WASHINGTON — The timing of the announcement that SAIC’s CEO, Tony Moraco, would hand off the reins to his second in command comes at an interesting time.

The company is knee deep in a major corporate integration, following its $2.5 billion acquisition of Engility. The shutdown is only slightly in the rearview mirror. And SAIC’s fiscal year will end in a couple of weeks. As if that were not enough, the announcement came the same day as the release of the White House’s fiscal 2020 budget.

“The standard question is timing — ‘why now’ and ‘is something else going on,’ ” Moraco said in an interview with Defense News. “They look for a back story, and there isn’t one.”

He also is not what some might describe as a transition CEO. He indeed became CEO with the split from Leidos in 2013 about five years ago, but there was no master plan at the time. You might say his decision is more practical.

“I turn 59 on Thursday. Mentally, working until 60 was maybe a career aspiration,” he said, pointing to board appointments as a possibility post retirement. “But I never thought I’d be CEO of a publicly held company 10 or 20 years ago. I was blessed. Now, the company evolved, we have a step function [for a transition], the company is in a great position — it’s a good year to do it.”

Chief Operating Officer Nazzic Keene, who will take over in July, is also the natural pick to succeed him. She joined the company right as the Leidos-SAIC split was first being discussed — a courageous move, as Moraco puts it, considering she did not have a firm destination.

“We had the good fortune of pulling her along [to SAIC] because there were other options,” Moraco said, commending her leadership, her understanding of the technology domain and her organizational development expertise during such events as the initial public offering, the restructuring of the company after the split and the acquisition of Engility.

“It all lines up well,” he said. “When we created the COO position a couple years ago, it was a natural progression. We’re proud it played out exactly as we had hoped.”

For Nazzic’s part, priorities post transition will ultimately be a continuation what she and Moraco started. She had a major role in crafting where the company is today and the strategy going forward, and her intention is to continue along that journey, driving organic growth. In the near term, she will own the company’s FY20 planning.

Of course, with more than 50 percent of SAIC’s revenue filtering to defense and intelligence, Nazzic also joins the still relatively small club of female CEOs in the market. It’s a role that she welcomes, but doesn’t dwell upon.

“It’s always great to see women achieve their career aspirations,” she said during the interview. “I always try to advocate for talented women, but I always assume I take on my responsibilities because of what I bring to the enterprise, and that I just happen to be a woman. It’s exciting times, and we’ll continue to see women progress in all industries.”

Jill Aitoro is editor of Defense News. She is also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brings over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.

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