Deborah Lee James
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Deborah Lee James

Deborah Lee James has a three-decade track record of leading, transforming, and driving lasting results in the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government, and private industry. She has deep expertise in strategic planning, risk management, public policy, cyber security, logistics, and innovation.
23rd Secretary of the Air Force

Expertise In:

  • Change Management
  • Innovation and Technology
  • U.S. National Security
  • U.S. Women in Leadership
  • Corporate Culture

Audience & Industry

  • Associations
  • Corporations
  • The Professional Services Industry
  • The Finance Industry
  • Women's Events

Deborah Lee James has a three-decade track record of leading, transforming, and driving lasting results in the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government and private industry. She has deep expertise in strategic planning, risk management, public policy, cyber security, logistics, and innovation.

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.

Featured Videos

Featured Experiences

Diversity and Inclusion

A key part of talent management in today’s business, academic and business environment is improving policies for diversity and inclusion. Why? All organizations are in a war for talent and need to recruit from the widest pool possible of qualified individuals to join their ranks. All organizations also seek innovation, which in large part stems from diversity of thought. Deborah outlines the business case for diversity and inclusion and offers examples and implementation advice from both her industry and government experience. Deborah can also offer personal experiences on how to achieve a successful work/life balance and how a woman can successfully navigate in a male dominated environment. 

Leadership and Problem-Solving

Over the course of her 35-year career, Deborah has developed insights and lessons learned: from business and policy successes and failures. Among them: “Establish goals and priorities, but be prepared to zigzag. At least 50 percent of effective communications is listening.” And “You can and should compromise on most things, but never integrity.” Her problem solving approach—which she outlines with personal stories from business and government—includes: investigate, communicate, activate, and follow up.

Commentary on Topical National Defense and Foreign Policy Issues

As Secretary of the Air Force and as a business leader, Deborah was charged with talent management; readiness and training; technology and modernization; and making her organizations as efficient as possible. She also visited more than 40 partner nations during her most recent tenure in government. She offers up to the minute commentary on the Washington budget scene and topical issues in national security and foreign policy.

Deborah talks about controversial topics including: the readiness of today’s armed forces; sequestration; opening combat jobs to women in the military; making the acquisition process more efficient; and countering the threats posed by ISIS and Russia.


Works