Family man, history buff, student, and chief legal adviser of a multibillion-dollar corporation are all phrases that accurately describe William Deckelman, executive vice president and general counsel for Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC). Since 2008, Deckelman has served the company in this crucial role, working with a large team that covers legal issues in more than eighty countries and juggling a wide and varied list of tasks and responsibilities. His keen sense for business, well-rounded perspective, and extensive experience (he spent nearly twenty years at Affiliated Computer Services before joining CSC), have all helped to prepare and equip Deckelman to guide CSC through some very big changes over the past several years. That, and his ability to stay cool under an incredible amount of pressure make him just the man for the job.
Since Deckelman was last featured in Profile in 2012, much has changed at CSC. With a new chief executive officer at the helm and a new business strategy at center stage, the company has lived through a major overhaul that included painful layoffs of long-term employees and uncomfortable probing of processes in every area. In an industry that changes at such a rapid pace, there was no option but to change with it, to tighten systems, to increase efficiency, and to fill in any hairline crack in the business. “There was virtually nothing in the company that was left unchanged—no stone left unturned,” says Deckelman, who, along with his team, has kept incredibly busy throughout the evolution. Helping to implement key changes in the company’s operating model as smoothly and effectively as possible has been a major focus of Deckelman’s work over the past three years. Tasks that come across his desk at any given time include everything from providing legal advice to overseeing compliance and ethics standards to offering an important perspective on major business decisions. “I have my ordinary day-to-day work, but on top of that, we have all these new initiatives and changes,” says Deckelman. “It’s amazing the amount of things that need to be redesigned, and our people have been very deep into that.” Fortunately, while it has been a very stressful time for the team, CSC stock has been on the rise, and investors are pleased.
Increasing the company’s ability to identify early warning signs of issues with a customer or contract is one way that the legal team has added to the redesign at CSC. In order to best protect relationships with clients, the sooner these issues can be spotted, the better. But CSC had so many different processes that were operating independently—and therefore disjointedly—that warning signs were not seen early enough. “What we’re doing now is working to identify a handful of our best processes and integrating them throughout the rest of the company, so everyone is using integrated process for our various systems,” says Deckelman.
Another important project that Deckelman’s team has been part of is CSC’s Profit Leakage initiative, which is a methodology that assesses business from every angle to identify areas where profit might be lost. Thanks to this project, the company added $50 million to its bottom line by identifying and filling these small cracks in systems. “Profit Leakage is representative of all the initiatives we’ve been working on to standardize our processes on a global scale,” says Deckelman. “It has been our major accomplishment over the last couple of years.”
From Deckelman’s perspective, being a general counsel for a major corporation is a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. workday. It is driven by a calendar, and includes back-to-back meetings in multiple time zones. It means dealing with contracting and litigation on a day-to-day basis, as well as providing leadership to a legal team and to the company as a whole. “Being a general counsel is multitasking on steroids,” Deckelman says. “You’re juggling constantly, so you have to be good at it, and you have to like it.”
Being a general counsel for a company going through a massive overhaul of the way it does business adds another layer of intensity. “When changes like this happen, you have to be a leader and keep everyone looking and moving forward as best you can,” Deckelman says. Training everyone’s eyes on the vision, supporting the CEO, and providing inspiration and motivation to staff are vital. That includes communicating the high-level conversations that happens at the executive table, clarifying the direction that management is headed, and bridging the gap between leadership and staff.
All of these are skills that Deckelman has mastered over the years, and a love of learning has fueled their development. After finishing law school, Deckelman worked at a private practice in Texas for a few years, which provided a firm foundation for his new career. He was then given an opportunity to follow his mentor to an in-house job at a computer corporation, which provided him with new and diverse learning experiences, and helped him to realize his interest in the tech industry. All of this eventually led to his move to CSC in 2008, where he took on another new challenge—guiding a company through a major redesign. On top of that, Deckelman was able to go back to school and earn a graduate degree in International Business Law from Georgetown University, which he finished in May of 2014. “I was so thrilled to finish on one hand,” Deckelman says. “On the other hand, I loved the classes. I took them at night, and on weekends, I was reading the law.” In the future, Deckelman would like to pass on this passion for learning by teaching at a law school.
“To be a good general counsel, you have to like people, be comfortable giving practical advice on the fly, and be able to solve problems,” Deckelman says. You must care about the business and be able to maintain a broad perspective, he says. “A general counsel must have good judgment, which comes naturally with strong instincts. Strong communication skills are crucial, as is being able to translate complex legal issues in order to give the CEO and board what they need to make decisions. And a general counsel is a strong leader; able to confidently guide a company through whatever storms may arise.”