Bill Varner serves as President, ManTech Mission, Cyber and Technology Solutions (MCTS) Group. Recently, he sat down with ExecutiveBiz to discuss the growth of the cyber market, ManTech’s competencies in cyber and what he finds most rewarding about working at ManTech.
ExecutiveBiz: Tell me a little about your background.
Bill Varner: I’m a Washington area native. I was born in the District of Columbia and grew up in Virginia. I went to school in Arlington and then graduated from George Washington University, Purdue and Virginia Tech. My first job after college was with ESL, a Sunnyvale, Calif., company, where I learned a lot about the intelligence community business. ESL was acquired by TRW in the late 1970s, and my part of ESL became TASC. It was my first encounter with an organizational conflict of interest; little did I know how valuable that experience would be. I worked for TASC for almost 30 years, through three more acquisitions (Primark, Litton and Northrop Grumman). When I left TASC about nine months ago, I was vice president for Intelligence Operations. I like to say I’ve been acquired four or five times!
“Cyber security is the number one threat facing our nation after weapons of mass destruction. – Bill Varner
ExecutiveBiz: As President of ManTech’s Mission, Cyber and Technology Solutions (MCTS) Group, what do your duties entail?
Bill Varner: I run one of three groups that comprise ManTech today. The other groups are the Technical Services Group run by Lou Addeo and the Systems Engineering and Advanced Technology Group run by Terry Ryan. In my current role, which I love, I am responsible for most of ManTech’s support to the intelligence community, all of our activities in cyber security, as well as our very successful IT business, network security engineering, services-oriented architecture for mission IT systems, data interoperability, operations and security for cryptologic systems engineering, intelligence analysis, linguistic support services, civilian and homeland security – I could go on for a long time. We provide support to customers in their locations, our spaces and overseas. We are totally mission focused.
ExecutiveBiz: A number of companies in the past year have looked to acquire cyber capabilities or have actually acquired them. Why do you think cyber is such a growing market? Where do you think the market is headed?
Bill Varner: Cyber is indeed a growing market, and I think the reason is simple. Many people, including me, believe that cyber security is the number one threat facing our nation after weapons of mass destruction. When you think of how dependent we’ve become on doing business via the Internet, both the government and private sector, both open and classified – it’s easy to see how large the impact of an interruption to that would be. By an interruption, I mean the possibility of not being able to execute transactions, or even worse not being able to trust transactions that are executed.
As to where the market is headed, that’s a lot more difficult. I spend a lot of time these days tracking the cyber legislation moving through Congress. Now that General Keith Alexander has been confirmed as head of the U.S. Cyber Command, that organization will shape the future of a lot of cyber activity and the primary cyber customer areas.
ExecutiveBiz: What unique assets does ManTech bring to the field of cyber security?
Bill Varner: We bring a lot to the cyber business. Our approach combines professional services with hands-on research and development. Our objective is to stay ahead of our adversaries so that we can best serve our government clients. We bring capabilities in all of the computer network operations disciplines. Our cyber engineers work together so that the defenders are informed of new attack vectors. We have a culture that supports the type of people that we need to be able to retain to be in the cyber business. We recently moved the ManTech Security Operations Center into my organization so that we have our own test bed for new techniques. We’ve been in the cyber business for a long time, long before people called it cyber, and we have an outstanding group of people.
ExecutiveBiz: What are some of your top priorities at ManTech for the coming year?
Bill Varner: I am focused on our customers and their missions, and our people and their needs, first and foremost. We also absolutely have to execute our programs flawlessly and meet or exceed our financial obligations to the company and to our shareholders. I have always believed that if we put our customers and our people first, that we will have a much easier time achieving the rest of the goals. So my priorities are customers, mission, and people.
ExecutiveBiz: A central concern of many cyber experts is a perceived dearth of skilled cyber professionals. How does ManTech go about recruiting and retaining the top talent?
Bill Varner: That is a concern to all of us in the cyber business. I think we have a great solution. First, our retention rate of cyber professionals is very, very good. We’re not starting from a deep hole in recruiting. Second, we have developed a cyber training course that has been certified by a number of our key customers that allows us to train people along with our customers throughout the year, and when they emerge from this cyber training course they are certified by one of our major customers to go to work on their cyber security programs. That training course provides a wonderful flow of talent for us. We are also involved in virtually all of the local and nationwide universities that have programs in the cyber area. We support universities very actively. Our members of the board of directors at ManTech support the universities, and we receive a continual flow of talent from the top cyber universities in the country.
ExecutiveBiz: What has been your greatest challenge heading MCTS?
Bill Varner: My greatest challenge is really an opportunity. By that I mean that I have so many opportunities to help our customers that it is sometimes difficult to support all of the activities that I want to support simultaneously. Both our cyber and non-cyber business is growing at a pace that requires us to continuously hire great people. I really like to be involved as closely as I can with our people, customers, and programs. Regardless of which technology or program area we are supporting, we are primarily a people business, so it’s critical to be involved with our people to understand how I can help support them in their work.
ExecutiveBiz: What do you find most rewarding about working at ManTech?
Bill Varner: The most rewarding thing about working at ManTech is the opportunity to learn from people like George Pedersen, our founder and CEO; and Larry Prior, our president and COO. George and Larry give me and the other ManTech group presidents all of the resources and all of the freedom we need to do our jobs. ManTech is totally focused on the success of our customer’s mission, and I have the resources and flexibility I need to provide that support. The thing that I really enjoy about ManTech is that, as I go around to our various locations and meet people who work at ManTech, I have never encountered a group of people with such enthusiasm and passion for what they are doing. It’s a great group of people. I enjoy coming to work every day. It is a tremendous opportunity for me.