Gil Guarino has served as an executive vice president at CACI International for close to nine years and announced this fall he will soon retire from his position leading the contractor’s tranformation solutions group.
In all, Gil has spent 27 years in industry, joining CACI from American Management Systems in a 2004 deal, and 20 years serving the U.S. Air Force, where he rose to the rank of colonel, specialized in weapons systems acquisition and helped develop the first cost model for unmanned spacecraft.
In a recent conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Gil spoke about the lessons he has learned from his leadership roles in the public and private sectors, how his recipe for success evolved along with his environment and mission and what will drive the relationship between industry and government in the future.
ExecutiveBiz: A number of U.S. foreign engagements and domestic priorities came to the forefront during your time both in the military and industry. How did those engagements and priorities affect your experience at the intersection between the public and private sectors?
Gil Guarino: Over my career in the military and industry, I experienced the weapon systems buildup for Vietnam, the subsequent drawdown and the resurgence of defense spending during the Reagan years. For a 20-year period, I was involved in major weapon system acquisition involving space and tactical fighter systems and held a variety of program management positions within the Air Force R&D and Acquisition organization.
Over the course of those assignments, I worked with industry extensively and gained tremendous knowledge on how industry responded to government solicitations, what it took to deliver the government’s requirements and, in general, what contributed to successful program management and systems integration.
Having seen the ups and downs within the aerospace industry and being the CIO for Air Force Systems Command in my last assignment, when I retired, I decided to pursue a career in information technology versus continuing in weapon system acquisition.
Over my 27 years in industry, we’ve seen the explosion of the IT industry, the slowdown in the weapon system business following the end of the Cold War and the rapid expansion of all industry following 9/11. All this experience has highlighted the importance of anticipating future trends, having a strategy to capitalize on the opportunities those trends present and the necessity to move into new markets as existing markets slow or decline.
So, netting this all out, the international and domestic environment I experienced on both sides of the table gave me an opportunity to gain broad experience in complex program management, business development and large organization leadership.
ExecutiveBiz: You’ve had an opportunity to work in many different organizations in a variety of roles. Do any periods of time or accomplishments stand out to you the most?
Guarino: If I think back, every job I had was typically a new role with a driving imperative, a task or a need set that was important and unmet. Over the course of those roles in both the Air Force and industry, each of them had an aspect that stood out and made the experience rewarding.
My first job in the Air Force was leading a group of 2nd Lieutenants that had just entered the cost estimating field after recommendations from a McKinsey study. We developed the first unmanned spacecraft cost model that the Air Force used to do parametric estimating on new spacecraft. To accomplish that, we had to get industry CEOs to open their company records and allow us to capture cost information and technical information to build the model’s parametric estimating relationships. It was an amazing experience that resulted in a tool that is stilled used today, although there have been many iterations, enhancements and increases in estimating sophistication.
Being part of the F15 and F16 System Program Offices during full scale development and initial production/deployment to the Air Force (and in the case of the F-16, four European partners) was an unbelievable experience working with the “all stars” of the weapons system acquisition community. I learned so much during those nine years about program management, systems integration and business/people leadership. The mission needs we met and the level of executive leadership that we had to work with made it a period of significant professional and personal growth. Those teams still get together today and reflect on “excellence in acquisition” and the camaraderie we developed meeting each program’s mission.
All of my industry roles were great and I could bore you to death with how they affected me, but clearly the one that will stand out forever is the almost nine years that I have been with CACI. The opportunity to lead one of the company’s four business groups was unequalled. The 1,700 employees that were part of AMS’s Defense and Intelligence Group are very happy that CACI acquired this AMS business and I know CACI is happy with that decision too. CACI has been the best part of my professional career in every imaginable context, especially it’s people. I’m glad that I saved the best for last.
ExecutiveBiz: As you transitioned responsibilities from one company and position to another, did you find that your approach had to change according to the role you held? Or did your recipe for personal success hold true throughout?
Guarino: Every place you go and every job you have requires you to morph to the specifics of that role. That “morphing” centers around two areas: first is the nature of the business, and second is the culture of the company, its politics and the nature of the people with whom you have to interact. I consider myself a people-centric person that is context-sensitive and both self and socially aware. So, in every role, understanding the people, culture and politics was key to being able to make the greatest contribution and provide an environment where individuals were able to meet their professional and personal goals.
As an underpinning, when I first came into the Air Force, a Colonel I worked for told me something I’ve practiced in every military and industry role – “do whatever you do in the context of your boss’ boss’ problems.” He said if you perform within that context, your effectiveness and growth opportunities would be unlimited. I still believe and express that thought today.
