Deborah Lee James is a business leader and the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force. As only the second woman to ever lead a military service, she became the civilian CEO of a 660,000 person, $139 billion enterprise during a time of unprecedented political divisiveness here at home and major threats to the US overseas. For three years, Deborah led the effort to recruit, train and equip the premier air, space and cyber force on the planet. She was responsible for sending forces forward to combat ISIS in the Middle East, reassure European allies against a resurgent Russia and preparing forces for possible responses on the Korean peninsula. She also handled diverse issues ranging from battling sexual assault in the military, to rebuilding and speeding up the Air Force acquisition process, to addressing the health of the nuclear enterprise, to the future of space.
Deborah brought 15 years of executive experience in private industry to her position as Secretary of the Air Force. Over the course of an 11-year career at SAIC, a major defense firm, she served as Business Unit General Manager of the $500 million, 2,500 person C4IT business unit, and then served as Executive Vice President for Communications and Government Affairs, which included SAIC’s corporate responsibility programs. Most recently, as president of the $2 billion Technical and Engineering sector, she worked closely with SAIC’s CEO and Board of Directors to co-lead the design effort that resulted in the successful split of SAIC into two distinct public companies (SAIC and Leidos).
Through personal stories from her days as a Congressional staffer, a business leader at SAIC, and from the halls of the Pentagon, Deborah reveals her approach to leadership at the top, crisis communications, talent management and problem solving at the intersection of politics, policy and business. Based on her 35-year track record, she also offers commentary on topical business, national security and defense issues.