John Gioia: Innovative, caring executive
- By David Hubler
- Jan 19, 2009
John Gioia, founder and former chairman, president and chief executive officer of Robbins-Gioia Inc., died Dec. 26, 2008, at the age of 76. Friends and colleagues agree he left a legacy of innovative corporate leadership and a devotion to family, friends and charitable works.
Tom Hewitt, retired former CEO of FedSources Inc., called Gioia an outstanding entrepreneur, patriot and concerned citizen who lobbied Congress for causes about which he felt strongly.
Reflecting on Gioia’s exemplary military and civilian careers and his many outside interests, Hewitt said, “I don’t know what John missed.” Gioia, a retired Air Force colonel, and Jack Robbins, a retired Air Force major general, founded the program management consulting company in Alexandria, Va., in 1980 based on the expertise they had gained in the military.
As CEO, Gioia played a prominent role when Robbins-Gioia advised AT&T Inc. on its bid to acquire National Cash Register Co. and on the government-ordered breakup and divestiture of the Bell operating companies. During his tenure, Robbins-Gioia’s revenue grew to $100 million annually.
Gioia stepped down as president in 1997 and retired as CEO in December 2002. His longtime friend Jim Leto succeeded him. Leto is now CEO of GTSI Inc.
“John’s vision to provide project management expertise to the government has endured almost 30 years,” Leto said.
“Needless to say, John is an icon in our industry. He started a consulting company when at the time nobody dared to provide project management consulting.
When people think of Robbins- Gioia, they immediately think of program and project management.” Gioia was an outstanding entrepreneur, as exemplified by the company’s success, said Sudhakar Shenoy, founder, chairman and CEO of IMC Inc. He called Robbins-Gioia one of the best known and best managed companies in the industry.
“He was a man way ahead of his time in technology and program management,” said John Marselle, Gioia’s current successor as the company’s CEO.
“But that’s not the thing that stood out with me. It was that when he walked into a room, he would fill it with his presence.” Gioia was direct, honest and straightforward, Marselle said. “He was just very generous and obviously a really inspiring leader.” Marselle said Gioia’s passion and concern for people extended well beyond the workplace. He recalled how Gioia once helped a critically ill employee deal with his medical coverage. “It’s frightening enough to be ill, but he actually helped the person in a program management way through the insurance company issues.” When employees became ill or had a sick family member, Gioia would immediately give them time off, saying health concerns and family came first, Marselle added.
Whether instructing or questioning employees, Gioia had a “splendid candor” that left a lasting impression. “You would accept it as total honesty, and you would grow from it,” Marselle said.
“As a human being, he was second to none,” said Shenoy, who knew Gioia as a personal friend for almost two decades.
Shenoy said he and Gioia and their wives often vacationed together, and the two executives frequently attended the annual Consumer Electronics Show.
“We used to have a blast looking at all the technology, discussing it and seeing if any of it can be useful to our businesses,” he said.
Shenoy also recalled the annual holiday parties at Gioia’s home. “He loved to have his friends with him,” he said. “All the guests who were invited had to bring a toy for [the Toys for Tots program].
He used to have hundreds of toys there,” all of which would go to the Marine Corps’ annual children’s charity.
“Charitable causes were one of the things he enjoyed doing,” Shenoy added.
Gioia was also an active local official of USO, a nonprofit organization that assists military service members and their families.
David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.