Benji Hutchinson was exposed to foreign affairs and technology at an early age, which increased his appetite for all things international and high-tech and sparked a global and cultural exploration that led him educationally, professionally and personally.
Hutchinson is the vice president of Washington D.C., operations and federal business for NEC Corp. of America and an adjunct professor of policy for identity analysis at George Mason University’s graduate-level Forensic Science Program. The overlapping focus in both of these endeavors is the intersection of the federal government and biometrics, artificial intelligence and computer vision technologies.
But his entree into these technologies began after a long — and international — educational road.
Hutchinson has a bachelor’s degree in international economics and French, a master’s degree in French language and literature and a master’s degree in international commerce and diplomacy, all from the University of Kentucky.
After college, Hutchinson worked at the Harris Corp. as an international task manager and IT trainer for a State Department biometrics contract from 2004–2006.
“That contract was to deploy biometric equipment to do screening for visas and passport issuance all around the world,” Hutchinson explained.
The job also allowed him the opportunity to travel around the world — something he’s always wanted to do — to Morocco, Yemen, Turkey, Mexico, Ecuador and the Czech Republic. He also used his French-speaking skills in francophone countries, communicating with locals and Foreign Service nationals at the embassies or consulates, which came in handy when installing equipment and training.
“They really appreciated that I actually spoke the language, so they were more engaged,” he said.
And while the hook of that first job was travel, it positioned Hutchinson for a career in a field he had never planned — biometrics.
“That was the very first job I had in biometrics. And that kicked off what amazingly turned into a 15-year career,” he said.
After Harris Corp., Hutchinson served as an associate for Booz Allen Hamilton’s Defense Department biometrics unit from 2006–2010. There, he worked on the Army’s Biometrics Task Force providing strategic policy and technical guidance for the deployment of biometric sensors to the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It gave me exposure to a lot of the levels of the Pentagon and the uniformed military services,” Hutchinson said. “I got to work alongside men and women that were doing amazing things for the country.”
In 2010, he became a program manager at Six3Systems, a company now owned by CACI but previously known as a niche military intelligence-oriented organization. Hutchinson was a consultant for the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, who at the time was Gen. James Clapper. He worked for one of Clapper’s senior executives in the Pentagon developing policy for how to deploy biometric and forensic-enabled intelligence technology.
In 2012, he left Six3Systems and transitioned deeper into the sales side of the private sector. Hutchinson joined MorphoTrust as a senior director of federal business for national security accounts, selling biometric software and equipment back to the Pentagon, the broader intelligence community, DHS and the FBI.
And in 2016, Hutchinson joined NEC as senior director of the Washington, D.C., operations and federal business, before rising to VP in 2018.
Where it All Began
Hutchinson’s first job after college may have launched his biometrics career, but his international interest peaked in his hometown of Ashland in eastern Kentucky, when he had to do a report on a foreign country in elementary school.
“For some reason, I was always fascinated with history and the military and I started looking at Vietnam,” Hutchinson said. “I started learning about where that war started. And I saw that the French were involved in that war early on.”
Then, a few years later when Hutchinson was in sixth grade, high schoolers came to teach the younger students foreign languages.
“For some reason, I was placed into the French program and I started to learn a little bit of French and it stuck with me. It excited me. It was something new,” Hutchinson said.
And he credits his “fantastic” teachers in high school for his continuous curiosity, including his French teacher, who further instilled in him a passion for the language — a passion that took Hutchinson very far.
Hutchinson’s interests in French and foreign affairs followed him to college. He enrolled at the University of Kentucky in 1995 and at first, struggled with what he wanted to do. He initially signed up as a computer science major, only to realize software development was not his thing.
But Hutchinson knew he was still interested in international activities. The university’s new combination program, foreign language and international economics, allowed students to study a language and an international commerce program together, so he pivoted from technology to business, getting his bachelor’s degree in international economics and French in 2000.
“This [was]the high time of globalization,” Hutchinson said, “with the European Union integration and all this stuff. So, I knew that I wanted to be a part of a bigger world than just Kentucky. That was kind of the genesis for me.”
While in college, Hutchinson took advantage of the dot-com era and began working for big international firms. He worked for Gateway Computers as a sales representative from 1998–1999, and for Lexmark as a technical support representative from 1999–2001.
In 2000, he pursued a 2-year master’s degree program in French language and literature from the University of Kentucky. During this time, he studied abroad in France at the University of Caen in Normandy — a region not so metropolitan, but full of history from Viking conquests and medieval times to World War II.
