Josh Geballe, a former IBM executive and tech entrepreneur who was hired by Gov. Ned Lamont to modernize state government before being asked to coordinate the response to COVID-19, is leaving the administration.
Geballe, the commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services and the state’s chief operating officer, said Tuesday he has accepted “a dream job” at Yale overseeing a new innovation and entrepreneurial program.
Lamont named Michelle Gilman, who is currently the deputy to Geballe, as the new commissioner of administrative services, a key post as the state continues to modernize technology and faces an expected wave of retirements in July.
At a press conference, a subdued Lamont thanked Geballe for leaving the private sector in early 2019 to serve his administration as an “extraordinary leader” and “a really important friend for me during an incredibly complex time.”
Lamont said the unpredictable and challenging months of the pandemic produced a strong camaraderie, one akin to a wartime footing. He thanked Geballe for being good company, as well as an effective leader.
“If you’re going to be in a foxhole, you want to be in a foxhole with Josh Geballe. He was the first guy I talked to at 6:30 in the morning and the last guy I’d talk to at 10:30 at night,” Lamont said.
Before the pandemic, Lamont designated the Department of Administrative Services, whose functions including hiring, procurement and information-technology, as a change agent under Geballe.
“When you come out of the business world, these are key functions to get right to give people confidence their state is doing it right,” said Lamont, the founder of a cable television company. “And under Josh’s leadership, DAS has gotten it right.”
And that, Lamont said, extends to the team he developed.
Gilman, 51, was hired by Geballe as deputy operating officer in the early days of the pandemic, interviewing for the job at the Emergency Operations Center.
“I think the next day she was on the job, and every day since she has taken on the toughest assignments and the greatest challenges,” Geballe said
Gilman has been at the center of the COVID fight and government operations ever since, he said. Like the governor, Gilman spoke of the camaraderie developed during the crisis and the state employees who met the challenges, often working nights, weekends and holidays.
“It’s a privilege to be a part of that and to continue and to grow in this new world,” Gilman said.
About one quarter of the executive branch workforce will be eligible to retire on July 1, 2022, when a concession deal negotiated in 2017 by the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy takes effect.
Geballe and Gilman said the state is prepared for the wave of departures and the hires and change in jobs that will follow.
Geballe will leave in two weeks to become the first senior associate provost for entrepreneurship and innovation at Yale, helping to translate the work of faculty and students into startups.
Lamont said Geballe’s new role, which Yale decided to create last fall, could give Connecticut some of the academic-business synergies evident in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, Silicon Valley and Cambridge, Mass.
Geballe was an early hire by Lamont, one among a group of mid-career, private-sector executives who joined the administration, first at the Department of Administrative Services.
He took on the additional job of chief operating officer in February 2020, just days before COVID was detected. The same day, Paul Mounds took over the chief of staff.
Geballe said his partnership with Mounds has become a lasting and important friendship.
Lamont has credited Geballe with overseeing the efforts that have allowed Connecticut residents to do more business with the state online, including renewing drivers’ licenses.
Gilman said DAS would continue to open more of state government to online transactions.
“This is a seamless transition,” Lamont said.
Like Lamont, Geballe is a graduate of the School of Management at Yale. (Geballe’s mother, Shelley Geballe, a lawyer and professor of public health at Yale, is a founding board member of the nonprofit Connecticut News Project Inc., operator of CTMirror.org.)
After leaving IBM, he became chief executive officer of Core Informatics, a software startup that Hartford Business Journal included in its 2017 list of best places to work in Connecticut. Thermo Fisher Scientific bought the company the same year.