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 have been making in the last couple years.
John A. Marshall served as the Deputy Director for NSG PMO for NGA as well as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the Joint Chiefs of Staffs before retiring in 2014. Recently he co-founded Gemini II Technologies where he serves as its CTO. In this interview he shares his advice for both transitioning into retirement and transitioning from the public to private sectors.
WashingtonExec: Your career in government spans more than 38 years. How is your transition going?
John A. Marshall: It’s quite an adjustment going from 9-12 hour days, high impact, stressful, extremely rewarding to suddenly waking up after the day of your retirement thinking of what to do next. My wife gave me the best advice; do what you want to do for six months and I did just that. I spent quality time with family, completed much needed home and condo maintenance, traveled, and did some golfing. It was an adjustment giving up the mission aspects and working with some very high caliber professionals in the government. I highly recommend that all government people transitioning should take this time off, build that into your plan as you start to contemplate that decision of when to retire.
WashingtonExec: What do you know now that you did not expect after retiring from public service?
John A. Marshall: I should have paid more attention to my retirement transition paperwork and benefits. I was provided an early out option with a bonus and had only 90 days to transition out of the government. I had lots of catching up to do understanding all my benefits, working with OPM and DIA, talking to my financial planner, and spousal requirements. Making these critical decisions that will impact your retirement income, health care options, and life insurance seemed daunting. We addressed lots of these future issues in establishing a Marshall Family Trust, a recommendation for others to consider. Take the time now while you’re in government to lay out a detailed plan for when that retirement date comes. It’s never too early!
WashingtonExec: What prompted you to continue to support the mission in a private sector role? Leave the government side for the private sector?
John A. Marshall: I have always been so committed to our country, our fight for freedom and peace for all. With my Intelligence Community, DOD, and Information Technology background I have so much to offer private sector. I gave it much thought during the six months I took off after my government retirement. I am able to articulate to industry the needs and requirements of our government customers and cross boundaries as a private citizen. I can talk directly to my Congressman, public media, and industry without any restrictions, up to a point. I can leverage a whole of government approach in solving some very complex issues for the country. In my 38 years, I have been in some demanding information technology jobs. I understand a lot about the Intelligence Community, Department of Defense, and other federal agencies and how team work, collaboration, and mission impact are used to protect our homeland.
WashingtonExec: What would your colleagues say were your top three accomplishments while at NGA? What do you consider your top three accomplishments while there?
John A. Marshall: I worked for Dr. Ernie Reith the Director of the NSG PMO as his deputy. My three major accomplishments were the lead for the Joint Information Environment (JIE) within the agency, ensuring integration and interoperability of new geospatial capabilities within the current National GeoSpatial Systems Architecture and introducing next generation cloud based capabilities in support of our transition to the Intelligence Community-Information Technology Environment (IC-ITE).
As for my accomplishments, I conveyed the operational needs of our warfighters from having that background at the Joint Staff and Combatant Commands implementing the Joint Intelligence Operations Centers (JIOC’s) architecture within these commands. Using my operational experience I mentored many young military and civilians. I worked some critical mission capabilities for Special Forces and provided opportunities for headquarters personnel to directly talk with the war fighters. We held numerous forums at NGA with our customers who were forward deployed.
WashingtonExec: What will be your biggest challenge as co-founder/CTO for Gemini II Technologies? How will you address it? What has had the largest learning curve or adjustment you have had to make in the private sector?
John A. Marshall: The biggest challenge was learning about all the rules and regulations in starting a new company such as the business processes, tax codes, administration, finances, insurance, and all the other daily responsibilities in running a company. I actually started two companies, Marshall Consulting Services and Gemini II Technologies that complement each other with different business objectives in support of our clients.
As for starting up, the largest learning curve was ensuring we were in compliance with all the rules and restrictions I was put under because of my prior senior executive service and also working across three agencies in a rotational assignment. When I retired, I received a 20 page letter from the agency stating my legal boundaries in doing business with DOD and Intelligence Community in my first year. This was my cooling off period where I worked my last full year where I was assigned to the Joint Staff, on a rotational assignment the year before retirement and my work with DIA. It complicated this effort in the initial rollout of the two companies.
WashingtonExec: What are your goals for Gemini II technologies while in your new role?
John A. Marshall: We want to build a reputable company that will represent the best of breed capabilities from industry and provide solutions to complex problems within the government. We know government officials don’t have the time to research industry like we do, it’s our business to know. This streamlines the government’s time and provides them unique capabilities to meet their mission requirements. We are not a fan of larger system integrators, we believe an agile approach and short term contracts are best for the government and mission. We present solutions where it makes sense and positions our customers for the next generation’s cloud based IT environments.
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?
John A. Marshall: Absolutely and I was extremely fortunate to have Ms. Letitia Long the former Director of NGA, Col. Jacqueline Walsh retired USAF, and Mr. Tom Tomaszewski the J2 at United States Joint Forces Command and later as a Senior Executive at DIA. There have been many others but these three individuals standout during my last five years in government. I still pretty much keep in touch with them to this day.
WashingtonExec: What is your best piece of advice to those thinking about remaining in federal or enter the private sector?
John A. Marshall: I would like to see rotational assignments between private and government jobs for personnel to experience both job environments. It would round out a person and do away with many of the biases we have towards each other.
WashingtonExec: Do you see yourself “boomeranging back” to the public sector?
John A. Marshall: Great question, if the right opportunity presented itself and it would have a long lasting impact in either protecting the homeland or hunting down those terrorists who wish to do us harm, I would say yes!