Pat Schambach is the vice president and general manager of homeland security for CSC. He previously led e-Government and infrastructure practice for Nortel Government Solutions and has more than 30 years of experience in the federal government including as the chief information officer of the TSA.
ExecutiveBiz: Can we talk about your decision to move from the government to the private sector?
Pat Schambach: What a great topic. When a person spends their whole career in government – like I did – they can be very naive about the private sector. I began thinking about my transition to the private sector during my last three years in government. I spoke to someone who had been through the transition and I found it so fascinating that I wanted to speak to more people. In particular, I sought out people who did not have a good experience. I wanted to learn what mistakes they made, how things unfolded for them, and how I could avoid that kind of problem. I was fascinated by these people and listening to when they started preparing, how they prepared, what thought processes they went through, and how that paid off for them when they got to the other side.
I learned a lot about the private sector like what some of the challenges might be – for example the financials of how you make money in the IT business. When I was on the government side, I knew how to get a budget, I knew how to spend money, but I never thought about how to make money, so that was a new concept to me. I uncovered things about my own background that would be holes for me in making the transition.
I built a matrix of the kinds of opportunities that were available, including staying in government, staying in this geographical area, working at home, working at a company, and doing consulting. Once I decided that I wanted to be in a company structure, there were other decisions, a large company, or a small company? I spoke to people who were in both kinds of companies to get an idea of the pros and cons.
I learned a lot about myself, these different environments and what I thought would fit me the best. I think that is a very individual decision.
ExecutiveBiz: How early do people need to start preparing to leave government?
Pat Schambach: I would say 12 months before leaving is time to start thinking about it. A lot of people wait until the bitter end, or even after they are gone to figure that out.
Another important thing for me was taking a break between government time and industry time. Coming out of the Transportation Security Administration CIO role, I was exhausted. I was tired. Taking a break was an attractive idea, but I was worried about the reactions the companies would have. To their credit, every one of those companies said they were not surprised at all; they wanted me to take that time off. Other people I know left on Friday and started on Monday and they never had that chance. That was the single best advice I received. I took three months and took a month’s trip across country to unwind. In fact, it got to the point that if I didn’t start back I would never go back, I was enjoying it so much.
ExecutiveBiz: Could you talk about the people who had a bad experience? What mistakes did they make?
Pat Schambach: I’ve talked to some people who had no preparation whatsoever. Maybe I’m not a huge risk taker, but the idea of jumping off the deep end and figuring it out later is not an approach for me. But as far as mistakes, in each case it was something different. Often, it was because they weren’t familiar with some of the decisions that I just talked about, such as the difference between a product company and a services company. One guy said, “They just wanted me for my Rolodex and for doors that I could open for them and I wasn’t fulfilled by that kind of activity.”
Also, you have to understand different roles, like a business development person versus an operations person. Each role demands different kinds of personalities and different motivators.
It comes down to knowing a little bit about yourself, understanding the kinds of things that people have gone through to make their decision and knowing your experience. The ones who didn’t do their homework, didn’t do any analysis about what they wanted out of it, and dove into an organization, do not really represent a successful picture.
ExecutiveBiz: The people who did it right; what kinds of traits did they have?
Pat Schambach: It was just the opposite of those things. They did some analysis. They knew what kind of person they were, what they were looking for, and they also took the time to understand the different roles available.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you avoid the common desire by private companies to look at government employees just for their Rolodex?
Pat Schambach: I told a number of those early companies that I didn’t want to be a business development person. What I quickly realized when I got into a company situation is that we are all business development people to some extent or another. We all have to figure out how to grow the business and earn new customers, so I don’t mind the notion of doing business development; I just didn’t want it full time.
Additionally, it is important to analyze what your strengths are and figure out whether your role in that company will play to those strengths. It’s not always easy to figure that out until after you enter the organization, but if you are clear upfront about the kind of role you want to play, then the role of the Rolodex can be what you want it to be – not just what the company wants.
ExecutiveBiz: So, what did you end up choosing, a large company, or a small company?
Pat Schambach: My first non-government position was with a little company in Fairfax called PEC, Performance Engineering Corporation. It was a small, 2,000 person organization. Years earlier, the company had done some work for me and I appreciated what they did and how well they did it.
In my last role at TSA, I had a very visible role and I was known to all of the companies in the area because I had a big checkbook with money to spend. I didn’t want a bidding war coming out of government; I really wanted to go to a place that was my choosing and not somewhere that happened to offer me the best salary. So, I made a short list of companies to call and inquire about opportunities to see if there could be a fit. Fortunately, all six of those companies were interested in what I wanted to do. That made the choice fairly simple; it was just a question of how well the role matched what I saw myself doing.
Then after four years at PEC, I finally thought that I had lived up to my commitment, learned as much from the experience as I could and it was time to think about something else. I ended up moving to a very large company, CSC. But the ability to focus on homeland security as my major market – which is where I grew up in government and was like coming home to – was what I was most comfortable with. Even though CSC is a large company, I have a very focused market space that I operate in. It feels smaller because of that focus.
ExecutiveBiz: How did CSC support your transition from public sector into private sector?
Pat Schambach: The biggest advantage I had is that my current boss [Aaron Fuller, president of CSC’s North American Public Sector Enforcement, Security & Intelligence Group] spent the first several months inviting me to every meeting and every discussion that he could. Even though at times it was repetitive, it really gave me a sense of the rhythm of the company and how we look at new opportunities; how we evolve those opportunities into proposed work, how we get things started once we’ve won work; and how we keep the customer involved in what we have to offer after the work has matured.
I was able to see all parts of the operation from his perspective. It was nice to be invited to those meetings, rather than being thrown out and told, “Good luck, make your way.” I would say that is a best practice: being taken under the wing of somebody who was experienced enough to know what was valuable to sit in on and attend. That was a huge advantage in the break-in process for me.