He gets a glint in his eye when he talks about increasing company capabilities through cross-pollination. In the fast-changing global IT world he inhabits, George Schindler drives innovation, in large part, through a form of relationship building that bridges differences among disparate companies. Collaboration—across sectors, clients, colleagues, even charities—has become a hallmark of his successful career at CGI.
As a leading information technology and business process services firm, CGI helps provide end-to-end services and mission critical IP solutions to clients in government, healthcare, banking, insurance, telecommunications, utilities and manufacturing, and retail and distribution.
CGI’s U.S. operations are part of CGI Group Inc., a Montreal-headquartered company operating more than 125 offices in 16 countries worldwide, with a global footprint poised for even greater expansion with its $2.64 billion purchase of London-based IT firm Logica.
Named president of CGI’s U.S. operations last year, Schindler leads the company’s strategy, growth, and client delivery services across both public and private sectors. Based in Fairfax, Va., he oversees 40-plus offices nationwide, giving CGI a local presence in every major U.S. region. As a member of CGI’s management committee, he also participates in the development and execution of CGI’s global strategy.
His career and life growth, he says, follow three key concepts, which can be roughly broken down to: Keep working, keep learning, and keep changing. How these play out is what makes the bigger story.
Learning by Example
It’s no coincidence that the man who builds bridges between diverse partners hails from the City of Bridges—Pittsburgh.
That city made an impact beyond making Schindler a lifelong Steelers fan. Like many locals, he grew up in the shadow of U.S. Steel. His father landed a job as an electrical engineer at the industrial metals giant after studying under the GI Bill. (His grandfather and uncles worked there, too.) Faced with certain change in the steel industry, his father developed nearly a dozen patents while at U.S. Steel.
His mother, who completed three majors and earned multiple college scholarships, became a high school language teacher. Schindler recalls how she described her role: “More than French, English, or Latin, I taught life lessons on how to continue to learn.” At her funeral almost four years ago, former students lined up beyond the doors—a testament to his mother’s contributions.
Schindler’s close-knit family centered on his parents as role models. They showed him, he says, that work, learning, and change needed to be applied toward making a positive impact.
Making IT Connections
It was after graduating from Purdue with a degree in computer science that Schindler joined a company called American Management Systems—and never left.
He had nearly 20 years of experience working at AMS, some of it with the original founders, by the time CGI acquired the company in 2004. That deal doubled the company’s U.S. presence.
AMS was an industry-focused company and organized vertically, but Schindler seized the opportunity to leverage complementary capabilities early on. “I lived in the vertical, but I really did horizontal,” he says of his work in sectors ranging from financial services, transportation, and retail to state government, defense and intelligence.
The experience provided perspective not only on the differences in each industry but also on the potential synergies across them.
CGI’s acquisition of AMS landed Schindler in New York City’s financial district in 2004, where he was the US lead for the banking and investments industry group and responsible for leading operations in the Greater New York Region. CGI had a large presence with the State of New York, and AMS brought a big banking practice to the table, and the City of New York as its biggest client: “I could have kept them separate in their separate industries, but I really wanted to get the cross-fertilization and collaboration to create some of the innovation we were looking for.”
On a personal note, living at the tip of Manhattan in Battery Park and working a block from Ground Zero in the near aftermath of 9/11 was chilling. Members of his team had watched the buildings fall. “They watched, and they just saw darkness,” Schindler says, noting that most New Yorkers were only just beginning to talk about the events of that day, nearly three years later.
Running Toward Opportunity
In 2006, Schindler was tapped to return to Washington as President of CGI Federal, a wholly-owned U.S. operating subsidiary of CGI Group Inc. He was quick to accept the offer, taking responsibility for CGI’s business with the civilian, defense, and intelligence sectors of the U.S. government.
“The reason I ran toward the position is because of CGI Federal’s structure,” he says of the pull of the new role. “I embraced the opportunity to work directly with the board.” That group included, among others: former CEO Paul Lombardi; former NSA chief Air Force Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minihan; Army Major Gen. Robert Harding, who was CEO of a consultancy after retiring from a career in defense intelligence; and Lt. Gen. James Peake, a former Surgeon General.
The opportunity to receive mentoring and guidance from esteemed leaders within and outside of his company was irresistible. “You ask what made me feel so ready for my current position, and that was it,” Schindler says.
