Shrader calls for consistency while acknowledging errors


Ralph Shrader of Booz Allen Hamilton at the Northern Virginia Tech Council. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)
June 17, 2012

As other contractors bring in new leadership, Booz Allen Hamilton’s top executive spoke up for consistency and continuity during a speech last week at the Northern Virginia Tech Council.

“It seems like barely a week goes by that another company in our industry doesn’t name a new leader,” said Ralph W. Shrader, about a week after contractors General Dynamics and CACI International joined Lockheed Martin, Computer Sciences Corp. and Science Applications International Corp. in announcing new chief executives this year.

In rockier times, “it’s important to hold to the center of what is essential and differentiated, while being agile to see the opportunities and meet the challenges of the future,” he said.

Shrader, who is Booz Allen’s chairman and chief executive, said his company is staying focused on client services, core missions, values and culture.

“In these times, we believe clients will prioritize to spend their funds on their core mission, rather than peripheral support roles,” he said. “We believe clients will pay for quality.”

Shrader, who joined the McLean-based contracting giant in 1974 and became chairman and chief executive in 1999, acknowledged mistakes he has made, from trying to combine the company’s commercial and government businesses to losing some of Booz Allen’s culture by shifting to a model under which many employees don’t have permanent offices.

“These are challenging times to say the very least,” Shrader said, citing the impending presidential election and the risk of damaging budget cuts. He compared his approach to that of a gyroscope.

“As external conditions spin and swing sometimes wildly, the center of a gyroscope — the rotor, as it’s called — remains balanced and in control,” he said. “I believe it’s essential in times of dramatic change — stormy conditions, if you will — to stay centered and not to shift to and fro with the winds.”

Shrader recounted his failed effort to bring together Booz Allen’s commercial and government businesses.

“[It] was not meant to be,” Shrader said, explaining that the companies had different growth rates and a cultural divide. In 2008, Booz Allen separated the two groups and sold a majority stake in the government business to the Carlyle Group.

The company’s shift to “hoteling,” in which lower-level employees can reserve offices but don’t have a single permanent location, has also proven complicated.

“The reduced commute is good for our people and it’s good for the planet,” Shrader told the crowd, but in hindsight, the company focused too much on the facilities and technology requirements and not enough on “people and cultural dimensions.”

Now, he said Booz Allen is “redoubling” its efforts to connect with its people, including holding a town hall hosted by Shrader last week.

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