It's no easy thing to decide to leave an organization where you've worked since you graduated from college more than 30 years ago. But Rich Roca has been getting a lot of feedback that the decision was the right one.
"When I tell people that I'm going to be director of the Applied Physics Laboratory, standard reaction has been, "'Wow!'" Roca said. "APL's reputation is very widely held."
Roca, a vice president of AT&T Labs, the company's research and development arm, will join Johns Hopkins as the seventh director of APL on Jan. 1. He was appointed by the university's board of trustees last week on the recommendation of President William R. Brody.
"I am walking into this job knowing that the lab is successfully contributing to the nation's future," Roca said. "I know that [those contributions are] to be strengthened and enhanced. And I know that it is the intention of the university that the lab and other Hopkins organizations should find additional ways to build on each other's strengths and contribute together. That's my starting point."
APL is a research-and-development division of Johns Hopkins, working primarily for the Department of Defense but also for civilian agencies--such as NASA and the departments of Energy and Transportation--and for a growing number of private sponsors. The 2,700-member staff at the lab, the largest private employer in Howard County, Md., devises systems to protect naval fleets, builds and operates research satellites and deep space probes, develops biomedical technology and works in dozens of other specialties. APL collaborates often with other Hopkins divisions, especially Engineering, Medicine and Arts and Sciences.
Since 1996, Roca, 55, has been the AT&T Labs vice president responsible for technical development of AT&T's Internet-based services, including AT&T WorldNet, the nation's largest direct Internet access service with 1.8 million subscribers. In this position, formally known as vice president for Internet protocol services planning and development, he leads a staff of 2,000.
Previously, Roca was with AT&T Business Communications Service, where he was general manager of the company's communications business supporting civilian agencies of the federal government, such as cabinet departments, NASA and the Social Security Administration. In this role, he was responsible for the bottom line and for all functions from marketing and sales to operations and customer service. His portfolio included FTS2000, the largest telecommunications contract ever awarded to that time, with $400 million a year in revenue.
In that role and others throughout his career--including a stint in the 1980s preparing what was then Bell Labs for the AT&T divestiture--Roca has had a lot of experience in how organizations must adapt to changes in federal policy, experience that will be useful as APL continues to diversify its work to reduce reliance on tight Defense Department R&D budgets.
"I am familiar with working in an environment where the rules of the road change," he said. "I'm not sure how I would exist in an environment where the rules didn't change."
Roca joined AT&T to design networks and communications equipment in 1966, just after he graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in mechanical engineering. Under AT&T's sponsorship, he later earned a master's degree and, in 1972, a doctorate in that discipline from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
At various points in his career, he led planning for new AT&T products such as Advanced 800 Service and Calling Card Service. In 1977, he won a Congressional Fellowship and worked for the House Commerce Committee on passage of the National Energy Act. Later, he worked on classified projects for various federal organizations.
"I've always found it very rewarding, personally, to support the government in its mission to serve the citizen," Roca said. "The opportunity to do that again [at APL], and to do it in a general manager role, is very attractive. This is a really wonderful opportunity to grow personally and to contribute to the institution and the nation."
Roca has maintained close ties to higher education throughout his career. He is a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and a past vice president of its Board on Engineering Education. He is also a former member of the board of directors of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, which accredits U.S. engineering schools. He now chairs the advisory council of Lehigh's School of Engineering, and is a member of the Science, Technology and Engineering Advisory Board of Monmouth University and a trustee of the National Technological University.
"The chance to be affiliated with an institution such as Johns Hopkins is another important point of connection between this opportunity and my personal interests," he said.
Roca, who now lives in Basking Ridge, N.J., will succeed Gary L. Smith, who stepped down April 15 as APL director after seven years and is now deputy director of the CIA for science and technology. Eugene J. Hinman, assistant director for programs and an APL staff member since 1962, has been serving as interim director.