The Honorable Deborah Lee James has served in senior homeland and national security management, policy, and program positions in the US Government and private sector for more than 35 years. She has led and transformed large-scale enterprises, including a $2 billion private sector entity and a $140 billion government agency, the U.S. Air Force. Today she serves on several for-profit and not-for-profit organizations; provides strategic advice to a variety of firms; and speaks on matters of national security, leadership, and other topical areas. She is also the author of Aim High: Chart Your Course and Find Success.
Changing her dreams at the beginning
Deborah had wanted to work in the State Department and had thought she had done everything right to make that happen, but when she applied, she wasn’t selected. This came as a huge surprise to her but eventually found a job working for the department of the Army. It was at this job she found her first mentor. He helped by opening doors to opportunities and giving her advice on her career.
One of her first big career opportunities was to be an intern at the White House. She also worked on the House Armed Service Committee. She then went to work for the Assistant Secretary of Defense specifically on Reserve Affairs. She left the civilian-military workforce for 15 years but went back to government service from 2013 to 2017 to serve as the Secretary of the Air Force.
From Civilian to the Military
She left government service after 17 years and made the switch to the private side expecting it to be an easy transition where she would have no problem succeeding. She ended up having a few bad bosses before finally finding a fit at SAIC. One of her jobs was managing the MRAP program to get the MRAPs out to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. This program brought tremendous purpose.
Within the first few months of becoming the Secretary of the Air Force, a cheating scandal within the Nuclear community was uncovered. And although it only included a handful of people it brought to light cultural issues that needed to be addressed and changed. She also worked on diversity and inclusion with a big focus on opening jobs and making it easier for women to do jobs. While also working on work-life balance and changing the maternity program.
We also talked about a few topics that are covered in the book Air High: Chart Your Course and Find Success ranging from the importance of outsourcing, Knowing what is important to you, and positive and negative role models that helped push her to be who she is today. You won’t want to miss this week’s episode. Listen now!
Mentioned in this episode
Connect with Deborah James