(Thomas J. Burns)

I hadn’t heard of ENSCO. I had never really competed with them in the past. So when Korn Ferry contacted me, and I did my due diligence, learned about them, I became interested.

They have a really interesting mix of more traditional defense science and technology work and then a fairly large commercial international rail business, and I thought that would nicely offset the downward pressures that we’re all experiencing in the DoD economy right now.

As you get older, you want to solve bigger and bigger problems. After concentrating on two small businesses, I had learned how to grow a small business. But it’s very different growing a small business than it is to grow a large business. It’s just not more of the same thing. You have to develop a whole new set of coping strategies as a leader to really scale. The beautiful thing about SAIC is that it gave me a large business and taught me some tricks of the trade for scaling large businesses. I have to be very thankful for my mentor there, John Fratamico, who was my boss. He was just a brilliant teacher at educating me on how to chase larger, more complex business opportunities.

To anyone who wants to learn how to run a business, whether it’s small or large, it’s so important to have a mentor. You can do it yourself through trial and error and reading books. But if you can have a mentor . . . that saves you a lot of time and trouble. John was just fantastic at that.

As the entities that you manage get larger, you can imagine they also get a lot more complex, and that makes decisions a lot harder because more and more things are interrelated. They are so nonlinear, especially when people are involved. And so it’s really, really important to get the advice of someone who’s been in a similar situation. . . . As you get to be a leader, the most important thing you have to offer your customers and your employees is your ability to make good decisions.

[ENSCO is] my Goldilocks opportunity. I’ve got all this small-business experience, and then I’ve got this big-business experience, and ENSCO’s right in the middle.

The reason I joined ENSCO, I guess there were two reasons. One was to help use my small-business and big-business skills to bridge the gap and help them scale. The other thing is . . . I thought I was going to retire. I was out of commission for about a year. I began to realize that I had acquired all this knowledge throughout my career, and if I don’t use it . . . it’s going to go to waste. I could write books, but wouldn’t it be better to just build another company with intention of being that mentor that John Fratamico was for me, to help other people grow? I know that sounds a little altruistic, but that was a big factor in what I’m doing.

— Interview with Kathy Orton

Thomas J. Burns

Position: President and chief executive of ENSCO, a Falls Church-based defense, transportation, aerospace and intelligence company.

Career highlights: Senior vice president and manager, SAIC; co-founder, president, CEO and chairman of the board, Science Engineering and Technology Corp.; co-founder and CEO, Object Video.

Age: 55

Education: PhD, MS, electrical engineering, Air Force Institute of Technology; BS, electrical engineering, BA, philosophy, Ohio State University.

Personal: Lives in Great Falls with wife Anne. Has two adult sons, Jacob and Joseph.