The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 8, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Nov. 12.
Next up is National Security/DHS Industry Executive of the Year finalist Maurine Fanguy, who’s managing director at Accenture Federal Services. Here, she talks key career moments, professional risks, overcoming career struggles and more.
What has made you successful in your current role?
Context has been the key to my success. I lead the 850-person Transportation Security Administration account for Accenture Federal Services. It’s a natural confluence of my professional passions, both in homeland security and in senior private sector leadership roles, to help enable more vigorous protection of our nation’s airports and travelers.
Most of my career has been spent working in homeland security. I have also worked for industry, as an IT service provider, an equipment manufacturer, in the explosives detection community, the biometrics community and more.
These experiences provide me with a unique, end-to-end perspective on technology — from research and development to acquisition and operations. My experience gives me context that is critical to help drive a bold vision for how technology can break through longstanding challenges, as well as the context to create a solid plan to deliver success.
I enjoy sharing that context with my team so that we can help our clients innovate and excel in achieving mission outcomes.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
When I joined the TSA, I took the helm on the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program, a security program that fundamentally transformed the lives of 2 million maritime workers by introducing biometric smartcards to secure the nations ports. I joined the program right after TSA had issued draft regulations impacting 3,200 maritime facilities and on 10,000 U.S. flagged vessels.
I jumped in the deep end with a meeting with senior executives from all of the West Coast Marine Terminals. One of the port executives asked me point blank, “Have you actually been to a port?” That question turned into an invitation to visit the Port of Seattle.
They let me see port operations firsthand, from trucking operations, ship loading and unloading to the command center. At six months pregnant, I think they were surprised when I took them up on the offer to climb to the top of a gantry crane — 200 feet in the air.
That visit made such an impact on me. I realized my team and I needed to take the time to get out of D.C. and visit with the people who would rely on and be impacted by our new technology program. Since then, a critical part of any program I lead includes user research and user experience. Context matters and the only way to get context is to get out from behind your desk and take the time to actually listen to people and see the operational environment where new technology will be deployed.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
In 2006, I took a leap of faith and left a job I loved in industry to join the TSA as a program executive. I had never worked as a federal employee, but I was excited about the opportunity to serve. Having consulted for many government agencies prior to joining TSA, it was a whole new experience/context to learn even more about how government works between the agency components, the department, Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, the administration, international players, regulated parties and private industry.
I realized how important it is to establish strong relationships and how critical this would be to my success. To this day, I am incredibly grateful to all of my federal mentors who helped me make a successful transition from industry to federal service.
Taking the risk to leave what I knew to serve as a leader in the federal government ultimately was the most transformative experience in my career. I have never learned so much and the experience has given me a perspective that I would never have had. I rely on that perspective today to help my clients achieve successful outcomes.
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
My biggest career struggle was learning to balance work and personal life. I learned I was pregnant with my daughter a few days after I accepted my job at TSA and I didn’t consider how much she would change the way I worked. I had been beyond a hard charger pre-kids, working late and weekends, and probably having unreasonable expectations of others. After my daughter was born, it fundamentally changed my perspective and made me a better leader.
Suddenly, my daughter was my top priority. At work, I had to learn how to accept help from others, when to delegate, and I had to adopt a coaching mindset so that I could harness the power of my team to accomplish more — and so that I could leave the office in time to pick my kids up from daycare. I became more empathetic and learned to better connect with my team at the personal level.
What I love about Accenture Federal Services is our focus on being “Truly Human.” Here, you can be your true self, have a personal life and also accomplish great things! By rebalancing my work and home life, I have been able to accomplish more personally and professionally, while also create an empowering environment for my team to learn, grow, and achieve.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Be open to new opportunities and say yes more than you say no.
I have been fortunate enough to have had some unique opportunities to grow my career and broaden my perspective. Some of those opportunities could have been seen as risky — leaving safe roles that I enjoyed – but those new experiences were the ones that shaped my career the most.
After 9/11, I was offered a role on a project at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. If I had not said yes, I might not be where I am today. FLETC later became part of the Department of Homeland Security. On that project, I met so many dedicated homeland professionals who inspired the focus of my career since then.
Saying yes got me here today.