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Deborah James

Change Management, Diversity, International Relations, Leadership, Technology

Travels from Washington, District of Columbia, USA

Deborah James's speaking fee starts in range:
$20,000 to $25,000

Check Deborah James's Availability and Fee

Deborah James Profile

  • The 23rd Secretary of the US Air Force, James successfully led the 660,000-member organization through a time of heightened threats from ISIS, North Korea, and cyberspace.

  • Only the second woman in history to head a US military branch, James proved herself a skilled and dignified executive capable of getting things done in an unfavorable political climate marked by gridlock and stalemates.

  • Drawing from 35 years in the public and private defense sectors, James is sought for her insights on leading with integrity through turbulent times as well as her expertise on inclusion, cyber culture, and national defense issues.
  • Former Air Force secretary, Deborah James is a tried and tested leader who has dedicated more than 35 years to protecting the security of the American people as a leader in both the public and private sectors. Commended for her ability to get things done in a climate of gridlock and tribalism, James had to reinvent the Air Force in the face of downsizes, budget cuts, and growing international threats..

    The second woman to lead a military branch, James served as the 23rd Air Force Secretary during the last three years of the Obama Administration. She was responsible for streamlining acquisitions processes, improving pilot training, increasing transparency, and speeding up innovation, while maintaining the country safe in a perilous backdrop that included increased cyber-terrorism, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and North Korea’s expanded nuclear weapons program.

    James brought with her decades of experience in homeland security both as a federal government worker and private executive. Notably, she had spent 12 years at SAIC in a variety of high-ranking roles including President of the Technical and Engineering Sector and executive vice president for communications and government affairs.

    Today, James is a sought-out speaker on leading with integrity when the stakes are high and frequently cited expert on cyberspace culture and defense policy. Additionally, she serves on the Board of Directors for Unisys, Noblis, the Atlantic Council, MKACyber, and Textron.

    • View Extended/Alternate Bio

      Deborah Lee James has a three-decade track record of leading, transforming, and driving lasting results in the Legislative and Executive branches of Government (U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense) and private industry (SAIC, United Technologies Corporation, Business Executives for National Security).

      Through January 2017, Deborah served as the 23rd Secretary of the United States Air Force with responsibility for 660,000 military and civilian personnel and a budget of nearly $140 billion. Prior to this role, she served as President of SAIC’s Technical and Engineering sector, a $2 billion, 8,700-person enterprise. Deborah has deep expertise in strategic planning, risk management, public policy, cyber security, logistics and innovation. Deborah is an accomplished speaker on business and government topics including topical issues in national security and world affairs, politics in Washington, business transformation leadership and diversity and inclusion.

      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.

    Deborah James Speaking Videos

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    Deborah James's Speech Descriptions

    The 23rd Secretary of the US Air Force, Deborah James offers fascinating and valuable insights on leading strategic change in a large-scale enterprise. Overseeing 660,000 military personnel through heightened cyber threats, budget cuts, and the phasing out of two major military operations in the Middle East, James is more than qualified to impart experience-tested advice on navigating your organization through uncharted waters. James is also passionate about sharing her expertise on increasing inclusion in your organization as well as her credible analysis of current national defence and foreign policy issues.

    Changing Cyber Culture - Agreeing on the Problem Is Key to Solving It

    Although many focus on the underlying technology of the digital revolution, some fail to focus on people and culture. Business leaders and cyber professionals speak different languages and review different metrics when measuring progress and success. Frequently, these two groups do not understand one another and talk past one another, putting at risk growth, speed, agility and resilience within the enterprise.

    Deborah Lee James, the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force and current independent director on multiple public and private boards, shares the business factors that drive the cyber conversation at the Board of Director and senior government level. She’ll offer perspectives on what IT leaders need to know to communicate more effectively, become better business partners for growth and mission accomplishment, and change culture for the good.

    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 traveled extensively overseas –visiting 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. In the following clips (labeled Readiness, Women in the military, Foreign Policy and Acquisition reform), 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 (Daesh) and Russia.

