Talent scout

George Newstrom brings commercial perspective to state government

George Newstrom describes himself as someone who likes to establish goals and objectives and develop a strategy to obtain them. "I don't like to work off the cuff," he said.

As George Newstrom goes about familiarizing himself with his new job as Virginia's secretary of technology, he is posing the same question to each manager or supervisor he meets within the state technology office: "Who are your rising stars?"

This is Newstrom's way of finding the most talented employees within the Virginia Department of Information Technology, the organization he now heads after spending the last 27 years as an executive with Electronic Data Systems Corp. of Plano, Texas. Newstrom told Washington Technology he wants to build a "cadre of talented people" to help him successfully manage Virginia's technology investment.

Though only on the job since March 1, Newstrom and Virginia Gov. Mark Warner have spoken frequently about the state's technology needs since Newstrom's appointment Jan. 3. From those discussions, Newstrom established three goals: transform Virginia into a global economic player; improve the methods used to track technology spending; and consider the interests of all parts of the state when making strategic technology decisions.

Newstrom comes to the Virginia post after spending the past two years as president of EDS' Asia Pacific Information Systems unit, which pulled in $1 billion in annual revenue. Newstrom also has run EDS' state and local government business and its entire government business at different times in his career.

His background in the private sector should be a plus for Virginia, said Aldona Valicente, Kentucky's chief information officer. Governors these days are often looking for a person to run the state technology department who didn't come up through the ranks of state government.

Moreover, someone with a nontraditional background or multidisciplinary experience can be advantageous, she said. "[If I were a governor] I would hate to put somebody in this job that didn't know how to manage technology," she said. "And sometimes, not coming from the state government gives you a way to think differently and to probe."

Like many other states, Virginia will have a substantial budget shortfall in fiscal 2002-03. Because of this, Warner wants his administration to develop "a sound budget" that agencies and departments can follow over the next few years, Newstrom said.

Newstrom said his challenge during the next six to eight weeks will be to establish a baseline of technology resources from which he can create strategic and long-term plans.

"Early indicators are that we don't have an information technology master plan," he said.

Virginia spends between $800 million and $1.2 billion on IT each year, Newstrom said. He declined to speculate on how much the legislature will appropriate for technology spending in fiscal 2002-03.

Those that know and have worked with Newstrom expect him to bring energy and enthusiasm to his new post.

"He always runs at top speed," said Randy Dove, EDS' executive director of government affairs. The two worked together when Newstrom ran EDS' government business.

Dove recalled the instrumental role Newstrom played in bringing the World Technology Congress to Fairfax County, Va., in 1998. Newstrom chaired the congress that year.

"He made the world aware of what a great technology center Fairfax County was," Dove said. "At the time, many people didn't think of Fairfax County as a hotbed of technology. He helped put it on the map as one of the most significant technology areas of the world."

Newstrom describes himself as someone who likes to establish goals and objectives and develop a strategy to obtain them. "I don't like to work off the cuff," he said.

In addition to building a talented staff, Newstrom said he wants to follow another key private-sector approach, which is to use technology to obtain business goals, not vice-versa.

During initial meetings with staff and state officials, Newstrom said he heard a lot of unfocused talk about technology.

"I've spent two days in meetings so far, and heard a lot about technology," he said. "But when I asked how technology is being applied to the business of government, the answer was more elusive. We need to make sure those come together more substantially."

Staff Writer William Welsh can be reached at wwelsh@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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