Education: Master’s in International Affairs, Columbia University; AB, Comparative Studies, Duke University

First Job: Capitol Hill, as a professional staff member in the House Armed Services Committee, dealing with military and NATO issues for 10 years before moving to the Pentagon.

What I'm Reading: East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

My Philosophy: Be aware of new opportunities, and be ready to seize them when they present.

Family: Sam and Regina.

Interests: Aspiring golfer, history.

Favorite Charities: The Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation (a national charity working to meet the needs of our military and their families); USO

Deborah James 

Senior Vice President and Business Unit General Manager

award winner

I have been so fortunate in my career, having served in senior government, non-profit, and business positions. The thread that ties my life’s work together is serving our men and women in uniform, and the engine that has always fueled my growth is mentorship and networking.

During my college years, my dream was to be a Foreign Service Officer, but the Foreign Service did not offer me a job—so I did a quick “reality check” and tried a new focus—national defense. Nearly three decades later, I have derived tremendous satisfaction from this career move—hence my motto: “Watch for new opportunities, and seize them when they present.”

My first “official” job was serving as a professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee. I was a young, 20-something female with no background in defense, serving with much older males, many of whom had retired from the military. Fortunately, my diverse background helped me find a niche—it turns out i was a better, more persuasive writer than my colleagues. In Congress and many other institutions, communication is everything, so when it came to speech and report writing, they needed me—just as I needed them to learn defense policy and budgets. My diverse skill set, coupled with a great boss who took the time to mentor me, enabled me to rise through the ranks, becoming a specialist in military personnel and naTo issues, and preparing me for future assignments.

Nearly twenty years after meeting my first great boss and mentor on the house armed services committee, this same individual introduced me to my current employer, SAIC. Although SAIC is a highly technical firm, my mentor explained that the company was expanding the diversity of its experience base, and was looking to grow new leaders.

Today, I serve as a business unit general manager, responsible for 2,500 people, approximately $400 million in contract revenue annually, and crucial defense programs that are helping save the lives of military personnel on the battlefield. In addition, I serve as a member of saic’s Diversity council, and an executive sponsor of saic’s Multicultural network and my business unit’s leadership Development program. The centerpiece of our leadership Development program is—you guessed it—mentorship. pass it on.