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SAIC's Keene sees growth opportunities ahead

As Nazzic Keene prepared to become the new CEO of Science Applications International Corp. on Aug. 1, I had the chance to talk with her about her plans for the company and what comes next.

It’s not breaking news that she is replacing the retiring Tony Moraco. She has been the chief operating officer for over two years and part of the company since 2012. Since the official announcement in March, her title has been CEO-elect.

From the spilt from Leidos in 2013 through the acquisition of Engility last year, Keene has been front and center as a leader of the strategic moves the company has made.

In my conversations with Moraco, he’s given more than equal credit to Keene for the company’s success. Their close working relationship is something that stands out to me, so that’s where I started.

What follows is an excerpt the interview, edited for length and clarity.

WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY: How did you and Tony work so well together? Why was that partnership such a powerful combination?

KEENE: We came to know each other at the final stages of the Leidos-SAIC spin and we always worked well together. For most things we were well aligned. We had the same opinions on major issues. And in the areas where we didn’t agree, we had a very respectful relationship where we could discuss things openly with each other. We could put forth our ideas and the result was always a strong outcome and alignment.

The interpersonal relationship, the respect, the regard, the collaboration that the two of us had really shaped our success. He’ll remain a mentor to me.

He had trust in me to step into the COO role and that allowed him to engage with the board, with the investors, with the Pentagon. The division of duties between us was very complementary.

WT: You won’t have a COO so who will play that role for you? Who is going to be you for you?

KEENE: There are going to be a few me’s for me. I elected to look toward the general managers of the different businesses to take on some of the COO duties. With the acquisition of Engility and the maturity and growth of our general managers these last few years, I believed they were ready to step in and take on some more responsibility.

So I flattened the organization and it keeps me closer to the lines of business in the areas where I want to continue to make an impact.

WT: What prepared you to be a CEO and take this step?

KEENE: I’ve always shaped my career and taken on roles where I thought I could make a difference. For me, it has always been about making an impact and making difference and working with great people and continuing to learn. That has defined every decision I’ve made in my career.

It is the same way with the CEO role. I want to make a difference for SAIC and leverage the great work that has been done to date and move ahead to the next chapter.

WT: You are one of the architects of the company’s strategy so how will that change now that you are CEO?

KEENE: The Engility acquisition really gives us in a different position in the market. We have access to a broader set of customers especially in the intelligence community and space domain. We are a stronger company financially. That is coupled with what we are seeing with budgets and the priorities of our federal government customers. So the changes will be a combination of what is happening internally at SAIC and externally.

What we want to do is accentuate a couple key areas. One is growth. We want to leverage the strength of SAIC, the acquisition of Engility and the market dynamics. We’ve had modest growth the last couple years and we are proud of that but I think we have an opportunity to explore growth in some new areas and some stronger areas.

The other is this war for talent. We have an opportunity to strengthen our value proposition to current employees and our prospects. At the end of the day it is a people business and that helps define SAIC.

WT: Can you give us some examples of where you see growth coming?

KEENE: Let’s start with the Engility acquisition because that was done for very strategic reasons. We have broader access across the intelligence community. We had a footprint at the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) but with the acquisition things have opened up at the other three-letter agencies. So we will look to leverage those relationships and our mission knowledge and domain expertise to drive growth.

The combination of what Engility had and what SAIC had in the space domain gives us a strong position there. We know there will be increased focus there whatever form the government decides to take.

Broad IT modernization also has been a priority of the government these last few years. We continue to see that as an emphasis across all of government.

WT: Where does SAIC need to change?

KEENE: We’ll continue our focus on solution development and repeatability so we can solve our customers challenges with solutions that let us do it faster and cheaper with more reliability.

We’ll increase that focus going forward. And that influences our partner relationships. We continue to partner with companies that drive these solutions. We look to strengthen those.

We are looking for new technologies, leading edge technologies across multiple areas – space, IT and other areas.

To hear our full interview with Nazzic Keene, listen to the Project 38 podcast where she talks about her plans for acquisitions, more on the talent wars and the challenges that the IT industry as a whole faces today.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jul 31, 2019 at 11:28 AM


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