“They basically said, ‘hey, we’d love for you to stay on and do a master’s in French and we’ll pay for it.’ So that was kind of a no brainer,” Hutchinson said.
In the middle of that program, he decided to take on another graduate degree. He applied to the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce and started a master’s degree program for international commerce and diplomacy, finishing in 2004.
Hutchinson was also an instructor of world politics and French language from 2000–2003 through the University of Kentucky, teaching one international relations course and four French language courses. He also taught English to native French speakers while abroad in Caen in 2001.
But there was another factor that played into Hutchinson’s decision to pursue international diplomacy. During his time abroad, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks happened, and everything changed for him.
“It sort of solidified what I wanted to do and I knew that I wanted to go and work either for the U.S. government, supporting the growth of commercial interests abroad or steadily, I started to get more into security and defense issues,” Hutchinson said. “But initially, I wanted to leverage my undergraduate degree and figure out something that would be international and economics or commercially related.”
Before finishing his degrees, Hutchinson interned for the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service for the Commerce Department in 2003, during a time he thought he wanted to go into intelligence.
But after finishing his degrees in 2004, he struggled finding a job in that field in Washington, D.C. He slept on friends’ couches while interviewing in the area, sending hundreds of applications, meeting headhunters and interviewing where he could.
And the job he landed at Harris Corp., he said, was fantastic. Not only did it expand his horizons, geographically and technologically, but it catapulted his career for years to come.
Connecting to the Mission
Hutchinson never served in the military but always had a passion for history and politics. And it’s the connection to the overall mission that keeps him passionate about working with government agencies like DOD and Customs and Border Protection, especially after 9/11.
“Being able to operate alongside some of these men and women who were doing these missions was amazing,” he said. “You got to interact with people who were screening people that were trying to come to the United States.”
Plus, being involved with the immigration and foreign affairs world excited him.
“It made me feel like I was a part of something bigger, a part of history. And I still feel that today,” he said, as NEC works with putting advanced technologies at the border with CBP.
“Sometimes, it’s controversial, but it’s exciting to be involved and to be supporting those people doing all those tough jobs,” Hutchinson added.
And as NEC has already established its federal footprint, Hutchinson is focused on maintaining and enabling growth.
“We made a splash when we got our first work with Customs and Border Protection, and now we’ve expanded that work to multiple agencies inside of DHS,” Hutchinson said.
One of his main objectives over the past couple years was to gain more access into the federal market, and ensure a stable revenue, backlog and roster of talent. Today, his business unit supports the State Department, the Army and the intelligence community, along with DHS.
“I’m really proud that we’ve been able to establish a footprint across those agencies,” Hutchinson said.
The company also expanded its office space to a larger, state-of-the-art facility and built a customer experience center so customers can experience technology like AI, computer vision, facial recognition, fingerprints, palm and latent prints, iris screening technology, intelligent perimeter intrusion detection and body tracking.
“It’s been exciting, it’s been a fast and furious ride that we’ve been able to do a lot in the past several years with a small team,” Hutchinson said.
Putting Passion Toward a Purpose
Outside of managing the operations and federal business unit team at NEC, Hutchinson loves to teach.
“That’s a soft spot for me, I love it,” he said. “I’ve always loved teaching. I’ve always loved learning.”
As an adjunct professor, Hutchinson develops the entire graduate-level course at GMU. And a lot of his teaching — about 75% of it — comes from his 15 years of professional experiences, he said. The other 25% is reference material and information he had to find out on his own or learn to fill in the blanks (privacy law, for example).
“It’s a lot of fun to help students think through the pragmatic side of getting a degree,” Hutchinson said.
But perhaps his strongest and most consistent personal passion remains to fly all over the world. Traveling hasn’t just been a hobby for Hutchinson; it has given him confidence to operate on a much higher level, with a much broader audience.
“It gave me the ability to speak authoritatively, not only in another language but about topics I’d never really talked about before,” he said. That includes having discussions about 18th-century literature with people he’d never met before in a foreign language, in a foreign country.
Traveling also gave him a broader perspective.
“I grew up in Kentucky, so I was really hungry for that,” he said. “I wanted to see the world. I knew there was a big world out there.”
Experiencing all those different perspectives gave Hutchinson a different view of how the world worked, and taught him how to interact with people of all different backgrounds — at work, as a leader and in life.
Now, he shares his passion for travel with his wife and 2-year-old daughter — who already has Global Entry and has visited Portugal, Scotland, Switzerland and France. Plus, Hutchinson and his wife are avid skiers, a hobby that mixes well with domestic and international travel.