Position: Chief financial officer and executive vice president, Essex Corp., a Columbia-based high-technology defense contractor that makes optical devices for telecommunications and radar.

Career highlights: Chief financial officer, government services group, Lockheed Martin (formerly known as ACS Government Services Inc. before acquisition); director, accounting and financial management, U.S. General Accounting Office; and senior manager, Deloitte & Touche.

Age: 45

Education: BS, accounting, Oklahoma State University. She is a certified public accountant.

Personal: Lives in Gaithersburg with husband, Jeff, and their daughters Nicole, 19, and Melanie, 10.

How did you get to where you are?

Because I was never told I couldn't do anything. No one ever told me I was limited, and I never saw the limitations. Where other people would see impediments, I was ignorant. So when I ran into issues, I just figured out a way to get around them.

That allowed me to get into a position that a lot of people wouldn't have expected. I had a very humble background. I think I'm internally driven to do my best. I am more pushed by self-motivation than by any outside force.

I get paid well and I think I owe it to whatever organization I'm part of to earn my money. It's very difficult for me to ask people to work any harder than I do. So, I try to be an example. . . .

I can't name one big break. I think I've been very fortunate in being with great organizations and having a great mentor relationship in each. It's been more of a steady climb. I've also never experienced a glass ceiling. I've always had someone who was mentoring me and interested in seeing me progress. My worst experiences have always been my best because they've provided me growth opportunities. . . .

There were definitely situations in my career where being a woman made things more difficult -- guys finishing conversations in the bathroom, for example. Just silly things that sometimes made you feel outside the group. But in some ways, it has not necessarily been an impediment. Sometimes people underestimate you and it gives you leverage.

I've had at least one mentor at each place I've worked. At Deloitte, there was a partner who took an interest in my career and taught me that understanding the business is important to applying accounting concepts. Accounting is not black and white. There is a lot of gray. There was also a gentleman at GAO who taught me a lot about people and the management of people. He made me aware of stereotypes and how not to fall into them when dealing with people. He taught me how to negotiate. . . .

The breadth, scope and magnitude of government and what it does for people -- that I learned at GAO. And it amazed me. Being from rural Oklahoma, you never know how the government impacts everybody in so many different ways.

-- Judith Mbuya