SMITH BUSINESS Magazine
Volume 13 No. 1 SPRING 2012

60 Seconds with Cliff Kendall ’54

Cliff KendallWhen Cliff Kendall ’54 graduated from Maryland’s business school he knew he couldn’t pursue a job in his chosen field of finance because as a ROTC officer he was waiting to be called up to serve during the Korean War. Kendall never got his dream job as a financial analyst, but along the way he ended up with what many would consider a dream career.

In the Air Force, Kendall worked as a contracting officer in the Office of Scientific Research. It was a job with a great deal of authority and responsibility, and it gave Kendall a thorough grounding in the complexities of government contracting.

When his stint with the military was up, Kendall headed back to the civilian workforce and a tour of duty in Washington Gas Light. It wasn’t long before he was able to parlay his government expertise into a job with American University, which needed an assistant comptroller who could manage their federal contracts. Kendall worked on transferring the university’s accounting data to IBM punch card equipment.

Data processing was a relatively new field. Kendall developed an accounts payable program that so impressed IBM that the company asked him to come explain his system to potential IBM customers. Washington University in St. Louis was so impressed they stole Kendall away to help implement their new accounting system.

In 1968, Kendall joined several friends to create their own business, Computer Data Systems, Inc., to provide programming and consulting services to the federal government. Kendall sold his home, borrowed on his insurance policies and moved back to the D.C. area. “My wife kept reminding me that I had four kids to put through college,” Kendall says. “We started with no contracts and nothing lined up. But we eventually did some amazing things—we installed and ran the military messaging system for the Navy; we designed the processing of student loans for the Department of Education.” CDSI pioneered the government professional IT services industry and became one of the country’s top-25 government contractors.

Kendall has enjoyed the unique challenges of working for the federal government. “There’s always a slowdown in the buying process whenever administrations change. There’s constantly changing rules and regulations. Today we’re dealing with budget shortages and an aging civil servant population, which means that skilled senior people are leaving government,” says Kendall. “It’s challenging. But the government pays its bills, and they’re working on some of the biggest, most important projects going on in the world. It offers great opportunities.”

Today Kendall is chair of VSE Inc. He serves on the University of Maryland College Park Foundation Board and University of Maryland System Foundation Board, and supports business students through scholarships at both the Shady Grove and College Park campuses.

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