The right choice for United States CTO: Charles Rossotti

Along with expressing some odd policy opinions -- anti-trust enforcement is BAD for the technology industry?? -- a CNet article reminded me that President-Elect Obama intends to appoint a govermental CTO to "ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century," among other duties. Well, I think there's a single obvious and best choice for the job: Charles Rossotti, former Commissioner of the IRS and, more to the point, the most admirable CEO I have ever met in my 27 years of covering the computer software industry.

Charles was co-founder and CEO of American Management Systems, a rather unique company. Already in the 1980s, AMS perfected a hybrid software/professional services business model similar to that which cemented Oracle's fortune under Ray Lane in the 1990s. AMS was one of only two application software companies I ever recall that simply published its entire customer list. You could call anybody you chose, and they expected you to get a glowing reference. Competitors said that, in salessituations where budget permitted, AMS was essentially unbeatable.

I was a stock analyst at PaineWebber when I got to know AMS, and due to a technicality -- insufficient total market capitalization -- not allowed to recommend AMS stock. So I bought the stock on my personal account, and my parents', tripling my investment in a couple of years before selling way too soon. As was customary and ethical, I told my clients about the stock. Since I wasn't allowed to publish about it, I suggested they do their own research. And here's the thing -- I told them to call Charles and believe whatever he told them, because he was the only completely truthful CEO I'd ever met in the software industry. Two decades later, that's still my opinion of him and, for that matter, of almost all the industry's other CEOs.

Unfortunately, in one of his rare blunders Rossotti blew his succession planning, and AMS didn't do so well after he left it. So it's largely forgotten today. But it had one heck of a run, and he did it the RIGHT way.

Highlights of Rossotti's resume include:

  • Commissioner of the IRS, radically improving IT and operations in general
  • CEO of a highly successful company that specialized in IT for government agencies
  • CEO of a highly successful company that won "Great place to work" kinds of awards
  • Stunningly honest man

More background can be found in the Amazon reviews of a book he wrote about his IRS tenure. (That's not an affiliate link.)  And don't miss more public policy requests for the Obama Administration.

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