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Roger W. Johnson : Western Digital Chief Seeks 'Drastic Reinvention' at GSA


Roger W. Johnson, chairman and chief executive of Irvine-based Western Digital Corp., has been appointed by Bill Clinton to head the General Services Administration. If confrmed by the Senate, Johnson's job will be to manage a 20,000-employee agency in charge of procuring non-military federal equipment and managing the government's property holdings. Johnson, 58, hopes to bring his business experience, which has included steering a 7,600-person computer products company through the recession, to management of the agency.


Q. Do you intend major changes in the General Services Administration?

A. I'm going to do everything I can to reinvent government . . . to take a new fresh look at what government's role is, what its responsibilities are and redefine the direction of the country. I have no preconceived notions. Business is not government. But I'll do the best I can there. . . . I'm sure most of those people in there are exceptionally good people. I don't believe most people decide not to do a good job. My job will be to create an atmosphere where the people in the GSA can accomplish what they think they can do best. . . . I'm going to try to help them be the best they can be. In GSA, the operative part of the name is in the middle--that's services. These are the people who serve. Our job is to serve the customers.

Q. Will you take a business approach to this government job?

A. In my own view, government is not business. It is not seeking to be profitable. It is a service agency, so there the analogy may be appropriate. But having said that, the factors we've learned in business of creating a positive atmosphere, of empowering people, of setting standards, of making people feel good and accomplish things are the kinds of things business and government have in common. I don't think working for the government is a four-letter word. . . . People in there don't want to be treated that way.

Q. How do you create that atmosphere?

A. I'm going to talk with them . . . and spend a lot of time just listening. They've got great suggestions of what can be done. So I'm going to do a lot of listening. I will also bring thoughts of my own about how we can make improvements. . . . I don't think dealing with people in a government is much different than dealing with people in a business. People like to do a good job.

Q. Do you expect the changes to be minor or will this be a drastic reinvention?

A. I hope the result is a drastic reinvention. But I hope most of that will come from the ideas of the people who are already there . . . there just isn't an atmosphere (now) where people have offered them.

Q. Will you cut the size of the agency?

A. Well, there are 20,000 people there. I don't go into any organization where I don't think it's too big. I think we can do some cutting there. . . . I'm sure there are enough people that we can do it without too much pain, through attrition.

Q. Why were you selected?

A. I'd be presumptuous, you'd have to ask the President. I supported him from the beginning because he believed we had to change--pretty significantly--the direction of the country. And I think he had the leadership qualities to do that. We had talked about that. . . . I think he is comfortable that I have that same view.

Q. What did you like about the GSA job that made you decide to leave your company?

A. I think I have to step back a little more broadly. . . . The President called a few weeks ago and asked me to do this job. . . . I am a little old-fashioned--when the President called and asked me to do this job, I was going to do it. I probably would have done anything he would have asked me to do. This job is exciting because it is an operating function. It does things every day and I'm an operating manager. . . . The skills I have in terms of operating businesses is a pretty good match. This is a good opportunity here; it is probably the single largest agency that has to do with the guts of the country.

Q. Is there any political significance to a Republican serving in a Democratic Administration?

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