Growing up in Southern California, I was fortunate to have some great mentors . They essentially taught me the art of leadership. Leadership is something that I believe is learned and not necessarily natural. I was very, very fortunate to have people in my life, even as a high school kid, essentially telling me over and over again, “Nate, you’re a leader.” When someone tells you that, you start to believe it.
[Then came time to pick a college]. You know how U.S. News & World Report has its annual college rankings? There was this little subsection of most selective schools, and No. 2 at the time — this is the early ’90s — was the U.S. Naval Academy. It was right after Harvard.
So as I looked into the Naval Academy I realized, wow, you really have to have a pretty solid resume to get in. It isn’t just good grades. It isn’t just good SAT scores. They have a bias — and I use that word in the best sense — toward leadership.
What it got down to, the reason I wanted to go to the academy, yes, to serve my country, that was sincere. Ultimately I was convinced, because of those mentors in high school, that leadership was something that would be a part of my life, and I saw the Naval Academy with its absolute focus on leadership — obviously an incredible academic program, incredible professors, all of that — but it all serves a purpose of training leaders, and I wanted to be a part of that.
You go from high school, being a pretty big guy, then you realize there’s a lot better leaders than me. It’s a humbling experience. What I took away from my time there was the opportunity to be with some other really great leaders and continue to learn from others.
One of my abiding fears is to be pigeonholed. I always want to be nimble enough to be able to take on new challenges. There’s something to be said for not getting too comfortable. A sense of arrogance can creep in, and a sense of complacency can creep in, and that’s a dangerous combination.
So as I was wrapping up my time overseas, I was coming up on the 10-year mark, coming up on a promotion. It was kind of that natural point where a career officer decides, am I staying in for the long haul, i.e., 20 years, or is it time to do something else?
Jeff [Antkowiak], the CEO [of ADG Creative], and I have known each other now for seven years. When this position came open, we started having some conversations. I think what I bring to the table is how do we create the environment, the processes, as this organization grows from really a start-up mind-set and still keep that leaning forward edginess but also be able to absorb and handle growth in a way that doesn’t frustrate folks, where people are clear on what the mission is. These are the things that I hope that I can bring to bear.
— Interview with Kathy Orton
Position: Chief operating officer, ADG Creative, a strategic communication and advertising firm in Columbia.
Career highlights: Director of advancement, Rockbridge Academy; founded consulting firm that trains people working overseas; intelligence officer, U.S. Navy
Education: MA, national security studies and international relations, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School; diploma, strategic studies, U.S. Naval War College; BS, science, political science, U.S. Naval Academy.
Personal: Lives in Crownsville, Md., with wife Angela and their children, Lauren, Lily, Nash and Carter.