GCN AWARDS' INDUSTRY EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR
CACI's Cofoni brought team-first approach to defense work
- By Richard W. Walker
- Oct 17, 2012
Paul Cofoni got his first test as a young executive when General Dynamics, where he worked for 17 years, sent him to Southern California to help manage the firm’s fast-growing data systems division.
It was 1984, during the big defense buildup under President Ronald Reagan, but the division’s laid-back workforce lacked direction.
“We had talented people but they weren’t really focused on pulling together toward a common set of goals and the achievement of excellence,” he said. “It was a crucial time in my development as a leader, where I had to come to grips with getting this group of people focused on long-term objectives."
That also meant that Cofoni, who will retire in December after five years as president and chief executive officer of CACI International Inc., had to learn to communicate the importance of a creating an entirely new culture. “It became a two-year experiment for me in organizational alignment and getting people to take ownership of our performance.”
His efforts were successful; in four years the division became the leader of General Dynamics’ four groups, and it marked a turning point in his career, he said.
Over the course of his career Cofoni also has seen his approach to corporate problem-solving evolve. “We’ve always heard that old [adage] that two minds are better than one,” he said. “There was a point where I came to believe that, and that was a turning point in my management style, which went from thinking I know more than anybody else in the room to the belief that we could get a better result by engaging as many people as possible.”
Cofoni left General Dynamics in 1991 for Computer Sciences Corp., where in March 2001 he was named president of CSC’s federal sector after a decade as head of CSC’s North American IT outsourcing.
But later that year, the attacks of 9/11 changed everything for him. “Within six months it was clear to me why it was important for me to be [in the federal sector] because Sept. 11, 2001, was the beginning of a redefining of America in terms of preserving our freedom and [facing] a new generation of threats,” Cofoni said.
Cofoni maintained a leadership role in the government market when he joined CACI in 2005 as president of U.S. operations. He was named president and CEO in 2007. Under his guidance, the company increased its market share in defense, homeland security and intelligence and annual revenue rose to $3.8 billion from $1.6 billion.
He also promoted the hiring and nurturing of talented employees at CACI, especially military veterans. Under a program called Deploying Talent-Creating Careers, CACI has hired 900 veterans in the last year, 200 of them disabled. In all, 22 percent of CACI’s 15,000 employees are vets.
Cofoni stepped down as CEO in July and has acted as chief advisor to the board of directors since then. After retiring, Cofoni plans to seek areas where he can continue to contribute. “I think I have a lot left to contribute to young management teams that are trying figure out ways to innovate and grow,” he said. “I don’t want to go back into a full-time role, but I don’t want to go to zero either. I’m constitutionally unable to go to zero.”
Richard W. Walker is a freelance writer based in Maryland.