Ash Carter


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WSB Exclusive Speaker

Ash Carter

U.S. Secretary of Defense (2015–2017); Deputy Secretary of Defense (2011–2013)

As Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter led the Pentagon to launch game-changing initiatives and embrace innovative practices to ensure the Defense Department wins today’s fights and prepares for tomorrow’s challenges. His unique insight and experience leading the Pentagon at a time of global change allows him to speak to the complexity of global events, large-scale operations, technology and cybersecurity, and business transformation.

Ash Carter Profile Photo


Ash Carter is a former United States Secretary of Defense and the current Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, where he leads the Technology and Public Purpose project. He is also an Innovation Fellow and Corporation Member at MIT and a director at General Electric Company and Delta Airlines.

For over 35 years, Secretary Carter has leveraged his experience in national security, technology, and innovation to defend the United States and make a better world. He has done so under presidents of both political parties as well as in the private sector. Most recently, he served as Secretary of Defense and before that in the number two (“COO”) and number three (“weapons czar”) positions. He was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Department’s highest civilian honor, on five separate occasions.

As Secretary of Defense from 2015 to 2017, he pushed the Pentagon to “think outside its five-sided box.” He led the creation of the military campaign and international coalition to destroy ISIS, designed and executed the strategic pivot to the Indo-Asia-Pacific, established a new playbook for the U.S. and NATO to confront Russia’s aggression, and launched the first national cyber strategy.

Secretary Carter spearheaded new technological capabilities and a more agile approach to the relationship between the Pentagon and the tech sector. He also transformed the way the Department of Defense recruits, trains, and retains quality people, including opening all military positions to women without exception.

He earned a BA from Yale University and a PhD in theoretical physics from Oxford University where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Carter is the author or co-author of over 12 books and more than one-hundred articles on physics, technology, national security, and management.

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Ash Carter’s Speech Topics

  • Rebuilding a Bridge to the Future: Silicon Valley and the Intersection of Public and Private Sectors

    As the first Defense Secretary to travel to Silicon Valley in over 20 years, Ash Carter prioritizes the need for rebuilding the partnerships between proven private-sector visionaries and the public sector in order to hone the U.S. military’s unrivaled edge. An experienced technologist with deep experience and roots in America’s tech and investment communities, Carter implemented revolutionary new programs at the Defense Department, drawing in the brightest minds from leading companies like Google and Apple and elsewhere to help the Pentagon “think outside its five-sided box,” and change how the Defense Department develops technology, conducts military operations, and recruits, trains and retains its people. With a creative, inclusive approach, Carter provides strategies for the flexible thinking necessary to promote security in the cyber age, compete for talent in a 21st-century workforce, and develop leading new technologies.

  • The Imperative to Innovate: Transformational Leadership for Business

    A passionate and savvy creative thinker with a knack for effectively challenging the status quo and finding dynamic and agile solutions to any organizational challenge, Ash Carter guides audiences on the revolutionary journey he took to transform the Pentagon so it could win today’s fights and simultaneously prepare to win tomorrow’s. Drawing on experience during the Cold War, the post-Cold War era and wars against terrorism, Carter accelerated the campaign against the Islamic State, designed and executed the pivot to the Asia-Pacific, and developed the new playbook to confront Russia’s recent aggression, all the while remaining dedicated to ensuring the military was ready for an uncertain future and for challenges the nation may not anticipate today. He did so by pushing the Defense Department to innovate in its technology, its operations and planning, its organizational systems and practices, and its talent management. As a result, Carter helps leaders think through how they can lead their organizations and their people to meet current missions even as they prepare for what an uncertain future may bring.

  • Lessons on Leading Through Uncertainty and Complexity from the Biggest Business in the World

    The Pentagon is the headquarters of the single largest institution in America: the Department of Defense. The DOD is the largest employer in the country, operates more real estate, and spends more money, than any other entity. It manages the world’s most far flung and complex information network and performs more R&D than Apple, Google, and Microsoft combined. Most important, it is the ultimate risk manager tasked with multiple simultaneous crises and an intensely competitive and fast-moving global playing field. Secretary Carter is able to share insights from his unique experience in all three of the Pentagon’s top positions to illuminate how global businesses can tackle today’s simultaneous crises in the economy, global politics, and COVID, and deepen their resilience – all the while actually accelerating business transformation for the future. 

  • The Real Problem with China

    Trade wars and rhetoric aside, Secretary Carter will use his personal history of dealings with the past three Presidents of China to help audience members get to the heart of the true security threats from China and what their impact could be on the geopolitical and economic landscape of the future. Unlike the Cold War where the United States and the Soviet Union competed globally did not trade with one another, the rivalry between the United States and China is historically unique. Secretary Carter’s nearly four decades of Pentagon experience under presidents of both parties, as well as a tech leader outside government, position him to clarify the business challenges of this unprecedented partner/competitor relationship as well as highlight opportunities for companies operating globally. 

  • Supply Chains at War Speed

    As he took the job as the “Acquisition Czar”, Former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was told that the troops were at war, but the Pentagon was not. Like so many businesses, the Defense Department’s supply chain sought to be efficient—but lacked agility. Today, with an unprecedented global pandemic, many companies find themselves unprepared for the challenge. In this talk, Secretary Carter will share lessons from his implementation of rapid acquisition to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how he then drove the institutionalization of these practices for peacetime in preparation for future potential confrontations with China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. 

  • Beyond Tik Tok: The Real State of Play in Technological Competition

    A popular app, widely used and easily identified, has set up a highly visible fight between the US and China, but Tik Tok means little to the actual state of play in the competition for internet supremacy. The so- called “splinternet” is not something on the horizon– it is today a reality. For global organizations, contending with these warring versions of technology will be a business imperative. With his intimate knowledge of both Chinese motivations and technological innovation, physicist, technology leader, and former Secretary of Defense Carter will give his unique insights about the actual state of the “tech cold war” and how policy from Washington, Beijing, and Europe is likely to influence the future. 

  • Geopolitical Forecast: Asia, Russia and Global Hot Spots

    Like all organizations, the Defense Department is operating at a time of global change. The rapidly growing Asia-Pacific is increasingly becoming the world’s economic, political and military center of gravity. An emboldened and newly aggressive Russia is modernizing its tactical, technological and cyber intelligence capabilities. And the threat of terrorism, whether from the Islamic State or homegrown ‘lone-wolf’ actors, must be countered. Ash Carter describes the new defense playbook and demonstrates how to take the lessons of history and leverage our nation’s and military’s unique strengths in new ways for new threats. He demonstrates how to develop more agile strategies that prioritize the expansion of cybersecurity capabilities and other modern tools alongside continued dynamic diplomacy. As the U.S. adapts its leadership role in a changing global landscape, he deftly outlines the issues and the fights that will define the years to come.

What other organizations say about Ash Carter

Secretary Carter’s presentation was superb and insightful. Onsite he was friendly, engaged and generous with his time both before and after he spoke. His comments inspired my colleagues to think about global events and the U.S. government in a different and more informed way.

Financial Services


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