Behind the career: Curt Bigelow

October 20, 2013

Position: Chief executive of Phase 5 Group, a McLean company that helps manufacturing organizations improve their operating performance.

Curt Bigelow spent most of his career at what is now Lockheed Martin before moving to Accenture to do global business development work. But it wasn’t until the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 that he saw new meaning in his purpose. He became involved in the healing of the Littleton, Colo., community by planning events and raising money to support the students. Now 14 years after the tragedy, he will leave Littleton to come and lead Phase 5 Group.

How did your efforts to heal the Columbine community impact you as a business leader?

I was establishing a business at [what was then] Martin Marietta while trying to be sensitive to the needs of the community. You can almost take it through a business model. You’re trying to understand the requirements of the community, school and people. At the same time you’re trying to architect the answers and what’s important. You’re constantly assessing risk. What’s the right thing? You’re helping develop solutions. You’re seeing it in real time with real emotions. It makes you sit back and think about how you treat clients, employees, family and how you grow the business internally and yourself as a leader. There’s so many emotions involved. There’s so many different opinions, laws and regulations. It’s really difficult. You start to understand culture. You have to understand emotion and feelings and the overall culture, especially in diversity.

How do you build that culture?

I am much more intent on hearing people out. I’ve always been a believer in transparency and including everyone. I try to understand their point of view. You still have to make tough decisions and lead from a business standpoint. But now I have more compassion and feeling. I’m not quick to react.

You had a lot of demands in the community while also growing in your career. What is the secret to work/life balance?

You have to be able to say no. You have to have time management skills and communicate the importance of family not only to your peers but your board and your family. Climbing the corporate ladder is extremely difficult. Often times the ladder you’re climbing isn’t even long enough or maybe it’s against the wrong building or you’re going up the wrong ladder. When I was in France on business, my daughter would call me at 2 o’clock in the morning and just start talking away. The kids know they have 24-hour access to me. It has to be that way.

What authors have been most influential for you?

The most influential for me is [former NFL coach] Tony Dungy. I’ve heard him speak at various events. He’s an amazing leader.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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