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Inside SAIC's pending divorce

Execs explain how they managed people, results

When the leaders of Science Applications International Corp. got ready to announce last summer their plans to divide into two separate companies to better address the demands of the marketplace, they had to think about how to minimize the distraction to their employees, the majority of whom did not yet know of the planned split.

The initial design, which involved a small number of people, began in February 2012, said K. Stuart Shea, SAIC’s chief operating officer. The majority of the company’s employees did not know of the plan until it was publicly announced in an earnings call that took place on Aug. 30.

The company had a lot to lose; after all it is ranked No. 5 on the 2013 Top 100 with $6 billion in prime contracts. Overall, the company has more than $11 billion in total revenue.

“When we finally started bringing everybody into the fold, we were very specific with our employees,” Shea said. “We told them that 99 percent of the people in the company needed to stay focused on delivering to our customers. That was absolutely imperative.”

To assuage employee anxiety, the leaders of the company asked the workers to trust them to do the right thing on their behalf. In return, the leadership promised to put together a map that would provide key information for each major event on the road to the split.  

“We did a reasonable job of communicating the enormity of information that everyone wanted to know, had to know and needed to know in a time scale that made sense,” Shea said.

The company’s intent to split into two publicly traded independent companies, which is expected to occur at some point between July and January 2014, entails the creation of a new $7 billion entity known as Leidos that will draw 30 percent of its revenue from the commercial sector and be focused on delivering innovative technologies to specific sectors such as national security, engineering and health. 

The smaller $4 billion entity, which will retain the SAIC name, will deliver repeatable solutions, such as IT and technical services, to the government sector.

“You have a future SAIC that is really a pure-play for defense and government [and] has a track record of successful performance,” Shea said. “Leidos, by comparison, will develop new, innovative ways to solve problems.”

The markets that Leidos will address have an underlying thread that ties them together from a technology standpoint, Shea said. For example, they involve working with large volumes of information that require sophisticated data analytics.

At the same time it was developing an internal strategy for the split into two companies, SAIC also was taking steps to prepare for the automatic cuts embodied in the budget sequestration that began on March 1.

Sequestration didn’t occur overnight, of course. About the same time Congress passed the law in 2011 stating that if it failed to craft a compromise to reduce the deficit then $1 trillion in across-the-board budget cuts would occur, SAIC’s leaders began efforts to increase the company’s flow of contracts.

“We doubled our focus in areas that make a lot of sense to us strategically,” Shea said.

One of the areas in which SAIC strengthened its capabilities and increased its project bids is commercial health IT. SAIC acquired Vitalize Consulting Solutions and maxIT Healthcare in 2011 and 2012, respectively, which became the platform for SAIC’s commercial electronic health IT business, Shea said.

Similarly, the company ramped up its engineering capabilities, and it began to bid on more environmental and energy projects. 

“We are a prolific bidder to begin with, but we really focused on increasing our pipeline and doubling our focus in areas that make a lot of sense to us strategically,” Shea said. 

The increase in commercial work is designed to serve as a counterbalance to any dip in the company’s defense and national security work that might occur as a result of sequestration, he said.

To continue to thrive in the challenging defense and national security environment, SAIC is keeping a tight focus on enduring programs that will continue to be funded despite the sequestration, such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programs, Shea said.

SAIC believes that the Defense Department will continue to need airborne ISR capabilities in southwest Asia and other global hot spots. He also said that the shift in U.S. military assets to the Asia-Pacific region is likely to produce a number of opportunities for maritime ISR.

“We’re starting to see a big push in maritime ISR, and that’s where we see some of our research and development investments paying off in future bid opportunities,” Shea said.

The Defense Department’s quest to expand maritime ISR is well under way, and SAIC is playing a key part in it, Shea said. For example, SAIC won a three-year, $58 million contract in November 2012 from the Defense Advanced Research Projects  Agency to design and build a prototype of for agency’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program. The goal of the ACTUV program is to build an unmanned underwater vessel capable of tracking and locating  submarines in the deep sea that threaten U.S. naval forces.

