I was born and raised in Argentina. We grew up under a military dictatorship. It was somewhat turbulent.
In 1983, the military relinquished power to the democratic government. That created a huge backlash against authority. We went from one extreme of authoritarianism to an anything-goes type of society.
Our education in some ways was shaped by that.
During the dictatorship, the way you dressed was very regimented. But when things changed, we as a society stopped studying, and we showed up when we felt like it . . .
It was not conducive for learning. It wasn’t a society that my wife and I felt particularly at ease in. That was the impetus for applying to colleges in the United States.
So we wrote to a lot of schools and eventually landed at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire.
Everything was different.
I left Buenos Aires in January and it was 120 degrees, in the middle of a heat wave. I landed in Minneapolis and it was minus-40.
I eventually went to business school at the University of Chicago. I became a summer intern at Booz Allen, which led to a job in the Cleveland office.
My wife and I moved there with an idea that I would be at Booz Allen for three years and move on to the next thing. Twenty-one years later, the rest is history.
Back when I started, if you would have told me I would have this role at the company, I would’ve told you there was something wrong with your crystal ball.
I was a commercial consultant and loved client service. I was excited about working for a client in a way that makes a real difference. I thought that was going to be my career path. My left turn came when I was asked to help rethink the people strategy for the commercial business.
I was not a human relations specialist. If anything, I was a strategist and marketing specialist. But they chose me because I had a reputation for having a passion for people.
It fit my passions.
As an immigrant, I wake up every morning realizing how blessed I am to be here, make a life and work on a mission that enhances the country.
Now, as president, I want to continue to build on the strengths of the firm.
— Interview with Vanessa Small
Position: President and chief operating officer of Booz Allen Hamilton, a McLean company that provides management consulting, technology, and engineering services to the U.S. government.
Career highlights: Executive vice president and chief operating officer, Booz Allen; vice president, chief personnel officer, chief strategy and talent officer, Booz Allen.
Education: BBA, University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire; MBA, University of Chicago.