Defense Executive of the Year: James Cartwright

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

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

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

The new vice chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff has carved out 30 minutes
from his marathon schedule to answer
questions about his career, leadership
style and worldview. And at precisely
09:45, tall, trim, Marine Corps-neat in a
zippered jacket and shiny shoes, Marine
Gen. James Cartwright emerges from his
Pentagon office and extends a large hand
in a firm handshake.

For the complete list of the 2007 GCN Award winners, click here

Cartwright's position with the Joint
Chiefs is the latest step in a distinguished
military career. As commander of the
Strategic Command from 2004 until this
summer, he directed a ground-up business
transformation of the command, including
how it acquires information technology
and how it reorganized and focused the
command's numerous missions.

When Cartwright was sworn in Aug. 31
as vice chief, Marine Gen. Peter Pace,
who ended his term as chairman of the
Joint Chiefs last month and was
Cartwright's boss at Marine Forces Atlantic
in 2000, said that wherever
Cartwright happens to be, 'he's the
smartest guy in the room. He flat gets it.
And he gets it in a way that not only ties
things together, but [he] articulates it in
a way that guys like me can understand.'

That's true, said aide Marine Sgt. Adam
Stump. 'He uses a lot of metaphors that
really convey the idea of what he's saying
so grunts like me get it.'

Before joining Stratcom, Cartwright was
director of force structure, resources and
assessment for the Joint Staff, in an advisory
role. He supported the Joint Chiefs
chairman with force structure requirements;
studies, analyses and assessments;
and evaluation of military forces, plans,
programs and strategies.

His assignment in July 2004 as Stratcom
commander at Offutt Air Force Base,
Neb., was 'a hard left turn,' Cartwright
said. 'And there wasn't a lot of preparation
time.' Nominated for the job June 15
of that year, he whipped through confirmation
hearings and took command in
early July.

The Stratcom of 2004 was a sprawling
complex of commands and new missions.
The Strategic Air Command and Air
Space Command had been combined five
years earlier. In 2002, more new missions
came, including global strike, integrated
missile defense, information operations,
space, and integration of command, control
and communications. A year later,
the Defense Department directed Stratcom
to take the lead in combating
weapons of mass destruction.

His first challenge, Cartwright said, was
figuring out 'how do you get your hands
around all of this.' The second centered
on a workforce engrained in the strategic
environment of the Cold War. 'How do
you find the centers of excellence and
leverage their power?'

He assembled three groups: academics,
'a graybeard-type group' and people from
industry. Their task ' in 30 days ' was
to devise ways to make the command
more effective, efficient and global.
'Whatever they came up with had to be
joint, had to be able to move to all of government
and had to handle the integration
of allies ' coalition warfare,'
Cartwright said.

He took the most input from the business
sector, probably because, he said, 'they
were already global, and they had started
transitioning from a purely industrial construct
to an industrial-IT construct.'

'The way the command has been organized,
it will be able to handle situations we
haven't begun to comprehend, although
I'm sure he saw them and prepared us for
it,' said Army Maj. Gen. Howard
Bromberg, Stratcom's chief of staff.

By delegating authority while teaching
collaboration, Cartwright won his staff 's
loyalty and fused them into a team,
Bromberg said. 'It was through his brilliance
and caring that he taught us all.'

Cartwright's job today is advisory, but
one can lead without being in charge, the
new vice chief said. 'It's just a question of
convincing people that there's value in


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Pandemic tests electronic records management

    Between the rush enable more virtual collaboration, stalled digitization of archived records and managing records that reside in datasets, records management executives are sorting through new challenges.

  • boy learning at home (Travelpixs/

    Tucson’s community wireless bridges the digital divide

    The city built cell sites at government-owned facilities such as fire departments and libraries that were already connected to Tucson’s existing fiber backbone.

Stay Connected