Behind the career: Mark H. Owen

April 20

Position: Chief executive of Civergy, a Landover company that provides cybersecurity, energy, cloud computing, and business intelligence services.

When he was a boy, Mark Owen and his family immigrated to the United States from Germany. Owen went on to attend the Air Force Academy and receive two degrees. He worked in the Air Force’s space program, and rose to become a director. After 30 years of service, he left the military and began working in private industry for companies including Booz Allen Hamilton, Northrop Grumman and National Security Technologies before coming to Civergy, where he has been appointed chief executive.

What are the keys to developing a successful team?

In military institutions, you can never change your team. When you get put in a team, you have to play with the team you’re given. What that forces any leader to do is quickly find out people’s strengths and weaknesses. When I came to industry, I find that also applies. I go into a business setting less with the intent of hiring and firing to get the team I want and more to [promote] retention and reward. That pays off much more. If you can find a way to retain a person and make them happier about their contributions, they become more productive.

What’s the secret to quickly identify how they fit into the organization?

I benefited in the early days from the tools psychologists use to understand each other, like Myers Briggs. Those are wonderful eye-opening, early developmental experiences. But I’m in my mid-50s now, and you get a sense of the world of what motivates people and what doesn’t motivate people. Being a parent doesn’t hurt.

What has been some of the best advice you have received from mentors?

I remember in the military, I was pushing a pretty mediocre career. I wasn’t internalizing the values of the institution. I was clocking it. A mentor called me in one day and said, “Do you think you’re going to be successful in this team just on your good looks and witticisms alone?” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “Let me sit you down and tell you about the ways of the world.” So he sat down and said, “If you’re going to be successful in this organization, it has expectations of performance and expectations that you will continue in your education and certification. So you’re going to take the rest of the day off and sign up for a master’s degree, and you don’t come back until you do.” I needed that. You can choose to be in it or not to be in it. But if you’re in it, you need to be successful, and this is what it takes.

Which books are you reading?

“Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters” by Matt Ridley and “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” by Robert M. Gates.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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