Careers inside the Beltway can last decades, even span an individual’s entire career from entry-level to retirement. But for these executives, there came a moment when they instead wanted out of the Beltway and along the Technology Corridor of 66-West. Retiring from a long career in public service to one more quiet and out of the public eye is a decision many are making.
Former DNI Open Source Director Doug Naquin, now President and CEO for his own consulting firm, explains what led him to leave the government side for the private sector, addresses his new role and offers advice for others thinking of making the switch.
WashingtonExec: Your career in government spans many years. How is your transition going? What do you know now that you did not expect after retiring from public service?
Doug Naquin: It’s been almost three years since I retired from federal service, so I better say by now that the transition is going well. Seriously, I am comfortable with my current work-life balance and have re-discovered passions that had taken a back seat during my career. Thanks to advice from former colleagues, I was not dramatically surprised during my transition to the private sector, at least related to work. I did find it interesting, however, that the transition period itself is not linear in that one gradually feels less federally employed and more transitioned; rather, the transition ebbs and flows in a number of ways, including the type of work one finds attractive and how much work is sufficient.
I had assumed my value as a consultant would be perceived as highest the day after I retired and then decline precipitously. In truth, I’ve found timing to be more important – whether it’s a particular opportunity to leverage my experience or skills or a strategic change initiative that might benefit from someone who has “been there.”
WashingtonExec: What prompted you to continue to support the mission in a private sector role? Leave the government side for the private sector?
Doug Naquin: Although I am possibly typecast as an “Open Source” person, given that most of my career was in the Open Source arena, I believed the experiences during the last 20 years of my career gave me a foundation to help organizations change strategically. I was fortunate to be CIA’s deputy CIO during a transformation in how CIA managed its IT (1999-2002), and I benefited from a wonderful staff and like-minded people in OSC who helped develop repeatable processes to transform a media monitoring and translation-based organization into a bona fide Open Source Center. I thought I could bring some of this experience to bear on a broader scale — both to government and the private sector.
WashingtonExec: What would your colleagues say were your top three accomplishments while at the DNI Open Source Center? What do you consider your top three accomplishments while at the DNI Open Source Center?
Doug Naquin: I could not presume what my colleagues might list as accomplishments. I imagine this would depend on the colleagues in question and their perspectives relative to the center. From my perspective, I might highlight the following:
- The evolution of the organization that became the DNI Open Source Center. We started with an organization that had experienced a fairly dismal 10-year glide path and re-built resources, morale and impact to the point the IC saw fit to make it the foundation of a DNI center. Then we got even better.
- The heightened level of discourse around Open Source and intelligence. I used to joke that our goal for Open Source as a discipline was to advance from no thought to afterthought to forethought. While I saw firsthand the contributions of good Open Source Intelligence, I did not initially encounter great interest or informed views on Open Source. My goal was not necessarily for Open Source to get more resources, but for it to be more engaged in high-level conversations around strategy and resources. If we could get to an even playing field, I believed we would compete well. By my departure in early 2012, it appeared Open Source was indeed on the way to being more included as an element of IC strategy.
- Internal platforms for continuous change. The dynamic Open Source environment required governance and personnel management processes that accommodated rapid change while ensuring communication across the organization. Our resource priorities, investments and skills had to adjust to new opportunities whether or not we received new investment. I believed our internal processes, which were relatively unique in government, allowed us to keep pace pretty well.
WashingtonExec: What will be your biggest challenge as President and CEO of Douglas Naquin LLC? How will you address it? What has had the largest learning curve or adjustment you have had to make in the private sector
Doug Naquin: My biggest challenge, which is a good one to have, is balancing work with other interests in my life. I believe I have value to offer, but I do not want to be working just to be working. I still want to help the taxpayer get the best value possible from government and government-private sector partnerships; therefore, I’m most interested in opportunities to make that happen. I have occasionally turned down work when I did not think I could help or have suggested clients pursue an approach where I might not be the most qualified resource to assist.
WashingtonExec: What is something that you’ve learned since your transition to the private sector that you didn’t realize initially?
Doug Naquin: I had assumed my value as a consultant would be perceived as highest the day after I retired and then decline precipitously. In truth, I’ve found timing to be more important – whether it’s a particular opportunity to leverage my experience or skills or a strategic change initiative that might benefit from someone who has “been there.”
WashingtonExec: What are your goals for your company?
Doug Naquin: Only to add value and provide the best advice I can. I get a lot of satisfaction, for example, when I can link up two companies or the government and private sector to provide unique value or see potential that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
WashingtonExec: Do you believe a public sector executive’s top leadership qualities differ from a private sector executive’s leadership qualities? If so, how?
Doug Naquin: I’d say many leadership attributes apply to both sectors, particularly those that involve interacting with and motivating people. In the public sector, there is perhaps a stronger emphasis on the concept of “mission,” which can be difficult to articulate in terms of success measures but can be a powerful galvanizing force. In contrast, the private sector understandably places more emphasis on a financial bottom line, which might drive strategies and behaviors in ways that differ from the public sector.
WashingtonExec: Did you have any mentors or individuals who deeply influenced who you are or your decision to stand at the head of where you are now?
Doug Naquin: Absolutely. As a new senior executive, in particular, I was fortunate to have a string of bosses who tended to be independent and superior critical thinkers, stressed impact over “tried and true” and were adept at navigating bureaucracy. However, I would not want embarrass them by naming them and implying they are responsible for how I turned out.
WashingtonExec: What is your best piece of advice to those thinking about remaining in federal service or entering the private sector?
Doug Naquin: When asked for advice, I’ve generally tried to assure people there are no bad reasons for retiring and/or joining the private sector. Everyone has different motivations or reasons for staying or leaving government, and I’ve not found any one reason is better than another. I’ve also advised people to trust their instincts while remaining practical about their financial needs and goals. Although it might sound trite, life is too short to do something one doesn’t have to if it is not bringing satisfaction and there are viable options.
WashingtonExec: Do you see yourself “boomeranging back” to the public sector?
Doug Naquin: Not likely. Looking back, my career not only gave me great satisfaction, but entailed jobs for which it was easy to generate a great deal of passion. I had good opportunities while in government and gave them my best shots. While I’m happy to build on those experiences, I believe it’s time for something different.
WashingtonExec: What’s something most people don’t know about you?
Doug Naquin: Most of my friends and family are only too aware, but it might not be widely known that I am a Level 1 certified CrossFit trainer and teach a few classes a week at CrossFit Impavidus in Ashburn, Va. I also coach the competitive 40-plus team.