For mother and son, Donna Morea and Adam Chandler, government contracting runs in the family. Early on, Morea taught Chandler a critical lesson: “Take risks, especially to do important things.” That motto guided the young Chandler through his earliest stints out of college, working on Mark Warner’s senate campaign, and today, as a consultant in the federal space.
Both Chandler and Morea recently spoke with WashingtonExec about their respective careers – and sources of inspiration. Check out Morea’s thoughts on life in retirement, and how she’s built a unique second career for herself, and how Chandler navigates the corporate world while dispelling common assumptions about millennials.
WashingtonExec: What was your dream job growing up? What is your dream job now?
Adam Chandler: Growing up, I loved sports and wanted to be a sports journalist. I worked at a newspaper in high school but decided I would rather play rugby in college than report on the teams. Growing up in DC politics was a part of our daily lives, so I shifted my sights toward government and the political world. As an intern on Senator Mark Warner’s campaign, I saw the commitment, good intentions and impact of people when they devote themselves to government service. This inspired me to engage in a way that combined my interests in technology with doing something good for the government and its citizens. So after graduating college with a degree in political science, I took the opportunity to get into government consulting. Now, I dream of being able to start my own company by leveraging business and technical skills that I’m learning as a consultant combined with the critical values of accountability, integrity and public benefit in the federal space.
Donna Morea: I grew up in the Bronx. As a child, I was a true geek – I loved to read and loved school. The women who were role models for me were teachers and librarians, so that’s what I thought I would do. Then in 1963, the iconic TWA terminal opened at JFK airport (then Idlewild) and my aunt, who was a teacher, took me to see it. While I was there, I collected a pile of travel brochures and decided that I would become a travel agent “to see the world.” Little did I know that I would end up with a job that would require world travel as part of my daily life! (President US, Europe and Asia-Pacific at CGI).
WashingtonExec: Did your parent give you any professional advice while you were growing up ?
Adam Chandler: The most successful person I know is my mother, so I’ve always listened to her advice. The single piece of advice that sticks out the most is, “Take risks, especially to do important things.” I have followed this adage in my career and without it, I would not be where I am today.
One example is from 2013 when I heard about an opportunity to join the Healthcare.gov team at CGI Federal. I immediately volunteered to join the team and from April 2013 until January 2014, was part of one of the biggest and most widely known federal projects in recent history. While the results initially were historically bad, the lessons I learned were invaluable. I would never have gotten that chance if I had simply not raised my hand when given the chance and taken that risk.
Donna Morea: Neither of my parents were professionals, but they understood the value of a great education and made sure that I had one. For example, I attended Bronx High of Science. My mother would tell me frequently that by using my brains, I could become anything that I wanted. I believed her and followed that path.
WashingtonExec: Growing up did you foresee that you and your parent’s career paths would intersect? What drew you to the industry?
Adam Chandler: I always had an inkling that our careers would intersect. My first internship was at Federal Computer Week where I wrote several articles for the “Flipside” section, including an article on interesting federal web sites. This is where I first realized that being a business partner with the federal government could be an interesting possibility for a career. Most children don’t get the exposure to the business side of consulting when growing up and fail to realize how many opportunities exist within the federal space. Going back to my answer about my dream job growing up, I was drawn to the industry by the amount of opportunities and the good that each one is doing for the country.
WashingtonExec: What was your first job? What do you do in your current role?
Adam Chandler: I got my first job in middle school as a fry cook and cashier at the local pool. After that, I worked at the Falls Church News Press and Federal Computer Work. Working in the media helped me develop my ability to communicate precisely and effectively, which are highly valuable skills when dealing with complex technical environments. The first job I took in the real-world was as a junior business analyst on a customer-facing web portal for a government agency. This has led me to my current role as a functional lead on a high visibility government website.
Donna Morea: It might surprise some people to learn that I was a studio art major in college at Wesleyan University. After I graduated, my first job was as a photo librarian and occasional photographer. I had some fun experiences, including meeting Mick Jagger and photographing Dolly Parton. But I was not talented enough to make it as a photographer, so I went back to business school at Wharton. I joined AMS (American Management Systems) upon receiving my MBA as a business analyst and stayed at AMS (which was acquired by CGI) until 2011, when I retired from my role as President (US, Europe and Asia Pacific). I joined the company because it felt, and truly was, entrepreneurial. Over the years, AMS and then CGI gave me incredible opportunities to build and grow the business. And one of my top priorities as an executive was to preserve that culture and similar opportunities for those who followed me.
