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Reaching the Fairway

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Of the thousands of senior federal officials contemplating what life might hold after government, few are candidates for a career in major league sports.

But Tim Vigotsky is.

Vigotsky, who retired on Oct. 1 after 25 years in government and 15 years in the Senior Executive Service, is a legitimate contender for the handful of spots that come available each year on the senior golf tour, where the 50 top money-winners earn well north of $300,000 a year.

Vigotsky, who just turned 50, had an impressive run in federal service. For the past seven years, he led the Interior Department's National Business Center, the largest administrative services contracting operation in government. The center increased annual revenues from $20 million to $1 billion under his leadership, and now has 1,100 employees in seven lines of business.

That's an interesting story, and as it turns out, it's one that Shane Harris, Government Executive's technology editor, wrote about in our Oct. 15 issue ("Tough Business").

So, back to golf. At Vigotsky's retirement party, Interior Department leaders such as Deputy Secretary Steve Griles and Solicitor Sue Ellen Wooldridge touched on his stellar golf record: He's a winner of regional amateur events and is current club champion at the tough Robert Trent Jones course in Manassas, Va.

Golf, Wooldridge observed, requires qualities that are useful in government: integrity and accountability (the counting of every stroke and the self-assessment of penalties) and an even temperament (which Vigotsky displayed when the business center was under fire for letting a contract that was used to hire interrogators at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq).

Last year, on a lark, Vigotsky tried out for the Champions Tour, whose players must be at least 50 in their first year of play. With no special practice, he came within two strokes of earning a tour card in the 36-hole final qualifying event. Only seven spots are awarded each year in a field that has 600 people at the start.

Vigotsky has been angling to make another run at qualifying for the Champions Tour.

"He'd better get lucky," says touring pro Allen Doyle. "I hope he has a good retirement plan."

Doyle himself came to the tour from an unlikely background as a driving-range owner and manager of a nine-hole course. He turned pro at 47, played two years on the PGA tour and then joined the Champions, most of whom are longtime players on the PGA tour.

"We hit the Lotto," he says of his experience, having passed the $10 million mark in prize money after six years on the tour. As Doyle suggested, one has to consider Vigotsky a long shot to actually realize what is many a 50-year-old duffer's dream.

Vigotsky recently decided to put off competing in tour qualifying events until 2005, concentrating for now on establishing a career in business. He's in demand as a consultant to SAP, IBM and others, and is in the running for a senior post at Bank of America.

He's a hot property, it seems, because of his deep understanding of agencies' business needs and the competitive acumen he displayed at the National Business Center. But without a doubt, his skills in golf also will be of value.

For golf is one of the currencies of business among such leading executives as Steve Carrier of Northrop Grumman, Hank Steininger of Grant Thornton, Robert Reeve of IBM, Kenneth Johnson and Steve Vito of CACI, Marianna Suciu of SAS Institute and Austin Yerks of CSC. There's nothing like an 18-hole meeting to take the measure of, or seal a deal with, a potential business partner.

Because of the natural camaraderie among those who practice the art, and a great appreciation for the skill it takes to beat par, Vigotsky should fit right into the culture of business in Washington--if not the culture of golf on the Champions Tour.

 

Tim Clark served as editor in chief, publisher and president of Government Executive in the years since it was acquired by National Journal Group in 1987. He and his colleagues have built Government Executive into an essential source for federal managers, a shaper of the government management debate and a key player in the good-government movement. Clark has spent his journalistic career studying and writing about government, and is a founder of National Journal, Washington’s premier source of political insight. He also founded Empire State Report, a monthly magazine about government in New York. He is a fellow and former board member of the National Academy of Public Administration.

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