“This is a big maritime program that will have some real legs in the future,” Shea said. “A lot of the investment we made a couple of years ago has turned into programs that could go into full-scale production.”

SAIC’s defense customers include the Army, Navy, Air Force, Defense Intelligence Agency and Defense Information Systems Agency. Among the company’s key civilian agency customers are NASA, National Science Foundation, Library of Congress, and the Energy, Homeland Security, and State departments, 

SAIC has a seat on nearly a dozen major governmentwide acquisition or indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract programs that produce a steady stream of task order contracts from defense and civilian agencies. SAIC officials believe that after the split the company will be better able to address individual customers’ needs.

At press time, SAIC was waiting for the Security and Exchange Commission and IRS to make recommendations and decisions about various aspects of the split, such as whether it will be a tax-free spin, Shea said.

Shea does not foresee any major sticking points. He says the company is ready for the split.

“[We are] like a racehorse stuck in a stable,” he said. “We all value the history we had, but are excited about moving forward.”

About the Author

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

Reader Comments

Sun, Jun 23, 2013 USA

Don't care whether the split results in 22 companies, the quality still reflects a huge corporate entity that too often is adversarial to govt. personnel and agencies. Taxpayer pays outsized wages, benefits, bonuses, etc. that govt. personnel will never reach yet ends up doing the work of the contractors. Why hasn't this been investigated? How many of the contractors play round robin with govt. positions? Collusion? A sad joke on the taxpayer & govt. employee. Ethics, probity, morality? Security clearance fiasco? $5 BILLION and influence in every agency in govt.. Democracy of/by/for the people? Oh, puleeze!!

Thu, Jun 20, 2013

“Trust” the leaders of this company – this is a joke, right? The reason SAIC is going through this split is that for several years now the company has had a completely incompetent and ineffective Board of Directors (no hint of independent corporate governance), and an executive management team entirely incapable of original thought, but swimming in self-aggrandizing narcissism. Despite being paid millions in annual compensation, they have to pay additional millions to consultants who tell them what to do and how to do it. They frequently cite as rationale “our competitors are doing this.” So, since they seem to be following the lead of their competitors, why hasn’t the BoD fired the management team and recruited new management from the competition? Again, it’s because there is no independent and competent corporate governance. The company began experiencing problems immediately after management dismantled the bottom-up employee incentive system that motivated and inspired growth and replaced it with a top-down autocracy … big surprise there! Trust? The message that SAIC is splitting along the lines of solutions business (Leidos) and services business (new SAIC) is a complete fabrication. SAIC has nothing even approaching $7B in solutions business – not even the same order of magnitude. The vast majority of business that will form Leidos is government services. There is also a little solutions business that will be in the new SAIC. Management did not go nearly deep enough in the reorganizing of operating units to truly separate solutions and services businesses – in part, because there simply isn’t enough solutions business to make a credible stand-alone company. So, all the talk about the two companies not competing is poppycock as well. The internal units compete with each other now – they’ll compete even more ferociously when they are two separate companies … and the competition will start on day 1 … or, given the choice of descriptors in this article, even sooner.

Thu, Jun 20, 2013

Trust them? That's rich. Everyone who is being laid off as a result of this doesn't feel particularly trusting at this point.

Thu, Jun 20, 2013 Brian Keller Norther Virginia

In a time of fiscal turmoil and uncertainty, as well as changing national strategic priorities, it is good to see a company remain focused on growth and producing results for our nation. Too many forget that an important element of national power is its economy--and SAIC and Leidos are vital emelemtns of that power.

Thu, Jun 20, 2013

William, you should be much more critical in your questions. This split is a joke and an indication that the BoD and Exec Team should be removed. The way employees have been treated since going public is a travesty. They took a collection of entrepreneurs and neutered their flexibility. Hence organic growth is negative and what was once a nimble corporation is now a plodding elephant.

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