Don't expect retirement to slow George Newstrom down
George Newstrom doesn’t talk like a person jumping into retirement.
In fact, his voice conveys the same level of enthusiasm for technology and the government market as it did nearly 20 years ago when we first met.
Newstrom, who just turned 70, retired Tuesday from NTT Data, about 90 days after NTT Data acquired Dell Services in an $3.1 billion deal. Newstrom led Dell’s federal services business.
NTT Data already had a head of federal, Tim Conway, but Newstrom agreed to stay three months to help with the integration of the business. He also knew the time had come to do something else.
The short term plan is to continue serving on some boards of companies and non-profit organizations and stay involved in the education field.
“I don’t think I’ll work full-time again, but I’ll stay involved,” he said, joking that this was his third attempt at retirement.
Newstrom was a long-time leader at Electronic Data Systems Corp., and he left EDS to become Secretary of Technology for Virginia under Gov. Mark Warner. After his stint in Richmond, he joined Lee Technologies as president and chief operating officer. In 2011, Dell pulled him out of retirement one more time to run its federal services business. Between Warner and Lee and then Lee and Dell, Newstrom had short stints of retirement.
During his career, Newstrom has led multi-billion dollar organizations, managed global operations, and learned valuable lessons on being a leader.
Newstrom cites three career highlights about what he is most proud of.
The first is the World Congress of Information Technology. It is an event that draws participants from all over the world to discuss, learn and exhibit the latest in IT and related services. In 1998, Newstrom led the effort that brought the World Congress to Fairfax County, Va. The 2016 congress was in Brazil.
“I really think we put Fairfax County and Northern Virginia on the map,” he said. The event was a driver of economic development in the region, an experience that helped Newstrom in 2002 when he became secretary of technology. “Economic development was a big part of the work I did as secretary,” Newstrom said.
Another highlight was the three years he spent living in Hong Kong, managing EDS’s Asia-Pacific business. It was a $2 billion a year business that spread over a vast region. “A short hop for me was a five-hour flight to Tokyo,” he said.
“Personally, I learned a tremendous amount about Eastern culture, how they think, how they compete and their approach to education,” Newstrom said. “They work very hard at education and that is who we are competing with.”
Education also is his third career highlight and one of his passions. He’s been actively involved with George Mason University since 1984. He just recently stepped down as vice chair of the GMU Foundation Board. He’s also taught classes there and has a graduate level course starting in a couple months.
His passion for education, though, goes back to his own college days when he was working to get his California state teaching certificate.
“The day after I got my degree, Uncle Sam called,” Newstrom said. He was being drafted by the Army, but instead he enlisted in Marine Corps and eventually went to Officer Candidate School.
“I still have a passion for education and would love to teach part-time,” he said.
Wherever Newstrom has gone, he’s always found himself in leadership positions, but leadership styles have changed dramatically over the years, he said.
“I’m a Type A kind of guy, and the way I was taught was the leader stood up in front of people and said, 'Here’s what we are going to do and here’s how we do it,'” Newstrom said.
But that doesn’t cut it anymore. Today, it is about building teams and reaching across organizations and even borders to build those teams, he said.
“NTT Data is a multi-national organization; Dell was a multinational organization so I had people in multiple time zones, different organization, different countries, but we were trying to get to the same goal,” he said.
The key to leadership today is to focus on the goal, on the objective. “If you focus on fiefdoms and the org chart, you’ll fail,” he said.
“The change wasn’t natural for me,” Newstrom said. “But I was lucky enough to work with some great people at EDS, and then under Mark Warner and John Lee. They taught me a lot.”
Newstrom offered two pieces of advice when asked what he tells people starting their careers today.
“I told both my children, Go do the job others don’t want to do or can’t do,” he said.
Yes, it can be riskier but there also can be higher rewards. “If you do what everyone else does, you’ll be measured against everyone else,” he said.
But if you do what others can’t do and don’t want to do, you stand out. “That can be a huge trait for success,” he said.
His second piece of advice probably applies to anyone at any point in their career.
“Accept the truth that the world is changing and don’t stomp your feet about it,” Newstrom said. “Take the change and run with it.”
And speaking of change there is a lot change going on in the government market and the country overall.
“I’m encouraged by what I see going on, regardless of who is in the White House,” Newstrom said. “Technology is going to continue to accelerate the pace of change, and I’m encouraged that more people are getting involved.”
And you should expect Newstrom’s involvement to continue even if he isn’t running a company or a line of business.
“If you aren’t involved and engaged on a day to day basis, you lose that edge. I’ve seen that happen,” he said. “So it doesn’t matter where, I’ll continue to be involved.”
Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jan 31, 2017 at 12:35 PM