Mockett has eyes on AMS' future

Alfred Mockett, chairman and chief executive officer of American Management Systems Inc., is confident the company will make a comeback from its recent struggles.

Alfred Mockett, who joined American Management Systems Inc. as chairman and chief executive officer Dec. 1, has given himself 120 days to craft a vision and articulate a strategy for the systems integrator. AMS has struggled recently, and Feb. 21 it reported 2001 earnings of $15.9 million ? a more than 60 percent decline from 2000. But Mockett expressed confidence that he can help the Fairfax, Va.-based company rebound as the government market picks up steam. Mockett came to AMS after 10 years at British Telecom, most recently as CEO of Ignite, the company's international broadband, data and applications company. After two and one-half months on the job, Mockett spoke with Washington Technology Staff Writer Patience Wait about his management style and plans for reviving AMS.

WT: Why did you decide to come to AMS?

Mockett: Two or three years ago, when I was building a professional services organization for BT, we were looking for a U.S.-based acquisition target. We took a look at Cambridge Technologies, AMS and a few others. So I had the benefit of the best research and some investment banking opinion behind me. Then a headhunter came calling, and I was intrigued with the proposition. One meeting led to another.

WT: When you were at British Telecom, you built an organization from scratch, where here at AMS you have an institution that's already in place. How do your experiences from BT translate here?

Mockett: My experience of being a business builder goes back much further than BT: 25 years of building businesses. I have a track record of growing revenue. I've a track record of taking different components and building blocks and reconfiguring them, then using that as a platform for growth.

I've spent 25 years in the technology business, and I've been in a constant change-management environment. In my career, I've never had the privilege nor, perhaps, the misfortune of managing in steady-state conditions.

I think all of this is ideally suited for what lies ahead for AMS.

WT: What are you trying to accomplish in your first 100 days?

Mockett: Teddy Roosevelt [said] we're not making revolution, we're recognizing and giving shape to evolution. I set myself not 100 days, but 120 days. A nice calendar period, four months. I wanted to take that time to craft a compelling vision of the future for AMS, to articulate a strategy, to deliver that vision and then to underpin it with a robust set of business plans and programs to deliver the operational and financial performance. To do that, my first approach was to look at the company through different sets of eyes.

WT: Through whose set of eyes?

Mockett: The most important set of eyes was the customer set of eyes. So the first 30 to 60 days, I visited more than 30 clients in six countries. My second port of call was the investor base, our owners. I've now talked to owners that account for more than 30 percent of the stock.

The final constituency is the employees, and I've been in front of close to half our employees personally. We've now done two ... briefings for my kick-off meeting, and it has cascaded all the way down throughout the organization, and now we're getting cascaded feedback in return.

WT: Historically, AMS has been about 50-50 between government customers and the commercial sector. Is that a mix that you want to maintain?

Mockett: I think that's a great mix. If anything, I'd like to reinforce our commitment to the public sector. Perhaps historically, AMS has been a little bit embarrassed or apologetic about its penetration of the public sector. Now it appears to be the flavor of the month. I guess AMS' investment in growing that particular sector has really paid off. It's the one bright spot on the otherwise quite cloudy horizon for our industry.

WT: AMS has had a rocky time with two high-profile lawsuits: one with the state of Mississippi and now another with the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. How has that affected the company?

Mockett: AMS has delivered more than 5,000 successful engagements for clients for more than 30 years. Two of those have resulted in lawsuits. That's not a bad batting average. With that said, one lawsuit is one lawsuit too many, and I would like to keep AMS out of the lawsuit business. The Mississippi [case] is a closed chapter. All the litigation has been settled. We have settled with the insurance companies, and we've used the cash proceeds to retire all the debt.

So now we're sitting with a very robust balance sheet: zero debt, cash on the balance sheet, producing cash flow from operations, which is quite a privileged position to be in the teeth of a recession and which positions us very nicely for the rebound.

WT: How have other government customers reacted?

Mockett: The lawsuits appear to be a non-issue with the clients I've talked to, and I've talked to more than 30. I think they recognize that we've demonstrated a track record of success.

WT: Describe your management style.

Mockett: I pride myself on being open, collaborative and pursuing an open-door policy. My approach is communications from the shop floor to the boardroom. I'm a team builder. I've been characterized as a ruthless delegator, but with delegation comes accountability and responsibility.

I'm obsessively focused on results, so I'm achievement oriented. I deliver on my commitments; I have a track record of delivering on operational and financial commitments. In fact, at BT in 10 years, I only missed my commitments in one out of 10. In nine out of 10 years, I nailed my operational and financial commitments to the company and the stockholders. So that's Alfred Mockett.

Staff Writer Patience Wait can be reached at pwait@postnewsweektech.com

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