Thursday, June 19, 2003

Ohioan makes mark behind scenes

Stephen Perry responsible for making sure things work in Washington

By Malia Rulon
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - General Services Administration Director Stephen Perry knows the federal agency he runs isn't a household name.

The Canton, Ohio, native enjoys being a behind-the-scenes man who makes sure federal buildings are stocked and maintained.

It's a job that involves buying desks and phones to overseeing the construction of a new federal courthouse.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress ordered the Transportation Department to install new security measures at every airport. Perry's agency was responsible for ordering the necessary equipment.

When the president created a new Homeland Security Department, it was Perry's agency that found office space and provided employees with office supplies.

"We'll take care of the acquisition and we'll take care of leasing facilities and we'll take care of providing the technology that you need and the office furniture that you need to run your office, and then you can focus more on your agency's core mission," he said.

Perry was appointed by President Bush in 2001 as director of GSA, a 14,000-employee agency with an annual budget of $16 billion.

The soft-spoken Perry, 56, previously was a senior vice president at Canton-based Timken Co., where he worked for 37 years.

He also was a member of former Ohio Gov. George Voinovich's cabinet as director of the Department of Administrative Services in the 1990s.

"Steve's not in this for the glory of Steve," said W.R. "Tim" Timken, president of Timken Co. and a close friend of Perry's.

"If the job required him to promote GSA, he would be capable of doing it," Timken said. "What you need is people who are working behind the scenes to deliver efficiency with the taxpayers dollars. All the agencies depend on him and his organization."

Perry was the 10th of 12 children. His father, Andre, came to the United States from the Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Africa in the 1920s and settled in Canton, where he was a steel worker at Republic Steel Corp. for 30 years. Perry's mother, Mae, was a homemaker.

Perry attended Timken High School and graduated in 1963, going to work in Timken's stock room while also taking classes at the University of Akron.

Perry completed the Executive Development Program at the University of Michigan in 1981 and earned a master's degree in management from Stanford University in 1984, advancing with the company along the way.

"We saw the talent there, that he had the opportunity and excellence to grow within the company," Timken said.

Perry also was a community leader, serving on the Ohio Board of Regents, which oversees the state's colleges and universities, as well as many area boards, including the Stark Community Foundation.

"We miss him a great deal," said foundation President Jim Bower. "When you look around in a medium-sized city like ours at people who are role models for ethnic minorities, especially the African-American community, they are especially highly regarded."

John Bankert, executive director of the National Football Hall of Fame, where Perry served on the board, said he and his friend share a love of the Cleveland Browns. The two also have attended several Super Bowl and Pro Bowl games together.

"He's a very knowledgeable guy, both in business and also in sports," Bankert said. "When it comes to business, he's no nonsense. But as soon as we would leave the board room, he was just one of the guys."

Perry wears large glasses and smiles a lot, especially when talking about his wife, Sondra, and their six grandchildren, or while describing a particularly difficult golf shot.

And, he always carries his small black planner with him to meetings, Voinovich recalled.

"He was very methodical. You never had to remind him of something," Voinovich said.

While serving in Voinovich's cabinet, Perry encouraged state employees to come up with ideas for how to make their services more efficient and customer friendly, including reducing long lines at the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

In 1993, Perry left public service and returned to Timken as vice president of human resources, purchasing and communications. He was promoted to senior vice president in 1997.

Standing recently in his spacious top-floor government office next to a marble fireplace framed by two large windows, Perry was eager to show off his most prized wall hanging: a poster of the agency's mission, values and goals.

It states: "We help federal agencies better serve the public by offering, at best value, superior workplaces, expert solutions, acquisition services, and management policies."

The list appears in every office and when GSA employees log on to their computers. Some employees carry a wallet-size version of the list in their pocket. Perry carries one in his planner.

He said it's a reminder that his job makes it possible for other federal agencies to do their jobs, which could include providing a family with a Social Security payment or Medicaid.

"The thing that is inspiring to me, and I think to most associates at GSA, is that we know that we're a part of the value chain in delivering that service to that family, and that's pretty cool," he said.

Another thing that Perry considers pretty cool: He flew with Bush on Air Force One to visit the Timken Co. in April.

"Being from Canton and having grown up there, born in a relatively modest situation, just one of the kids in the neighborhood, all these years later, actually to visit my home town with the president of the United States. ... That's a pretty heady experience."

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