Splitting SAIC

Guiding the division of a multibillion dollar, global company

If splitting a Fortune 500 company with over $11 billion in annual revenues and some 38,000 employees sounds like a monumental task, Doug Wagoner (MBA '90) will tell you it's all that, and then some.

Wagoner is a senior vice president at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), the McLean, Va.-based federal government contractor that announced in August 2012 that it would separate into two independent, publicly traded companies. Wagoner was put in charge of the break-up.

Doug Wagoner
Doug Wagoner

“It is the most challenging and nerve-wracking assignment I could have ever imagined in my career,” he says. “It is also the most fun and rewarding — the best learning experience I've had since Pamplin.”

A 25-year veteran of the federal technology industry, Wagoner had led SAIC's homeland and civilian solutions business unit for five years when he was reassigned to the split, which aimed to leave one company focused on technical engineering and IT services for government and other large organizations, and the other — what SAIC calls “a solutions focused business” — catering to the national security, engineering, and health sectors.

Wagoner's work on the initiative, known internally as the Gemini Program, reached its conclusion when SAIC's board approved the split in early September. Though the two new companies began their first day as separate entities on Sept. 30, they have been organized and operating within SAIC since this spring, he says.

Branding in the social media age

The deep relationships he has forged with his team members aside, Wagoner says the most memorable aspect of his work was the naming and branding of the solutions company.

“We hired one of the best branding firms in the world, Interbrand, to support us and thought naming would take a few weeks. I was not prepared for the complexity, in the social media age, of naming a multibillion dollar, global company that operates in 40 countries and in diverse industries.

“With more than 240 million registered domains in the world, it is very hard to find a name available that resonates across many industries, passes global copyright reviews, and does not insult someone in a foreign language.”

Months passed, and 20 acceptable possibilities emerged. “We wanted to share the names with employees but decided it was best to secure trademark rights to the final name before disclosing it more broadly,” he says.

The chosen moniker, “Leidos,” received a grand unveiling. “The name is clipped from 'kaleidoscope' to signify looking at and enlightening a problem from different perspectives,” he says. “We knew employees would prefer a more literal name, given the history and background of the company and employee base, but those names were all taken many, many years ago. Thus, the immediate reaction to 'Leidos' was very vocal, and mostly negative.”

Leidos logo

Wagoner says that, as the program manager, he had to remain dispassionate about decisions and execution, but he understood that separation sentiments could run high — after all, the 44-year-old company was, until 2006, employee-owned, with many having built long-term careers and lifelong relationships there. “Believe me — I felt that emotion with the name change.”

He and his team have gone to great lengths, he says, to communicate with employees and let them have their say. “We have several blogs on our intranet where they can post comments. They can also ask me any question they want, and I answer them all, over 1,000 to date.”

With the release of branding materials, which included tag lines developed with employee participation, employees are “overwhelmingly embracing” the new name and identity, he says.

Corporate entrepreneurship

Wagoner, whose resumé includes years at EDS (now HP) and ChoicePoint, joined SAIC in 2007 as a business unit leader. He was drawn by the breadth and depth of the company's capabilities and its strong ethical foundation, he says, as well as the opportunity to “run a very sizable business and be an entrepreneur within a larger corporation.”

Projects undertaken at the homeland and civilian solutions business unit under his leadership included engineering and building a big part of the next generation southern border communication system for U.S. Customs and Border Protection; managing the communications network that supports every NASA mission; and helping the Environmental Protection Agency use cloud technology on a large scale.

When the separation is done, Wagoner will join the executive leadership team at the services company, which will retain the SAIC name. “I'm very excited to be part of new SAIC, but I can't provide my exact position until after the split.”

Looking back at his job over the past year, he says the best part was designing two multibillion-dollar companies from the ground up. “You know for many years to come that your work to design and build these two great companies will provide opportunity for thousands of employees, solve critical challenges for customers, and hopefully bring great value to shareholders.”

Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Magazine Fall 2013

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