During the mid part of my military career, I also became a believer in personal development as an accelerant for professional development, and started to look at my roles from the standpoint of “I’m responsible” and ‘If you can see it and believe it, you can achieve it”, as well as, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” This mindset came from personal development books and tapes and put me on a path of continued personal development and working with teams to emphasize the concept of personal development as an accelerant for professional development. “Morph to the environment, the people and the task, but hold constant to ‘Do good, better and best, and never rest until the good is better and the better is best’.” Lastly, communicate, communicate and communicate.
ExecutiveBiz: Two individuals, Valerie Lyons and Rick Dansey, who you had an opportunity to help groom and develop and raise through the executive ranks, will be given the opportunity to run their own shops. How does it feel to have seen them grow into that role and what do you expect for them in the future?
Guarino: Both Rick and Val are both great people and their successes are the result of their own initiatives and hard work over a variety of roles throughout their careers. It’s very gratifying and rewarding to know that I may have had a small effect on where they’ve gotten to of late and their selection for these two important business group roles. Their selection into those roles is indicative of the importance that CACI places on leadership development and succession planning and the intent to develop future leaders from within the company. I’m proud of what each of them has accomplished while at CACI and appreciative that they brought so much to the game before coming to CACI.
(Editor’s note: The transformation group will turn into two units at the beginning of 2013, with SVP Rick Dansey leading the federal civilian solutions unit and SVP Valerie Lyons leading a business systems solutions unit.)
ExecutiveBiz: On a personal level, you’re coming into a new phase in your career and life. What are you most excited about moving forward?
Guarino: Before looking forward, I have to express the pride and satisfaction in the present and reflect on what CACI overall and my business group, more specifically, have accomplished over the past eight-plus years. While there is another chapter or two to write going forward and I’m excited about moving onto to those pages, it’s hard to leave CACI and all the great people that I’ve been privileged to work with, learn from and influence.
Going forward, I’m looking forward to the flexibility to spend my time the way my wife and I would like to spend it. Janice and I have smelled the roses along the way, but probably not as much as we will. We’re also looking forward to spending more time with our family. For those that know us well, you’ll find us in the Cayman Islands and Cabo San Lucas when we’re not in DC or other fun places.
Professionally, I’m looking forward to advisory, board and selected consulting roles with specifics still to be determined. There’s more that I would like to contribute within the business community. I also plan to stay involved with TechAmerica and serve on the Public Sector Board’s Government Advisory Board.
Philanthropically, I’ve been a member of the Wolf Trap Foundation Board of Directors for the past three years and I look forward to continuing in that role for the next three. Wolf Trap is a special place and as you become more aware of the Wolf Trap Foundation and its programs, you quickly realize that Wolf Trap is more than summer programs at the Feline Center and Fall, Winter and Spring programs in the Barns. The Wolf Trap Foundation’s programs centered on artistic and education initiatives are important and contribute nationally and internationally in many meaningful ways. I’m happy to promote corporate and individual giving to the Foundation. Being a wine enthusiast and believing in the great work that the American Heart Association does, I’ll also work with AHA in support of the May 4-day wine event in DC called Heart’s Delight, helping increase awareness and participation for this most worthwhile cause.
ExecutiveBiz: What do you see as some of the major challenges facing industry right now, and where do you see the relationship between industry and government going in the future?
Guarino: Let me answer that in context of where I think it should go, or would hope where it would go. When I think of the budget situation that we have right now, the deficit, you would hope that it would cause the government to recognize that there are limited resources to do what needs to be done to meet the various missions within the defense and intelligence and federal civilian communities. To do that effectively and to do that in a manner where you achieve synergies between the buyer and the seller, there must be increased and timely information sharing and dialogue. If that’s done, there’s much to gain – better solutions, a more efficient acquisition process and lesser likelihood of protests.
Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening right now as a general rule, recognizing that there are exceptions. With the limited acquisition resources, the acquisition process is getting more rule-based and operating by the book without the dialog that has characterized the industry I’ve been part of for so many years. Exchange is critical to the success and there’s nothing wrong with dialog. The cancellation of many of the exchange conferences because of the issues that emanated from the GSA conferencing fiasco just further exacerbates the problem and none of that is good. As a result, I believe we are going to continue to see that it takes longer to get things done, at a higher cost, and protests will continue. In the end and if exchange/dialog doesn’t come back into style, program success will be a “crap shoot”.
On the protest front, the increased use of letter debriefs versus face-to-face discussions is resulting in more protests. In many cases after spending hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars on a proposal, unsuccessful offerors are not afforded the opportunity to have a meaningful exchange on their evaluation and the award decision. The only alternative they have is to protest which further adds to the workload of an overburdened acquisition work force. Given the complexity of procurement, offerors will likely find something that causes the protest to be sustained, resulting in corrective action which takes further time. In the end, the users go without a solution to their requirements. That’s unfortunate, because it doesn’t have to be that way. More timely dialog and exchange between government and industry in both the pre-solicitation phases and during debriefs is where I believe our acquisition process needs to go.