Paul Fernandes: ‘you have to be willing to go over and beyond’

August 3, 2012

Position: The new president of STG, a technology provider to the government based in Reston.

With his heart set on becoming a computer scientist in the Air Force, Paul Fernandes’ dream was quickly diverted when results from his aptitude test convinced his superiors to send him to become a linguist. Over the years, he advanced to become a master instructor. After leaving the Air Force and working with government contractors, he was tasked to open an office in Omaha that he grew to 40 people. Now after helping grow STG over the past eight years as an executive, he looks to “bring in more innovation” as president.

When did you learn what it takes to be successful?

In Omaha. Four days. No sleep. Stuck in a very controlled environment with no windows. I put together the final proposal and oral presentation for a customer. Those were the lengths I went through to make sure we were prepared. We ended up winning that opportunity. I learned you have to be willing to go over and beyond.

You attribute much of your success to mentors. What advice has stuck with you?

When I was sent to Omaha, my mentor said, “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.” That really gave me the opportunity to really go out and begin to expand my career. Another told me to “Believe in your judgment. Don’t be afraid to make changes if you believe something needs to be changed.” He also imparted on me to have balance in my life in order to work hard. Work, family life and philanthropy. Another is to go into every situation knowing that if you touch it, you need to make it better. My goal is to make everything I touch a bit better.

How has your leadership evolved over the years?

It’s become a whole lot more participative. I’m against groupthink, but I do believe in surrounding yourself with really great people. Early on, my leadership style was a little bit more aggressive — not in a bad way. I was a very fast decision maker. Some of that came from my Air Force background. We would make decisions in minutes. You don’t have time to collaborate and coordinate. As time went by, I became more collaborative.

What are your favorite business books?

“The SAIC Solution” [by Dr. J. Robert Beyster and Peter Economy], “Good to Great” [by Jim Collins], “Blueprint to a Billion” [by David G. Thomson], “Business of Happiness” [by Ted Leonsis], and Jack Welch’s “Winning.” When I hire someone who hasn’t read one of these, I lend them out.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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