Border work brings unexpected career path

Gena Alexa of Unisys didn't expect to go into border control work, but her success has made a difference.

Gena Alexa never thought she’d make a career out of border security. But as head of Unisys Corp.’s customs and border security business, the 34-year-old is responsible for five prime contracts and one subcontract, including 400 employees and contractors.

“What I really like about the work has been all the mission-critical applications,” said Alexa, who has a marketing undergraduate degree and a master’s in business administration.

Two of the largest contracts on Alexa’s plate are supporting the Customs and Border Protection agency’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which is using technology to enhance border security. She is also tasked with building any Unisys business related to customs and border security.

She started her career supporting automated inspections systems for the former Immigration and Naturalization Service and was involved in several programs to identify travel documents provided by low-risk travelers into the United States.

Her work for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative specifically involved overseeing the deployment of radio frequency identification technology and license plate reader technology at the top 39 U.S. land border ports of entry. The project, born out of a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission, was completed in about 18 months, which was considered an aggressive timeline.

“Many of the applications I’ve been responsible for are applications that law enforcement people interact with," she said. "When you add automation to their jobs, you can see the benefit of them being able to secure the country."

Six months ago, Alexa took over the border security practice at Unisys, making the company’s clients and their needs her latest career focus. Her biggest lesson learned in business is the need to understand clients and how a technology or solution can be applied to their business, she said.

“When you look at homeland security, the threats are always changing and you have to be proactive,” she added. “The biggest challenge is being able to rapidly change with the environment and making sure you have the breadth of people to do that response.”

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