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 and jumping back into the industry as a contractor is a decision many at the executive level from the public sector are making.
Former National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Chief Information Officer Bobby Laurine, now Hewlett-Packard’s Chief Strategist for the Intelligence Community, 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 30 years. How is your transition going? What do you know now that you did not expect after retiring from public service?
Bobby Laurine: I have been retired from government for a year now, and my transition has been going great! I spent my entire career working for the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Intelligence Community (IC), the last sixteen years as a senior leader, where there is a very high tempo of work to be done to meet the demanding mission of ensuring national security. This dedication to mission support continues in my role as HP’s Chief Strategist for the Intelligence Community (IC).
HP represents a great opportunity for me, one where I am able to learn more about innovative ways of utilizing technology and services to enable mission success — something we have termed the “New Style of IT.” Throughout this past year, the challenges that industry faces in doing business with government has definitely surprised me. For example, the impact of budget uncertainty, changing acquisition strategies and unknown impacts with organizational conflict of interest can all be quite challenging.
The tenants of good leadership are the same regardless of what role you maintain. During my tenure within the public sector, we often had leadership training conducted by some of the top companies in America – those that are often consistently utilized by the private sector for leadership training.
WashingtonExec: What prompted you to continue to support the mission in a private sector role? What prompted you to leave the government side for the private sector?
Bobby Laurine: Having worked for more than 30 years, it was time for me to broaden my professional experiences. When I became eligible for retirement, I decided it was a good time to transition from public to private sector to lend the leadership experience and system engineering skills I have acquired over the years to aid industry. I know when I was NGA’s Chief Information Officer, I always appreciated when my industry counterparts had a mix of both industry experts and those who had served on the government side of the equation.
WashingtonExec: What would your colleagues say were your top three accomplishments while at NGA? What do you consider your top three accomplishments while at NGA?
Bobby Laurine: I think my colleagues would say my top three accomplishments at NGA included spearheading the initial deployment of more than 2,000 thin client desktops as part of Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (IC ITE); taking the NGA network availability from 94 percent to 99.9 percent while serving as the Chief Information Officer; and establishing an IT governance structure based on strong portfolio management and standard industry processes for the Agency.
While the accomplishments referenced above were more recent, personally speaking, my top three accomplishments occurred earlier in my career. The examples that stand out to me include establishing an education cohort program between my alma mater — The George Washington University and NGA — to enable Agency officers to become certified in Systems Engineering, which resulted in hundreds of officers receiving certificates, master’s degrees and doctorates. I also helped create a more robust Research and Development program for the Agency that resulted in technologies that were the precursor to Google Maps. Lastly, I mentored many Agency officers who have now gone on to become senior executives. It is awesome when you can help guide and develop the foundation of skilled officers chartered to lead the Agency into the future.
WashingtonExec: What will be your biggest challenge as Chief Strategist for the Intelligence Community at Hewlett-Packard? How will you address it? What has had the largest learning curve or adjustment you have had to make in the private sector?
Bobby Laurine: I think my biggest challenge will be trying to communicate equally across the agencies about breadth and depth of outstanding services HP has to offer. People often think of HP as hardware company, but they have so many more capabilities. Currently, I am developing a roadmap to showcase how we as a company, can best reach out to our federal counterparts and help them understand how HP services can make an impactful difference to their organizations. Working in private sector today, the biggest adjustment I have had to make centers around the budget process. While government develops budgets years in advance, the private sector takes a much more tactical approach, focusing on shorter windows of time to reach quarterly goals.
WashingtonExec: What is something that you’ve learned since your transition to the private sector that you didn’t realize initially?
Bobby Laurine: I think you always believe that everyone has it easier on the other side. What I have realized with time is that both private and public sectors have their own unique challenges. My personal challenge is to change my optic a bit, to focus on what specific capabilities HP has to offer a variety of different agencies and how can we best tailor our approach to delight our customers. Post transition, I also have a better understanding of the importance of organizations like WashingtonExec and others who are dedicated to facilitating cooperation, information sharing and innovation across government.
WashingtonExec: What are your goals for the company while in your new role?
Bobby Laurine: My primary goal in my current role with HP is to position the company to be the Intelligence Community Information Technology (IT) provider of choice, driving operational excellence in all that we do.
WashingtonExec: Do you believe a public sector executive’s top leadership qualities differ from a private sector executive’s leadership qualities? If so, how?
Bobby Laurine: The tenants of good leadership are the same regardless of what role you maintain. During my tenure within the public sector, we often had leadership training conducted by some of the top companies in America – those that are often consistently utilized by the private sector for leadership training. As Jack Welch, the previous CEO of General Electric once said, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Those words are true for both the private and 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?
Bobby Laurine: I have had several outstanding mentors, but the most influential were Annette Kriegel and Jim Clapper. I spent many years working for both. Annette taught me how to be a good program manager and how you can maximize system engineering for an organization. The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Clapper taught me about leadership, how to develop people to reach their maximum potential and how to roll with the ups and downs as they come.
WashingtonExec: What is your best piece of advice to those thinking about remaining in federal or enter the private sector?
Bobby Laurine: Start early, do your research on what type of organization you want to work for, find someone to help you develop a strong resume and build a good network of people who can help support you as you transition. Finally, and most importantly, thank those individuals who have supported you along the way.
WashingtonExec: Do you see yourself “boomeranging back” to the public sector?
Bobby Laurine: I am not planning on it, but if the mission required someone of my background and experience, I would be happy to serve. It is not surprising that industry experience and insight is great to take back to the government. DNI Clapper once shared that his time outside of government allowed him to maximize the experience industry can provide to further support the mission in unique ways.
WashingtonExec: What’s something most people don’t know about you?
Bobby Laurine: My very first job was as a geologist working offshore on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.