Top News / November 17, 2021

Leadership Insights from a U.S. Army Secretary

Ryan McCarthy
Ryan McCarthy, EMBA ’13, recently served as the 24th Secretary of the U.S. Army.

Whether in the public sector or private sector, Ryan McCarthy, EMBA ’13, says, the fundamentals of leadership remain constant.

McCarthy recently served as the 24th Secretary of the U.S. Army, the top civilian post in the largest U.S. military branch, and was previously in executive positions at Lockheed Martin.

This week, as the featured guest during the inaugural Maryland Smith Government Executive Speaker Series at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, he spoke to students, faculty, staff and alumni in Van Munching Hall and online, offering insights from his experiences in the higher echelons of the federal government and private sector. 

McCarthy highlighted key imperatives for sustaining a healthy relationship between U.S. corporate and federal enterprise and imparted important leadership lessons he has learned from others throughout his career.

McCarthy is currently a venture partner and senior advisor with Scout Ventures and is on the board of directors of CACI International and OneWeb Technologies. He is also a member of the Smith Board of Advisors.

Maryland Smith Dean Prabhudev Konana and Ryan McCarthy
Maryland Smith Dean Prabhudev Konana and Ryan McCarthy

To those navigating careers in either the public or private sector, McCarthy offers the following advice:

Focus on the mission. The civilian-military relationship is a major foundational element of the United States. Government employees and service members take an oath to an idea – that all men are created equal. Purpose is found in upholding those values in day-to-day operations, he said, and the same can go for private-sector jobs. “Find a company that you believe in what they do.”

Rally your troops. Whether it’s within the military ranks or an organization, managing disagreements among members is something every leader should be prepared to do. Always give people a venue to be heard to prevent feelings of disenfranchisement. “Remember that these are your teammates that you rely on to help fulfill your mission,” said McCarthy. “Your job as a leader is to get buy-in from everyone and make sure that you can keep your team together.”

“Don’t forget nothing.” That’s the first rule of the Army Ranger handbook, McCarthy said, and it’s a timeless lesson that all can heed regardless of the context. “I cannot tell you how versions of this core admonition – exhaustive preparation and attention to detail – have not only saved my life but provided me with a decisive advantage when it mattered most.”  

Charge forward at problems. Overseeing the sustainment and integration of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program at Lockheed Martin, McCarthy learned an invaluable lesson from confronting rising fighter jet operating costs: Bad news doesn’t get better with time. “We had to view our business through the eyes of our consumers, and that meant facing some uncomfortable realities,” he said. “Knowing what to divest in is just as important as knowing what to invest in because it requires an understanding of your organization’s direction.”

Play to win. At the heart of every public servant is a deep love for the country, McCarthy said. To succeed in today’s environment, people must be willing to cultivate positive relationships and do their best to not take things personally. Try to listen to all viewpoints and treat everyone with respect. “We’re all Americans at the end of the day,” said McCarthy. “Everyone has a role to play when it comes to achieving the end state that we all want – whatever is in the best interest of the country.”

Media Contact

Greg Muraski
Media Relations Manager
301-892-0973 Mobile 

About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

Back to Top