Fort Ord, California.
Fort Hood, Texas.
Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
“I literally grew up all over the world,” says George Newstrom. “With my father in the military, we moved every couple years, and we had to learn how to adapt quickly. We had to be social, meet new friends, and establish new relationships.” Now the Corporate Vice President of Dell US Public Services which includes Dell Services Federal Government, Inc (DSFG) and the Education, State and Local (ESL), George takes the skills he cultivated in adapting to the changing terrain of his youth and applies them today to the changing world of business, achieving a dynamism in DSFG that has allowed it to become a prominent branch of the corporation today.
“Michael Dell had a vision as a student at the University of Texas—selling computers directly to people,” George explains. That vision has since evolved into a global, $60 billion company with over 100,000 employees, serving industries all over the world. One such industry is the United States Federal Government, and in 2009, Dell purchased Perot Systems, an IT services provider launched by Ross Perot in 1988, to address the industry’s needs.
“As a company, Dell is widely recognized and highly respected, with a great brand around the hardware component of information technology,” George affirms. “I’m actually involved in a different sector, exploring how customers and clients use technology to help their business perform better. That’s what Perot Systems did, and that’s what we do now in DSFG, with a myriad of subject matter experts highly trained in different agencies of the U.S. Government.”
George joined DSFG as their Executive Director and General Manager in October of 2011. “It was pure timing,” he says, reflecting on the events that led to the transition away from his previous company, Lee Technologies. Lee Technologies was sold in early 2011, and George was ready for a change. He briefly entertained the notion of retiring, and though he quickly discarded that idea, he still declined when a friend at Dell asked if he wanted to come onboard. The friend then offered him a different set of responsibilities that extended into the intelligence and cyber worlds. “I was intrigued with that, so I came on board, and now I’m responsible for the whole thing,” he says. It’s an interesting evolution for Dell to learn this type of business, with an environment whose nuances and laws are changing everyday. You have to stay current and be responsive. There are always challenges, but knowing the business, the city, and the players helps. That’s what I bring to the table.”
In addition to building this adaptability through his childhood, George also began building a strong work ethic at an early age, finding time for a constant string of odd jobs even as he played sports every season throughout his youth. He had a paper route, and he would work as a busboy at the officers’ clubs at the bases where his father was stationed. And while his father was always gone with the military, George modeled his character after his mother. “She was the matriarch and patriarch of the family, and she’s still my hero today,” he avows. “She taught me to work hard, to be ethical, and that I could do anything.”
As soon as he graduated from an American high school in Germany, George hopped on a C-130 military transport plane and flew to Dover, where he took a Greyhound Bus to California to start college. He attended Hartnell Junior College for two years and then finished up his BA in education at the University of California, Davis. “I wanted to become a teacher because I enjoyed learning and teaching others, especially history and math,” he remembers. “I tutored a lot while in college and always got a lot of enjoyment out of it.”
Coming from a family of modest means, George earned every cent of his college tuition and remembers with particular fondness his stint as a school bus driver. “I liked working and doing things, and I sure liked making money,” he remarks.
When George was in graduate school in 1970, he won the first and only lottery he would ever win in his life—the draft. His father had served in the Army, and George was not interested in following in his footsteps, so he instead enlisted in the Marine Corps. Halfway through graduate school, however, he received an offer to attend Officer Candidate School. With that, he trained in Quantico for a year and was then transferred to Camp Pendleton in California. After a great experience there, George was ordered on an unaccompanied tour to Okinawa just as he crossed paths with a recruiter from EDS, a company also founded by Ross Perot and specializing in something George had never heard of before—computers.
EDS had a component called the Systems Engineer Development Training Program, which entailed a year-long internship followed by 12 weeks of intense coding training in Dallas and then an assignment. “I loved the Marine Corps, but in the wake of Vietnam, there was little funding and training,” George remarks. “Again, it was all about timing. The recruiter found me just as I was about to make the decision.”
EDS became a leading global IT services company, and George started as an intern. His first assignment was for BlueShield of California doing work simplification, looking inside their customer base and identifying opportunities to provide technology solutions. “I loved writing code because computers are binary—yes or no,” he laughs. “I then got the ultimate offer that corporations make to employees—managing people. They said I could always go back to the coding later, so I accepted the promotion and began managing people, which felt very natural.”
With EDS, George went from California to Austin, Texas, to assist with a new venture—launching an insurance company that underwrote the Texas Medicaid Program. In that capacity, as a manager, he worked for a senior vice president named David Behne. “For whatever reason, we gravitated toward each other,” George remembers. “He pushed me to succeed, and somewhere along the way, he said he would work for me one day. I must have been around 25 at the time, and it really excited me. Promotion opportunities would pass by, however, and I wondered why David didn’t give them to me. But again, it was all about timing, and finally he called me in because he had found the right situation, the right people put it together, and the right customer…and he was right!”