The collaborative strategy paid off again—with the company roughly doubling through organic growth, and the 2010 acquisition of Stanley, Inc., tripling the growth beyond that. Growth in both ways exemplifies the CGI strategy. Washington Technology heralded the Stanley transaction as the 2010 Deal of the Year—with good reason.
“But clients vote with their money,” Schindler says. Bookings at 130 percent of current revenue for 12 months send a clear message.
The diversification Stanley brought has benefits, but to Schindler it is more about collaboration: “The deal enhances the depth and breadth of our offerings, and that allows CGI to prime more business.” It also qualifies the company for big IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity) federal contracts and task orders.
Riding on the success of the Stanley deal, Schindler took over the reigns of CGI U.S. last year. For the new president, the rule of collaboration still applies. Government—federal, state and local—comprises CGI’s largest single industry, followed by financial services, manufacturing and retail. Its fastest-growing sector is healthcare.
Schindler sees cross-sector alignment as a means to help drive cost savings through technology. Cloud, security and regulatory change apply across the board. “Taking those common threads, developing common solutions—leading the company through that is energizing to me.”
Logica will amplify these capabilities across the globe. CGI generates 94 percent of its revenues in North America, and Logica generates over 90 percent of its income from Europe, so the acquisition is highly complementary geographically. And from an industry perspective, while CGI’s biggest strengths lie in government and financial services, Logica’s are focused on utilities, manufacturing, transportation and energy. (At publication time, the acquisition was slated to close in August.)
Returning to the “make a positive impact” philosophy, Schindler believes the biggest change after the acquisition of Logica will be a greater ability for CGI to serve clients globally, in addition to creating a more robust menu of products and services and more opportunities for cross-pollination. “It doesn’t change the strategy at all,” he says. “It doesn’t change the culture at all. And, all the core values, it doesn’t change those at all.”
The Logica acquisition is the latest demonstration of CGI’s strategy to grow both organically and inorganically. “We see a lot of pockets of growth, and we’re moving toward those,” he adds. “We’re going to continue to buy companies in the U.S., and we’re going to continue to drive growth through these initiatives.”
Making a Difference
Building bridges is as much an approach to life for Schindler as a leadership style. An active board member of Catalogue for Philanthropy Greater Washington, he applies the same collaborative principles. “We identify the best high-impact, low-budget charity nonprofits in the area and connect them with donors,” he explains. The charities are all local with budgets of $3 million or less.
“It’s about connecting to the best,” he adds, noting the importance of giving voice to smaller charities with high impact. “And it’s about impact on me personally but also on our company—focusing on making a difference.”
CGI culture celebrates positive impact as well. The company has an established internal program to annually recognize a handful of select individuals as “builders.” It’s part of the “two founders, many builders” corporate philosophy that champions the role of CGI employees, 85 percent of whom are shareholders.
For Schindler, receiving the honor three years ago from CGI Founder and Executive Chairman Serge Godin has been his proudest accomplishment in a 37-year career marked by continuous achievement. GCE
Getting the Balance Right with IT Onshoring
An example of moving toward opportunity is CGI’s movement to get ahead of the game in onshoring. While some companies are pulling manufacturing jobs back to the United States, IT remained underserved in this way. Yet, as CGI points out, IT may benefit most from a multi-shore model, most of all but not only because of cybersecurity concerns.
Ensuring security of all kinds is a big consideration in onshoring, as is developing quality jobs for the United States. At the beginning of the year, the White House held a forum on “Insourcing American Jobs,” during which President Obama put forward tax advantages to bringing jobs back to the United States.
While these factors motivate the move to onshoring, CGI’s approach is to strive for “rebalancing.” Diversifying, managing risk, aligning with overall strategy—all these considerations enter into the equation when companies begin looking beyond short-term cost benefits of offshoring. What’s more, an astutely balanced multi-shore strategy can get the best of all worlds—realizing cost savings as well as other benefits including stability, accountability, and control.
That said, Schindler and the company are fairly pleased by the across-the-board benefits brought home by their three U.S. onshore centers. The first of these centers, opened in Lebanon, Va., in 2006, has more than 420 employees. The latest, in Belton, Texas, has a goal of creating 400 well-paying IT jobs. It’s close to Fort Hood, and hiring from the veteran talent pool is part of the plan. The company has measurable proof, in improved quality and reduced cost numbers, that this isn’t a make-work project but an innovative way to get the best work possible.