped the Interior Department become the first agency to move its SAP system securely to the cloud.
"The thing we've done very well," Puvvada said, is "take really hard things...the heart of critical systems and data, to the cloud, and do it securely with good success." In most cases, he added, the firm has been able to "deliver the economics of 35 to 50 percent cost savings."
And with all of Unisys Federal Systems now his responsibility, Puvvada acknowledged that the work and learning curve could be daunting -- but don't expect him to develop tunnel vision or stop picking up the phone.
"When you have so much business pressure, it's easy to double down [on the company]," he said. "And you ought to do that -- that's important. But it's more important to reach out and engage to build coalitions to solve bigger problems."
Such coalitions pay dividends for the business, but there's a bigger obligation as well. "The expectation should be that you should give back to the community," Puvvada said. "That's how we make the future generation of leaders."
Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN, as well as General Manager of Public Sector 360.
Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.
Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.
Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.