Defense Executive of the Year: James Cartwright

2007 GCN Awards | Gen. Cartwright spells out DOD transformation by starting with a focus on results.

The new vice chairman of the JointChiefs of Staff has carved out 30 minutesfrom his marathon schedule to answerquestions about his career, leadershipstyle and worldview. And at precisely09:45, tall, trim, Marine Corps-neat in azippered jacket and shiny shoes, MarineGen. James Cartwright emerges from hisPentagon office and extends a large handin a firm handshake.Cartwright's position with the JointChiefs is the latest step in a distinguishedmilitary career. As commander of theStrategic Command from 2004 until thissummer, he directed a ground-up businesstransformation of the command, includinghow it acquires information technologyand how it reorganized and focused thecommand's numerous missions.When Cartwright was sworn in Aug. 31as vice chief, Marine Gen. Peter Pace,who ended his term as chairman of theJoint Chiefs last month and wasCartwright's boss at Marine Forces Atlanticin 2000, said that whereverCartwright happens to be, 'he's thesmartest guy in the room. He flat gets it.And he gets it in a way that not only tiesthings together, but [he] articulates it ina way that guys like me can understand.'That's true, said aide Marine Sgt. AdamStump. 'He uses a lot of metaphors thatreally convey the idea of what he's sayingso grunts like me get it.'Before joining Stratcom, Cartwright wasdirector of force structure, resources andassessment for the Joint Staff, in an advisoryrole. He supported the Joint Chiefschairman with force structure requirements;studies, analyses and assessments;and evaluation of military forces, plans,programs and strategies.His assignment in July 2004 as Stratcomcommander at Offutt Air Force Base,Neb., was 'a hard left turn,' Cartwrightsaid. 'And there wasn't a lot of preparationtime.' Nominated for the job June 15of that year, he whipped through confirmationhearings and took command inearly July.The Stratcom of 2004 was a sprawlingcomplex of commands and new missions.The Strategic Air Command and AirSpace Command had been combined fiveyears earlier. In 2002, more new missionscame, including global strike, integratedmissile defense, information operations,space, and integration of command, controland communications. A year later,the Defense Department directed Stratcomto take the lead in combatingweapons of mass destruction.His first challenge, Cartwright said, wasfiguring out 'how do you get your handsaround all of this.' The second centeredon a workforce engrained in the strategicenvironment of the Cold War. 'How doyou find the centers of excellence andleverage their power?'He assembled three groups: academics,'a graybeard-type group' and people fromindustry. Their task ' in 30 days ' wasto devise ways to make the commandmore effective, efficient and global.'Whatever they came up with had to bejoint, had to be able to move to all of governmentand had to handle the integrationof allies ' coalition warfare,'Cartwright said.He took the most input from the businesssector, probably because, he said, 'theywere already global, and they had startedtransitioning from a purely industrial constructto an industrial-IT construct.''The way the command has been organized,it will be able to handle situations wehaven't begun to comprehend, althoughI'm sure he saw them and prepared us forit,' said Army Maj. Gen. HowardBromberg, Stratcom's chief of staff.By delegating authority while teachingcollaboration, Cartwright won his staff 'sloyalty and fused them into a team,Bromberg said. 'It was through his brillianceand caring that he taught us all.'Cartwright's job today is advisory, butone can lead without being in charge, thenew vice chief said. 'It's just a question ofconvincing people that there's value inchange.'

Start with output

If you want your transformation with
sturm und drang, go someplace else.

Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright,
former commander of the Strategic
Command and current vice chief of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, specializes in
greased skids and soft landings.

'Start by focusing on the output side
of the equation,' he said. 'Most metrics
and most organizations focus on input:
How many transactions did I do today,
how many people are in my organization,
how much money did I move?'
Instead, look at 'where you see value on
the output side and work from there,'
he said.

'Operate under the Disney principle: If
nobody lines up at your ride, kill it.' If
people do line up, 'scale it up'and then
let it level off,' he said. 'But no line, it's
dead.'

Second, 'realize upfront that it's going
to be the cultural issues that will be your
largest challenge. People are by nature
averse to change.' To persuade them to
change, they either 'must be convinced
that they could be advantaged or the
regret factor is so significant that
they've got to do something, take risks,'
he said.

'I would say that the thing I try to avoid is
relying on any one person or thing,'
Cartwright said. 'Try to spread it out as
much as you can to get a diversity of opinion.
Don't be afraid of changing your mind
and learning. To me, it's about discovery
and learning ' and when you stop being
involved, you're no longer useful.'

Marine Gen. James Cartwright












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