From his years in the Air Force to his leadership with the Cloud2 Commission, Deloitte Federal Services CEO Robin Lineberger advances strategy through his practical management of far-reaching innovation
There is a type among Washington government contractors for whom the commitment to public service is so ingrained that it’s a given. It’s not usually something they talk about or to which they draw attention. It’s just a part of their nature. They’re found throughout contracting businesses, from the entry levels to the C-suites. And Deloitte Federal Government Services CEO Robin Lineberger is one of them.
“What shaped me the most is being a third-generation veteran,” the former Air Force officer says, seated at a small conference table in his simple office, with a desk covered with family photos and challenge coins. “Many [leaving] the military could go anywhere but chose to operate in the public sector. I wanted to continue to give back … to enhance the security and the posture of the United States from a competitiveness standpoint, as well as from a physical security standpoint.”
The Deloitte building commands an impressive view of the Potomac and Key Bridge, but the glass walls of Lineberger’s office look out on rows of cubicles. Not much sets his office apart from others on the floor. Deloitte Federal Government Services, which serves every Cabinet-level agency in the U.S. government, provides leading-edge solutions through increased investment in innovation centers, talents, and acquisitions. And it has experienced rapid growth, some through acquisition, some through strategy. Federal Government Services now stands at 6,600 employees and an estimated $1.7 billion in revenue. What’s more, by all accounts, its growth curve will continue on an upward trend.
Lineberger takes pains to make clear that this growth was also driven by the perfect storm conditions of government needs and company positioning. Deloitte’s government organization has been able to draw not only on its long federal contracting experience but also on capacities especially sought after in times of budget tightening—capacities ranging from forensic accounting to health care to consolidation services.
That said, with government’s increasing need for technology, Lineberger’s particular expertise in managing the process of technology development can’t be underrated as part of the organization’s success.
Although he holds an MBA in information systems management from Oklahoma City University, Lineberger’s approach to managing technology dates back long before college. He points to the military culture in which he was raised as shaping his process leadership style: It was a culture “characterized by strong personal leadership, respect for authority, individual responsibility, and accountability,” he says. “I don’t tell people what to do prescriptively. It’s more objective-oriented. I rely on people to take initiative. I tend to think of management as a strong leadership role rather than an administrative role because of how I grew up.”
His father was killed in action as a pilot in Cambodia in 1971; his grandfather had been wounded at Pearl Harbor. It was inevitable that Lineberger would end up in the Air Force, where he headed software development for AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System).
Out of the Air Force in 1985, the native Texan took a job as a consultant with what became KPMG and was later branded as BearingPoint. He turned from radar to sonar at the Naval Underwater Systems Center in Connecticut, honing his technology management abilities, working for the balance between meeting deadlines and budgets yet still encouraging innovation.
His career would soar to new heights at the Johnson Space Center, which Lineberger regards as one of his peak work experiences as a consultant. His job: to develop strategy to segue the facility into a post–Cold War global center for innovation, one that would engage Soviet scientists in international research. Here, he had the chance to work with Gene Kranz, the NASA Flight Director of Apollo 13 fame, whom Lineberger calls “a ton of fun—a very interesting, very charismatic leader.”
Lineberger’s management approach was put to the test when, after 24 years at BearingPoint, he faced that company’s bankruptcy and its acquisition by Deloitte. The stakes were high: 3,500 jobs in the public sector division. “People could have been put out on the market in one of the worst economic times,” he recalls. “You shoulder that responsibility as a leader. They’re the family I worked with. They had worked hard for us—and with us.
“To help successfully give every one of them the opportunity to come over to a meaningful job at a world-class firm, that’s my biggest satisfaction, bar none. It’s all about the people.” The 3,500 combined with existing Deloitte employees and got back to work. Since the 2009 acquisition, the number of Federal Government Services employees has grown by about 2,000.
A match in corporate culture—owner-operated, partnership models—contributed to that success, he points out. “It wasn’t about me; it’s the business fit,” Lineberger adds. “It’s a genius fit.”