Since then, I have served on eight boards, including the CGI board and I also do consulting and advisory work. In my consulting role, I have worked with several small and mid-sized companies on expansion in current and new markets, and have also assisted several private equity firms in due diligence activities. I am currently on two public boards, one start-up, and three not-for-profit organizations. I am proud to be the chair-elect at Wesleyan, which gave me a fantastic liberal arts education, for which I am now giving back.
WashingtonExec: Do people know you’re your parent’s child? What’s it like bearing that moniker?
Adam Chandler: In my previous role, a fair number of people knew I was my parent’s child. I was lucky enough to be able to use my mom’s network to get an interview at CGI and secure my first job out of college there. Soon after I joined CGI Federal, my mother retired and the relationship didn’t carry as much weight. Having that personal relationship helped get my foot in the door but as soon as I started the job, it became solely all about what I could do on my own. I never took advantage of my relationship, and in fact, always worked my hardest to dispel any thoughts I was simply there because I knew someone. Also, I was afraid that I would never be able to live it down if I messed up!
WashingtonExec: Where do you see yourself in 15 years? Do you think you’ll ever work with your mother?
Adam Chandler: In 15 years, I will be entering my mid-40s and see myself with a family. I always admired my father for starting his own company and being successful at it. Being my own boss and making the important decisions isn’t something exclusive to entrepreneurship but is something I hope to be doing in 15 years.
It would definitely be interesting to work with my mother. I have heard many good things from former colleagues, especially how she builds strong teams and mentors people, but have never gotten the chance to work with her directly. Since her retirement, she has taken on a more advisory role; I plan on tapping into that knowledge in my future endeavors. And even if I didn’t ask, she would give me her advice anyway.
WashingtonExec: What do you do in your free time?
Adam Chandler: In my free time, I enjoy sampling the variety of burgers that this region has to offer with my fellow BurgerDays.com crew, a DC-based burger blog. We take pride in having eaten the best (and worst) burgers across the DC area. I also enjoy following the local sports teams including the Wizards, Nationals, Capitals, and the DC United. While I have retired from my collegiate rugby days, I still play basketball, soccer, and golf. The camaraderie and team-building is something that is really important to me.
Donna Morea: There is still not much free time in my life, but to the extent I have it, I love all things Italian. My husband and I have a web-based business selling boutique Italian olive oil and other specialty food products (olio2go.com). I help my daughter with growth plans for her eastern shore-based Italian gourmet food market and catering business. I practice my Italian language and cooking skills. And best of all, I go to Italy whenever I can.
WashingtonExec: What’s it like speaking to our NextGen of Beltway Leaders – do you find mentorship valuable?
Adam Chandler: I always relish the opportunity to speak to others about my experiences. While working for the federal government isn’t high on most children’s dream job lists, the work you do in the federal space is constantly rewarding if you think about the bigger picture. The contracts that companies are competing for on a daily basis are for work that will help people across the country. I think that the next generation of leaders needs to understand that while becoming famous on YouTube or Instagram may feel rewarding, delivering a product to a government client that helps millions of people does much more good. Mentoring is key in helping realize the context of what you are doing and gives another perspective on your career.
WashingtonExec: Do you ever feel like you have to overcome millennial stereotypes?
Adam Chandler: Yes. The millennial stereotype is prevalent today, but I believe we need to be careful about making assumptions based on someone’s generation. The common themes I hear over and over are that this generation is entitled, lazy, addicted to technology and requires special treatment. I believe too many people are focused either on catering to millennials or breaking millennial stereotypes instead of on what lessons the millennial generation can bring and what all individuals can contribute.
For example, instead of focusing on how millennials are supposed to be more likely to job hop, focus on what it takes to keep employees in your organization. In my day-to-day, I try to get ahead of these preconceptions and actively work to dissuade them. Maintaining a well-curated online profile and being able to know when to be formal are some of ways I try to prevent being lumped in as “just another millennial.”