Sitting in a 10th-floor conference room with floor-to-ceiling windows and expansive views of Reston, Ed Casey points to a building just across the street.
“See where it says Serco on that building?” Casey asks, referring to the large letters on the top floor marking Serco’s growing territory. “That used to say SI.”
Casey is talking about an office building that formerly housed the federal contracting firm SI International — until Casey, now in his fifth year at the helm of Serco, Inc., oversaw the acquisition of the multimillion-dollar information services firm. The “merger of equals,” as Casey calls it, doubled the size of Serco, taking it from $600 million in revenues to more than $1 billion.
The acquisition was just one component of a lightning-fast growth strategy for the North American arm of Serco — a publicly traded, U.K.-based provider of professional, technology and management services focused on the federal government. When Casey joined the firm in 2005, his mandate was to grow the company’s presence on this side of the pond.
“We were a global leader in our space, but yet had hardly any presence here in North America,” Casey says. “The question was, ‘How do we take this company and build an important player in North America?’”
The answer? Hire a CEO slash wonder kid known outside of federal contracting circles for growing companies and boosting balance sheets. At Serco, Casey has so far lived up to his head-spinning reputation with two successive acquisitions, first in 2005 with RCI Holding Corporation, one of the main service providers to the Defense Department, and then SI International in 2008.
With these two integrations complete, Casey is once again in search mode. But Casey isn’t the kind of CEO who adds companies just to boost the balance sheet.
“I strongly believe to be successful in the acquisition game, you have to spend time developing a strategy,” he says. “What are the companies that make sense for you as a company, and are they going to help you grow your business? We have defined acquisition criteria, and we’re very disciplined about that.
With RCI and SI International, for example, Serco was able to expand its range of capabilities, now offering services to every branch of the U.S. military, key federal civilian agencies and the intelligence community.
Integration is also key. Even before SI agreed to the acquisition, Casey established a team to prepare for the potential integration.“We built the [transition and integration] plan while we were doing our due diligence,” he says.
Casey’s success didn’t go unnoticed by his peers in the industry. “When Ed joined the industry, he did so with a successful, diverse and — when compared with most government service-industry executives — a different experience base,” says William C. Hoover, president and CEO of AMERICAN SYSTEMS in Chantilly. “The diversity of his industry experience combined with his open-minded attitude, in my opinion, have been a benefit and differentiator for Ed.”
Putting Family First
Casey’s acquisition approach may be methodical, but his path to Serco was a bit more circuitous. A graduate of Harvard College and University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, Casey spent the first 25 years of his career in investment banking and the energy sector. His career path took him — and his family — all over the country, from New York to Louisville to Houston.
By the time he settled in San Francisco as a managing partner of The Fremont Group, Bechtel’s investment arm, his high school-aged son and daughter announced they wanted to head back east for boarding school.
Casey, in a move not typical of someone working in the competitive corporate world, decided he’d leave his job so his family could be together. Casey and his wife relocated to her hometown of Charlottesville, Va., while the kids attended boarding school in D.C. Casey then spent a year shuttling back and forth from New York and Charlottesville as he transitioned out of The Fremont Group.
“Ultimately, I took a three-year sabbatical,” says Casey, who relished the extra time with his family. “I have no regrets because that time I had [with my family], they were really magical years for us. Not many people on the corporate fast track get that opportunity.”
During those years, Casey was active as an investor in small businesses. But — still a CEO at heart — the camaraderie and teamwork would eventually bring him back to the corporate sector.
“I call this industry the ultimate team game. This is not about superstars. This is not about a strategic silver bullet. This is not about negotiating a deal or creative financing. This is about building a high-performance team so you’re delivering great service every day.”
‘More Than a Job’
Serco has been yet another chapter in Casey’s unfolding career. Working in the federal space, he says, has shown him another slice of the marketplace.
“In this industry, it’s more about execution,” Casey says. “For me, there is no strategic silver bullet that determines why one company is more successful than another in this space. It’s all about providing great service to your customer.”
One path to success, Casey says, is by a total commitment to the mission. He cites work on a recent naval contract that had a Serco team readying deployable hospitals. Serco won the contract — beating out an incumbent — right before the devastating earthquake in Haiti. The Serco team immediately rushed to get supplies to the devastated country.
“One of the great feelings in my career, we didn’t have to go down and ask our people to work harder — they heard it from the customer and immediately were working 24/7,” he said. “Ultimately, we were even able to surprise our Navy customer with how quickly we got those hospitals deployed.”
Within 12 days, Serco had assembled 16,000 supplies and set up a 150-bed hospital in Haiti.
“You walk away from that saying, ‘Okay, this is more than a job.’ Our government customers know we will move heaven and earth to help them achieve their missions,” he says.
With such gratifying experiences the rule rather than exception, Casey has no plans to leave Serco anytime soon. But no doubt this isn’t the last chapter in his varied career.
“I don’t identify who I am with my career and I’ve always felt so secure in my family life that it’s enabled me to embrace change and take some personal career risks,” he says. “As a result of that, I’ve had a very interesting career.”
— By Katie Wilmeth