SALT LAKE CITY — If you go online to look something up on one of Utah's official Web sites, send a nod of thanks to J. Stephen Fletcher, the Beehive state's chief information officer and technology head honcho. Then tell him congratulations.
Fletcher's just been named a Public Official of the Year by Governing magazine.
Five years ago, he was wooed by then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. from a similar tech position at the U.S. Department of Education and given the task of reorganizing all the state's IT activities. Make it more efficient, productive and less expensive, he was told. Plus, businesses wanted it to cost nothing extra to them and still have the same level of service with no service outages.
His department of roughly 1,000 state employees has risen to the challenge amid recognitions ranging from Utah's designation as the No. 1 digital state by the Center for Digital Government, to top state website and individual honors for online health and human services, finance and budget sites and more. Their efforts have reduced cost to taxpayers by about $26 million, and it's just going to get cheaper as services improve, he says.
"One of the great things about this," he says, "is it's not so much me, but the great work that's been done in the state."
"Well, it's largely him," several colleagues told the Deseret News. They said his vision, attention to detail and work ethic have set a very high standard.
That kind of personal standard is Fletcher's legacy, perhaps genetic but most likely one of emulation. His father, James C. Fletcher, was a former president of the University of Utah and twice was top dog at NASA. His grandfather Harvey Fletcher is considered the "father of stereophonic sound." If you or someone you love has a hearing aid, Harvey helped you.
"My mom (Fay Lee Fletcher) was a huge influence, but my dad was probably one of the incredible examples that you'd ever have," says Fletcher. "He was really, really successful and very important in a lot of positions, but he was very down to earth. He had great vision and was a problem-solver. I knew if I wanted to be like my dad, I should do the same types of things. You have to be able to solve problems, be able to look at things and create a vision to go forward."
Recently, while introducing Fletcher as a keynote speaker, Utah businessman Mark Durham spoke of something he'd once heard Fletcher's father say. He said everyone needs to contribute something to the world. "I created the antiballistic missile system," the senior Fletcher told a young Durham. "You should create something." It's advice Steve Fletcher always took to heart.
Both Fletcher and his wife, Kelly, went to junior high and high school in the Salt Lake area, then attended the U. But it was not until they had each traveled several thousand miles to the Washington, D.C., area that they found each other in an LDS singles ward in Virginia. He was working at the Senate Computer Center at the time. She was with Sen. Orrin Hatch's press office. They are the parents of three sons and a daughter: James, Layne, Ben and Sydney.
The family bleeds both red and blue: The three youngest are all students at Brigham Young University. James already graduated and works in Boston.
Early in his career, Fletcher founded and managed a technology communications consulting firm, then built a start-up. It was the happy mix of public and private experience that attracted Huntsman. "He wanted someone who could bring best practices from the private sector but knew how to get stuff done in the public sector," said Fletcher, who also has a master's degree in business administration from the University of Dallas.
When Fletcher's kids were young, he was a busy man who used activities and drive time to forge strong relationships with them. "One of the things I consciously did was tried to be part of the things they were doing," he says. That meant coaching baseball or basketball. The moments where they really got to know each other were sometimes those spent driving to and from practices. "That's when I got most of my one-on-one time with those kids." In D.C.-area traffic, you had plenty of time, he joked.
He's a sports buff, gifted in keeping track of sports trivia, especially for his pet teams, the Redskins and the Utah Jazz.
He "melts" when he sees his grandkids, Olivia, 4, and Bowen, 2, his wife says.
But if she had to choose one word to describe him, "honorable" might be the one. She notes that he's loyal to those for whom he works and she's never, in their 30-year marriage, heard him "bad mouth" anyone. "He just won't do it." She adds other adjectives: forgiving, quiet, level-headed, dutiful, smart, methodical, generous. His kids add: solid, diligent, efficient, hard-working, selfless, charismatic.
"He believes and lives his faith that you give others hope and new chances to become the best they can become. He is very dignified. And he has one main hobby and that has been his family, says Kelly Fletcher. "He's genuinely a reserved, nice person."