The crew moving to Deloitte had deep experience in the channels that connected to federal government needs. And Deloitte has the broad experience in services. The acquisition had the effect of attaching a faucet to a pipe: the bottled-up capabilities now had an efficient way to flow to where they were needed.
With more government budget cuts and an intensified need for efficiency ahead, Lineberger sees continued growth opportunities for Federal Government Services. And he’s positioning the organization accordingly. “This is our firm’s calling. We’re about business management consulting. We’ve been dealing with these challenges in the commercial environment for years. And now that it’s starting to substantiate in the federal government, we have the tools, techniques, and practices to put to work.”
“It’s what I call extreme diversity,” Lineberger says of the working method that has contributed to the growth of Federal Government Services. “You need a diverse set of people in the room if you’re going to innovate.
“You can’t just have the one researcher doing his or her own thing. If the approach is too narrow, then when you get in the midstage of technology development, you have to think about its reliability and its ability to be manufactured and maintained. You’ve got to bring all that capability together if you want to accelerate through the innovation process so you can apply it effectively to meet the mission.”
Take Lineberger’s work with the TechAmerica Foundation’s Commission on the Leadership Opportunity in U.S. Deployment of the Cloud (CLOUD2). The key, he says, is developing a “trust cloud” among government and commercial practitioners—people who understand the technology and people who understand the market needs—primarily for security.
“Then you have the policy field that says, all right, if we have a technologically sound system that has trust, how do we conduct acquisitions that ensure a trusted cloud provider can be readily identified and easily procured? How then do we take it to the policy side?
“You’re working with all of them at the table at the same time, rather than taking one step and realizing the next step doesn’t work because of that decision—and you have to go back.”
The upshot: Diversity gets results. This is the cloud, after all—no place for blue-sky thinking.
It’s a similar mindset to the one that gets put into play daily at Deloitte’s Centers for Federal Innovation and Cyber Innovation, neighbors to Federal Services. These centers pull together professionals from multiple disciplines, with orders to innovate—but always toward “production-ready solutions” and “real-world deployments.”
“It’s all about managing the technology development process, managing innovations, so the technology can be applied,” Lineberger says. “This can happen at a very low level, for a particular solution, or all the way up to a sector or industry level, for a broad-based concept like cloud.”
Recognition Roll Call
- Executive Committee, Deloitte U.S. Firms
- Outstanding Achievement Award in Industry, Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA), Bethesda chapter, 2011
- Commissioner, TechAmerica Foundation’s Commission on the Leadership Opportunity in U.S. Deployment of the Cloud (CLOUD2)
- Executive committee, Professional Services Council
- Treasurer, Northern Virginia Technology Council
- Co-chair, National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition advisory board
- Advisory board member, Ride 2 Recovery
- Mentor, American Corporate Partners program
- Co-chair, 2012 Leukemia Ball
Interestingly, the approach to process extends to Lineberger’s charitable work, which is significant. What, he analyzed, would allow the maximum benefit to others, be a successful fundraiser, align with the company, and plug in to his own concerns—helping veterans and staying fit? One answer came in the Ride 2 Recovery, an endurance cycling event (think races of about 350 miles and five or six days) where he is not just a contributor but a participant. The Ride is a combination fundraiser and rehabilitation activity for disabled veterans and their supporters. Endurance athletics have long been part of his philanthropic work, but this time, it was personal.
“You see both the positive and the negative impacts of what happens when you’re either wounded or when you lose someone in the family, just living and experiencing that from a very young age. I just—I know what the issues are. I know what people deal with.”
Along the road, there was lots of time for talking. He also works with American Corporate Partners to mentor veterans transitioning to the workplace, helping them translate their service activity to business terms. Lineberger marvels at the engineering adaptations vets and their supporters have made to their bikes and equipment, as well as at the strength of mind and heart they display (and shares how he was left eating dust by the elite para-athletes). The events are also a feeder system for athletes in the Warrior Games, Deloitte’s five-day sports event for military personnel with physical disabilities, in which Lineberger also participates.
Does anything not fit into the process? Well, there’s the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. In the past, Lineberger has taken part in the Olympic-length triathlon for that cause, but this year he’s opting just to co-chair the ball. He’ll manage the technology and find the time. GCE