Note: This is the fourth of five features on the five former DLA team members being inducted into the agency’s Hall of Fame in a July 31 ceremony.
Despite his career in technical innovations and electronic transitions, Thomas J. Spera insists that the most important factor in information technology will always be people.
“People come first, and they always will,” Spera said. “If you make time for them and try to address even their smallest concerns, then they will work for you.”
After four decades on the job, Spera’s legacy is defined by a leadership style of technical expertise and an insistence on putting people first. As a result, he will be inducted into the Defense Logistics Agency Hall of Fame on July 31 for his extraordinary leadership and support as the site director of DLA Information Operations Philadelphia.
Spera’s time with DLA began shortly after he left the Army, in which he served as a logistical specialist. After serving in Vietnam, he applied to Defense Supply Center Philadelphia’s automatic data processing department. The department would later go on to become part of DLA Information Operations. Spera’s decision led to a 42-year career and made him instrumental in carrying DLA Troop Support’s IT operations into the 21st century.
Former DLA Vice Director Mae DeVincentis cited Spera’s expertise in her nomination letter for the DLA Hall of Fame.
“From the days of punched cards to the days of the Blackberry, Tom was the stalwart in IT,” DeVincentis wrote. “Everyone on base knew that if you needed something done in IT, ask Tom.”
Spera sided with early proponents of laptops for portable computing and their potential to introduce practical teleworking at DLA Troop Support in the mid-1990s. The implementation of the program highlighted his forward thinking on technological issues and willingness to focus on employee welfare and care for his people.
“We had to convince them that this was a good thing,” Spera said. “I was convinced that you would get more productivity with a more comfortable employee.”
Although plans were initially met with resistance, he remained persistent and continued campaigning for the program until it was eventually approved.
Spera’s technical expertise and leadership was called on again when he helped DLA Troop Support prepare for the Y2K bug.
The massive effort to reprogram and modify existing operating software to provide uninterrupted services involved technical knowledge of various computer programs and the coordination of numerous employees.
“If we didn’t change a lot of programs then they would have malfunctioned and ruined customer requests,” Spera said “That would have been detrimental to operations.”
While he managed the operation, Spera said his employees’ expertise and dedication led to a successful and uneventful transition into the 21st century.
“I didn’t know how to do every single little facet of the job, but I treated that person who did with a lot of high respect,” He said.
The success of that operation prepared him for his proudest accomplishment: the operationalization of DLA Information Operations. The merging of IT organizations at each of the agency’s field activities underneath one umbrella contained numerous challenges. Spera developed the organizational strategy that took a loose confederation of more than 3,100 staff members into an enterprise focused on its customers’ missions.
Larry Wilson, a former executive director of DLA Enterprise Solutions, wrote that Spera’s performance was brilliant.
“The organizational strategy he proposed lasted unchanged for a decade,” Wilson wrote in his nomination letter. “More importantly, the stability of that organizational strategy measurably improved J-6’s effectiveness in supporting transformational activities designed to improve our support to customers.”
Spera earned the respect and admiration of his employees by improving their quality of life through his people-first philosophy. After relocating and integrating his staff with the IT element that supported DSCP, Spera noticed subpar working conditions in the building.
His quick repair of things like leaking roofs, broken climate controls and more helped achieve the single greatest improvement in DLA Culture Survey results out of 11 field activities.
“Because of Tom’s vision and leadership, J-6 was able to implement enterprisewide change,” Wilson wrote. “And because of his respect for his workforce, its whole now exceeds the sum of its parts.”
Spera said he attributes his success to others.
“I didn’t do it myself,” he said. “All these people did it for me.”
When Spera, who is now retired, looks back on his 42-year career, he still believes that the job was all about people, he said.
Thomas J. Spera, former site director of DLA Information Operations Philadelphia, will be inducted into the DLA Hall of Fame July 31.