Sometimes you find your calling and sometimes your calling finds you. In my case, it’s a bit of the latter.
I’ve always had a particular interest in technology and automobiles, but I never thought of it in the career sense. I practiced law in the private sector for three years, and although I was intellectually challenged, I was spiritually unfulfilled. I transitioned into doing some policy work for an association for five years, which led me to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee. I began working with NHTSA as their lead staffer in the Senate, which ultimately gave me the opportunity to serve this administration. It’s one of these things where you follow your passion and you find what you're successful at and where you’re needed.
What leadership lessons did you gain on Capitol Hill?
Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii taught me the core lesson of how one can govern and learn to disagree without being disagreeable. It isn't a notion of compromise for compromise sake, but how to come together as public servants and protectors of the public trust and how to make things better for every American.
Do you have other leadership role models and lessons from their examples?
In terms of leadership, my father was my greatest influence. He was a military man and had served in Vietnam. He was very assertive and authoritative, but he had a wonderful human touch with how he dealt with people. His notion of being personally accountable formed the core of my approach to management and life.
When I was at Northwestern University, I began as a midshipman in the Naval ROTC and, of course, we had boot camp. I learned a number of life and leadership lessons from my gunnery sergeant. He taught me how you celebrate the team’s success and embrace the team’s shortcomings and failures. When you’re on a run and one midshipman falls behind you, you go pick him up and run with him. All of these notions are designed to show that you are not bigger than the mission. Having personal accountability and leadership to go beyond your role to do what is necessary to accomplish something. It’s the willingness to sacrifice, even if it calls for your life. I carry that with me every single day.
What are some of your management techniques?
I always convey to my staff that I don’t just want a problem brought to me. Instead, I want a problem and your proposed solution. It’s easy to holler about a problem, but it’s hard to put together an answer. I really try to engage the staff in a constant stage of active problem-solving.