    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 zig zag. 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 case stories from business and government—includes: investigate, communicate, activate, and follow up. In the following clips labeled setting priorities and inspirational), Deborah discusses a few lessons learned in leadership in the attached clip.

    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. In the following clip (labeled D&I) 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.

    What People are Saying about Seeing Deborah Speak

    Rating Entries

    “Deborah Lee James has been leaning in her whole life. She has been an inspiration to the Lean In community for a long time and I’m proud that she is part of Leanin.Org’s Advisory Board. Deborah is a true trailblazer who has lifted up so many women, and I’m grateful for her voice.”

    – Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook, Founder, LeanIn.Org

    “Debbie is the rare speaker who can knit together incredible been there/done that insight, a fantastic and inspirational personal story, and the humor, timing and poise of a seasoned storyteller. Debbie’s discussions on diversity, growth, and leadership are incredibly engaging, thought-provoking, inspiring and a lot of fun. I have recommended Debbie to several of my clients and for our own internal sessions – and the feedback has been universally top-notch positive.”

    – Daniel Schwartz, Bain & Company DC

    “A trusted advisor, Debbie has led several large-scale, complex programs for both industry and government, requiring her to be at the forefront of technological and geopolitical change. Her expertise in the Defense & Aerospace industry provides the critical insight needed for effective strategy development.”

    – Roger Krone, CEO, Leidos

    “Debbie James is a riveting, frank and personable speaker. She knows the complex national security issues facing our nation and proposes common sense solutions. Her senior-level leadership experience in the Pentagon and the business community make her particularly knowledgeable and effective. She’s tackled the tough national security issues. When she spoke to our organization, you could have heard a pin drop. She’s a speaker not to miss!”

    – Conrad H. Busch, Jr., Director, Business Executives for National Security

    “Secretary James is a go-to speaker on national security. She brings a unique insider knowledge of Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, and defense industry, and her engaging style draws in audiences of all expertise levels. CSIS has featured Secretary James as the keynote speaker at conferences on nuclear issues and space issues and in its Smart Women, Smart Power series. Her personal story inspired our Smart Women, Smart Power audience comprising men and women seeking to make their own mark in the public policy and national security spheres.”

    – Kathleen Hicks, Senior Vice President – Center for Strategic International Studies

    “Deborah James’s honesty, humor, and ability to relate to her audience already make her a terrific speaker. Couple that with insights from her distinguished career at the top in both public service and the corporate worlds, and you have a sure hit.”

    – Sanyin Siang, CEO Coach and Executive Director, Duke University’s Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics

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    Books by Deborah James:

    Aim High: Chart Your Course and Find Success

    In a world of increasing dysfunction and anxiety, this book provides a guiding light to not only survive, but thrive, professionally and personally.

    Dysfunction abounds in America in so many ways, from continuous turbulent change in the business environment, to a US federal government polarized by an inability to compromise and fulfill its historic missions, to personal levels where even deeper and darker levels of dysfunction reside within our colleagues, families, friends, and ourselves. Can any of us survive and thrive against such a backdrop of unsettledness and anxiety? Deborah Lee James wants to help us try.

    As the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force (only the second woman to lead a US military service) and a successful business leader, Deborah reveals in Aim High: Chart Your Course and Find Success her formula for success, using challenges to grow stronger, and staying true to herself and her goals. Ultimately, her three-part strategy has allowed her to thrive as a leader in government and business, and as a mother and wife.

    In Aim High: Chart Your Course and Find Success, Deborah shares her personal and professional challenges, outcomes, strategies for success, and the problem-solving principles she used to overcome the daunting pressures, threats, and challenges that come with rising to the top of the US Armed Forces. As a supplement to Deborah’s storytelling, Bain and Company, a top-tier management consulting firm, offers research and statistics that prove Deborah’s insights have widespread impact.

    Readers will appreciate Deborah’s success in rising up through the ranks of male-dominated institutions so that her life could be lived to its fullest, happiest, and on her own terms. Aim High: Chart Your Course and Find Success reveals to readers how they can do the same.


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