That opportunity led to another opportunity in Montgomery, Alabama, which in turn led to an opportunity in Baton Rouge, which in turn led to an opportunity in Indianapolis. EDS then wanted to promote him to headquarters, so he moved his family to Texas for six weeks. At that time, his boss moved his division to Washington, DC. “We had always been West Coast people, but there I was on March 1, 1984, in Bethesda, Maryland, taking over a division,” George remembers. “Then, on June 1, 1984, I came in and there was a sticky note on my desk saying General Motors had just bought EDS. Two hundred people had been transferred over the weekend to Detroit, including my boss. That left me in charge of all of healthcare, including David Behne’s division in Texas. Almost a decade later, his prediction had come true.”
At that time, George started working for Paul Chiapparone, one of the two detainees in Iran who was very close to Perot himself—extremely aggressive, hard charging, and a perfectionist to the tee. “When you work with someone like that, it’s hard at the time, but you learn an incredible amount,” he reflects. “He taught me the importance of really going out into the field to meet with our customers, which has proven vital.” When Chiapparone was promoted to Vice Chairman of EDS, George took over the federal and state government business supporting EDS employees all over the world, and in late 1999, a new chairman came in and offered him a position running the business in Asia. With that, George moved to Hong Kong for three years—a perfect capstone assignment that lent him a new perspective on Eastern ways of life.
EDS was ten years old when George first joined and was $100 million, with 3,000 employees. By the time he left 28 years later, it had reached $20 billion and 100,000 employees. George held various leadership positions in the health care and government sectors that culminated in Corporate Senior Vice President and President of EDS Asia Pacific. “Ross was a very demanding man, but we knew the rules,” George remembers. “Like the codes we wrote, he was binary. We knew what he expected of us, and if someone came short of those, they were out. But if we did meet expectations, he was as loyal as the day is long to his employees. He really stressed that, if you make a commitment to a client, you have to meet it no matter what.”
Out of the blue, at the end of 2001, George received several calls from Virginia Governor Mark Warner, who had just been elected and wanted George to join his cabinet. George didn’t say yes, but he also didn’t say no, and that was enough for the Governor, who promptly appointed him Secretary of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia. “Warner wanted to improve technology, not only doing well for the Commonwealth, but also using it for economic development,” George explains. “He wanted to build the state and bring companies into it. And while the inside of government is not bottom-line enough for me, it was a great experience.”
After three years as secretary, George served as President and CEO of WiSPER Technologies, a startup venture focused on voice recognition technology in medical practice. Then, in October of 2006, he was invited by a colleague, John Lee, to serve as President and COO of Lee Technologies, a $65 million company specializing in the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of data centers. “I knew how to do large companies and how to do transactions, and Lee wanted to get into government business,” George recalls. “It was another perfect timing, perfect situation.” In that capacity, he worked to position the company to further advance its leadership position in the growing mission-critical infrastructure market until its acquisition in 2011, prompting George to accept his current position at Dell.
Beyond his textured professional career, George and his wife, Susan, have placed great emphasis on charitable work and giving back. With a special focus on supporting educational opportunities for children, George has held advisory and leadership roles on many foundations and boards, including the Virginia Business Higher Education Council, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Advisory Board, the National Commission on Restructuring the Internal Revenue Service, the 1998 World Congress on Information Technology, the Information Technology Association of America, the Virginia Technology Council, Lee Technologies Board of Directors, Raytheon Trusted Computer Solutions Board of Advisors, the Board of the World Information Technology and Services Alliance. “I like to think I can and have had an impact on the work I’ve done and the people I’ve touched, including my kids, Doug and Kristen,” he says.
For all his successes, George is quick to admit that he’s had failures along the way, and he credits those failures as critical steps in the journey toward true achievement. “Failures show us what our next step should be,” he affirms. “I see too many people lament their failures and look for someone to blame, but that’s unnecessary. When you’re stuck on a rock, there’s no time to talk about how you got there. Just focus on getting off the rock, and surround yourself with people that handle those situations well too.”
In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, George stresses the importance of adapting to the changes in the world around them. “Timing can change your life, but you also have to change your life to fit the times,” he remarks. “Learn technology and learn it in a big way, because it’s the way of the future. At the same time, however, don’t follow along with the current trend of losing the ability to communicate face to face. Learn another language. Demand and expect more out of yourself than you think you can do. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Set high goals for yourself, and through the journey to reaching them, don’t forget to enjoy life.”
Beyond that, George’s example highlights that adaptability can be a lifelong skill, allowing for unparalleled foresight and exceptional resilience regardless of life’s circumstances.
“Leadership is about having some vision about what the outcome might be, looking at the risks and mitigating what you can,” he says. “It’s about making decisions and moving forward. It’s better to act and make a mistake than to remain stagnant, analyzing a situation to death. If you let yourself be afraid of the unknown, you’d be afraid of everything in the future. Instead, be confident in your ability to adapt to that unknown, whatever it