New at the top: A school shooting brought purpose to the work of Phase 5 Group CEO.

On April 20, 1999, I was in a meeting in Littleton, Colo., when everything happened.

I was working at a company now known as Lockheed Martin. When I exited one of the company’s classified buildings, I had tons of signals on my pager directing me to call my wife immediately.

The elementary school my kids attended was on lockdown. There had been a shooting at nearby Columbine High School.

I graduated from Columbine in 1979, and Littleton was my home town.

I couldn’t have imagined I would become an integral part of a community in need of healing from a massive school shooting.

April 20 also happens to be my son’s birthday. After we secured our kids, we went ahead and celebrated later that night at home. My wife put the cake out. We were blowing out candles. The television was on behind us. I saw all these events on the screen.

The church I grew up in was having a community meeting. My wife suggested I attend. I felt like I needed to. So I did.

When I got there, hundreds of people there said we should tear the school down. The pastor looked at me and asked if I was going to say anything. I stood up and started talking about Columbine and how much it meant to me.

It was at that point that I knew somehow I would be part of the healing process.

You always wonder why you’re placed on the Earth. I knew that I was placed there at that time to be there for Columbine.

I co-founded a nonprofit called Alumni Association of Columbine High School. We threw a festival during the summer and brought the students back to school. We raised money and worked with media on the first day back.

In my business life, I was driven, but I never really understood purpose. Business was more about getting a job done and fixing this or that. But after the events at Columbine, it became clear.

I was always very passionate about work.

In college, I worked each summer as an intern for what was then Martin Marietta in Colorado, working long hours. The first summer I was doing data entry for proposals, and by the third summer I was actually leading a proposal effort. When I graduated, I landed a position as a financial analyst and was sent to Washington to open an office for 100 people.

There I was, a 22-year-old kid with a great responsibility. I learned so much and got to do and see everything.

When that effort was done, I moved back to Denver from 1986 to 1990 until I was transferred to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

I was the head of launch operations, managing the way we made our launch vehicles more cost-effective to the government. I was one of the youngest managers in the company at the time.

I was transferred back to Colorado in 1998 to work on product life cycle management.

That’s when everything happened with Columbine.

It truly impacted me as a business professional. I saw that bringing a whole community together to heal takes everyone. I’ve carried that through in my leadership skills.

It’s not that you’re better or smarter than anyone, but you can work with anyone. You can overcome challenges, balancing a family life, still coaching football and still trying to be involved in the community.

That’s where the passion comes from. You’re making change. Not just in the community or the nation but globally.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

Curt Bigelow

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

Career highlights: Managing director, Accenture; program director, Lockheed Martin; launch operations manager, Lockheed Martin.

Age: 52.

Education: Bachelor of science in business administration, Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo.

Personal: Lives in McLean with his wife, Kathy. They have two children, Zak and Richelle.

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