5 Questions for VP & General Manager of Rackspace Government Solutions Ray Kalustyan
The arrival of Ray Kalustyan marks an increased focus and investment in Rackspace Government Solutions.
As Vice President and General Manager of RGS, Ray will be responsible for accelerating the growth of this rapidly-expanding practice, which Rackspace integrated as part of its acquisition of Datapipe in 2017.
While he spent the majority of his 39-year career in financial services, Ray began focusing on government solutions after he was asked in 2009 to create a public sector financial services unit for Fiserv, where he served as a senior vice president and general manager. Launched during the national housing and banking crisis, Ray’s team grew the unit to $75 million in incremental revenue.
More recently, he led Oracle’s cloud and on-premise professional services division, serving the public sector, including of U.S. federal, state and local governments, plus the Canadian federal and provincial governments, higher education and healthcare clients. Under his leadership, the division pivoted from a traditional on premise to a cloud (SaaS, IaaS and PaaS) consulting and professional services organization. The division grew cloud bookings by more than 300 percent and contributed over $424 million of revenue in three and a half years through a transformation of people, process and technology — including leading a culture change by introducing core values based on respect, collaboration and accountability.
A New Jersey resident, Ray will split his time between Rackspace’s office there, our office in Reston, VA and — most satisfyingly for someone who says he doesn’t like to spend too much time behind a desk — on the road meeting with customers.
In an interview with the Rackspace blog, Ray described the importance of working for a business whose culture revolves around core values; it’s one of the reasons he was attracted to Rackspace. Read on to learn more:
How did you develop such a strong focus on culture and core values?
Are you familiar with the book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni? I live and breathe the lessons in that book. I’m also a big proponent of “The OZ Principle,” by Connors, Smith and Hickman. The basic message is, operate above the line. Don’t point fingers. Be part of the solution. It all comes down to helping customers succeed; if you can contribute proactively to helping your customers achieve their objectives, you’ll win as an individual and as a company. So it’s important that we’re treating each other with respect, we trust each other and have a shared sense of purpose.
I’ve honed my leadership style over a number of years. What I know is that it’s really about the team, being able to bring out the best in people, assist them to be successful. Core values form the basis of a team with a shared vision and passion for success and is why a focus on values is very important to me.
What are the unique challenges facing the public sector?
The federal government faces the evergreen challenge of trying to do more with less; on top of that, government wants to be innovative — but it can’t do that alone, so it looks to private industry to bring solutions to the table in the cases where they simply don’t have the capability. For example, new payment technologies, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cybersecurity — the government is looking to commercial industry to do the research and development, to create the proof of concept, pilot and ultimately deploy that tech — allowing the government to get best in class technology to service its mission, which of course is serving the citizens of the United States.
The challenge for industry is, how do I get my solution to meet all the requirements for security and privacy that the federal government dictates? That includes FISMA, the Federal Information Security Management Act, and FedRAMP, which provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services. Not surprisingly, it can be incredibly difficult for private companies to take all the steps necessary to get FISMA or FedRAMP authorized.
What’s unique about Rackspace is that we are able to act as the bridge, the conduit for private industry — often independent software vendors, or ISVs — to get the innovation and technology to the federal agencies via our compliant FedRAMP and FISMA platforms. Alone, these firms rarely have the staff, budget or expertise to make their solution compliant. Rackspace offers FedRAMP compliant platforms that ISVs can use; it’s essentially FedRAMP as a service. Rackspace really has a crown jewel in its FedRAMP capability, and I believe it will make Government Services a pillar of growth for Rackspace.
What else attracted you to Rackspace?
I’d put it into two buckets. First, the culture. It’s very much in alignment with my personal culture and my core values, with its respect of individual, of doing the right thing always, of being accountable, of acting with passion, acting as one company. I don’t just check the box, those are core to my personal leadership style. The Rackers I’ve met – they’re brilliant, they’re passionate — they’re not just checking the box either.
And two: the capability. Rackspace has a tremendous brand in the tech industry and the ability to bring forth an unbiased point of view is unique. When you work for an original equipment manufacturer or ISV like SAP or Oracle, the answer is always that company's technology. But at Rackspace, we have the ability to truly be an objective point of view, a trusted resource and advisor. We bring in expertise to really understand customers’ challenges and requirements, and then bring forth exactly the right solution, regardless of the manufacturer of that technology. And that is incredibly powerful.
What was your first job?
In my professional career, my first job was with IBM. I was going to grad school, getting an MBA in finance — I thought I was going to be a banker. I had job opportunities with a number of banks in New York City, but then I interviewed with this small company called IBM. And they said, ‘come with us, get into technology, it will be more fun than banking.’ And it was awesome. They taught me business ethics, and the right way to approach a customer. It was a year-long formal training program, six weeks in the classroom, six weeks out in the field, back and forth. It was a phenomenal education, and I have friendships to this day from those training sessions. I was very fortunate to have that be my first professional job.
What do you do for fun?
I’m very big on my family and friends. Have you ever seen "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"? That’s my extended family, although we’re not Greek, we’re Armenian, but seriously, that’s my extended family. I’m married, and we have 18-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. They’re both going to college in the fall. My wife and I love the theater, we love beach vacations. I’m also an avid Philadelphia sports nut – big Eagles fan, Flyers, Sixers. I also enjoy playing golf. I’ve been at it for many years, and I just cannot get my handicap lower.