There has been much news in recent months regarding what many perceive to be a spiraling security situation in key parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East. It is difficult to open the paper without reading about daily threats.
WashingtonExec recently spoke with ManTech Vice President of Program Development and Special Capabilities Brian McHugh, who served many years in the Middle East on behalf of the Intelligence Community (IC) and was involved in tackling such issues during his nearly 30-year career.
As a part of WashingtonExec’s Transitioning from Public to Private Sector Series, McHugh discussed his best pieces of advice to those looking to work in industry after retiring from public service, provides a couple book recommendations, and covers the importance of mentorship at all levels of a career.
“I was quite fortunate to have had several friends to guide me along the way during my transition. In return for their help, I vowed to “pay it forward” by sharing the lessons I learned with as many people in transition as possible,” McHugh said.
WashingtonExec: Many government employees find it difficult to transition into the private sector following a long government career. Some believe the institution of government is behind the times, making it even more difficult for government employees from the IC to transition. What was your experience in making the transition?
Brian McHugh: I was fortunate to have served in the three largest IC organizations — NSA, CIA and FBI — during my career. I had the chance to see up close how all three of these organizations worked and contributed to their unique mission sets. I also had outstanding mentors at each organization who helped me learn about these three very different cultures. What struck me most throughout my career was the very high caliber of people with which I worked and the depth of expertise they possessed. We were blessed to have the best security tools at our disposal, much of which was produced by WashingtonExec partner companies. Yet, it is people — many of whom work tirelessly around the clock — who keep us safe. I am honored that I worked with some of the most patriotic Americans in the business, and I continue to do so in my current position at ManTech.
Following government service, one key observation was what I saw as an often disjointed partnership between the public and private sectors, which is not optimal in meeting the needs of our country. As a result, I decided early on that a key priority of mine would be to identify and establish natural synergies between the government and the private sector that might help to improve our national security.
In terms of advice, I tell them 60 percent of the jobs they are interested in are never advertised. As such, they need to have a focused, targeted approach to building networks prior to their transition into the private sector and in identifying the sector in which they want to work.
WashingtonExec: One passion of yours is to help former government executives to transition into the private sector. What are some of the things you tell these executives?
Brian McHugh: While I believe I was a pretty capable member of the IC, I came to realize that I knew very little about the business world. I think this is probably true of many career IC professionals. But I was quite fortunate to have had several friends to guide me along the way during my transition. In return for their help, I vowed to “pay it forward” by sharing the lessons I learned with as many people in transition as possible.
In terms of advice, I tell them 60 percent of the jobs they are interested in are never advertised. As such, they need to have a focused, targeted approach to building networks prior to their transition into the private sector and in identifying the sector in which they want to work. Many government employees manage multi-million-dollar complex programs, which requires critical decision-making skills. Yet when I look at their resumes, they often only provide a generic description that might not result in being selected for their targeted positions. Additionally, I usually offer a colorful synopsis of mistakes that I made along the way — and there were many — which I gladly share in hopes of preventing others from repeating them.
WashingtonExec: What book do you recommend that you found useful in your transition?
Brian McHugh: There are a number of good books out there worth reading, both in terms of transitioning to the private sector and in building a better America. Sid Fuchs, CEO of MacAulay-Brown, Inc., wrote a short, easy-to-read book called Get Off the Bench: Unleashing the Power of Strategic Networking Through Relationships, which convincingly discusses how to build strategic networks. I also picked up much wisdom from ManTech’s CEO George J. Pedersen, who “wrote the book” on how to build partnerships with customers in both up and down times. Another book I highly recommend, which focuses on our country’s divisiveness, is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, written by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.
WashingtonExec: What is happening around the globe since you left?
Brian McHugh: Certain foreign actors are taking advantage of the political divide and resultant delays in critical policy decisions in our country to expand their influence in regions around the globe. For example, Iran has expanded its reach to Yemen, Eritrea and other places in the region, while ISIS continues to spread its brand of revolution through both military actions and social media recruitment. Our national secrets are being stolen by state cyber actors as well as personal information resulting from the recent breech of records at OPM (Office of Personnel Management). The Crimea changed hands overnight without any serious challenge. All of this can be disheartening to those who have careers in national security. This can impact the ability to attract and retain the great talent needed for these critical efforts.
In my view, as a country we must see our way toward more agreement on national security matters. Our problem-solving must start here at home.
WashingtonExec: What is your view in what is happening in the various Middle East hotspots?
Brian McHugh: I heard someone describe the situation that we are in the first of a four-act play that will last for several more years, and I hope they are wrong. Countries like Iran, Russia and Turkey with Qatar and Saudi Arabia will be vying for influence as the region deals with huge shifts and threats. Turkey just recently announced that it is creating its first overseas military base in Qatar, setting the stage for Turkey to expand significantly its regional base of power.
With regard to Syria, many here in the U.S. were experiencing war fatigue at a time when we may have best been able to impact some of the events that have helped create the current situation.
While it is easy to be a pessimist, I believe the U.S. always has a way of correcting itself over time. I’m hopeful this is the case with regard to our current American condition and the problems of the world.