A top government administrator, a technology company founder, and a scholar of Renaissance literature. That’s not three people, but just one–UT alumna Lurita Doan.
Doan (Knoxville ’83) is the first woman ever to head the massive U.S. General Services Administration. She was sworn in last May. Previously she was the CEO and president of New Technology Management Inc., the computer technology company she founded. The New Orleans native earned a master’s from UT in Renaissance literature to top off her bachelor’s degree from Vassar.
GSA Administrator Doan says she’s “honored President Bush asked me take on such a critical role” and intends to make GSA “the premier source for cost-effective, timely, and compliant property management and government procurement.”
But the scope of the job is huge, she says. “GSA is a large agency; it employs more than eleven-thousand people who manage more than three-hundred-forty million square feet of rentable space across all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and six U.S. territories, as well as eighty-nine hundred buildings, including both government-owned and leased space. We also manage the government purchase-card program and a huge fleet of leased vehicles, and we provide technology goods and services to all federal agencies and departments,” she says.
“GSA has several challenges ahead of it, not the least of which is managing the largest reorganization in its history. It is important to me that I am successful in structuring the organization for future growth and development, but it is equally important to me that I serve the GSA employees as a decisive leader who provides clear guidance.”
Doan says she was drawn to UT because of the opportunity to study with renowned faculty members.
“There were two professors with whom I wanted to study: Dr. Norman Sanders [Renaissance drama] and Dr. John Fisher [Medieval/Chaucer/research],” she recalls.
“I loved my time at UT. Tennessee is beautiful country and UT Knoxville, as a campus, has so many intellectually stimulating activities. The English Department had so many fine faculty members, but in addition to Dr. Sanders and Dr. Fisher, I was particularly fond of Dr. Don Cox and Dr. Marilyn Kallett.
Kallett says Doan was a memorable student: “I remember Lurita as original, imaginative, and fiercely intelligent. She’ll be a great administrator. It’s good to have creative folks at the top.”
Doan says the English Department also helped with her professional development. “The UT English Department was very active in the Modern Language Association, and UT did a splendid job of mentoring and encouraging young scholars to participate in this important professional organization. It was a wonderful experience having the opportunity to present papers professionally at conferences.”
In 1984 Doan segued into computer technology while working in academia. “I was teaching as an adjunct instructor at several universities in Washington, D.C., and I had an opportunity to write the documentation and develop training materials for the UNIX operating system.” Computer technology was a new field, and she says she was fortunate to get in on the ground floor and grow with the industry.
Doan worked 4 years with Unisys as a technician and started NTMI in 1990 with a few business cards from Kinko’s and a knack for integrating UNIX systems. She worked alone until 1993, when she got a contract with the U.S. Navy to install Unix on ships. In 3 years, she added 40 staff members and lots more business. Too much, actually.
Work took too much time away from her husband and daughters, and she thought NTMI clients weren’t getting the quality service they deserved because the staff was spread too thin. Rather than growing, she chose to pare down her client list and concentrate on the remaining accounts. It worked. The company, headquartered in Northern Virginia, sped to number 67 in Forbes’s ASAP 500 ranking, was named one of the Washington Post’s top 25 IT companies, and made the “Fast 500” list of Deloitte & Touche. About 80 percent of the security and surveillance technology along U.S. borders came from NTMI, which specializes in technology integration.
Doan says she comes from a family of African American entrepreneurs. Her great-grandmother sold pralines in New Orleans after Lincoln freed the slaves, and her grandfather owned an insurance company. Her father was the owner of a business school. The entrepreneurial instincts obviously were honed as they passed through the generations. Now Doan’s challenge is to bring her business acumen to bear in a huge federal bureaucracy.