FTG 0023 - Strategic Business Leadership with Northrup Leader Tom Bonsaint '02

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Overview:

Editor’s Note: This was recorded in January 2022, which provides the context for Tom’s comment about 20 degree weather, the timing of litigation around federal vaccine mandates, and space telescope launches.

This episode features a conversation with Tom Bonsaint, who is currently the senior director for enterprise campaigns for the Northrup Grumman Corporation. He’s held successive roles in the defense industry after graduating from Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts in 2002. Our conversation focuses on taking advantage of opportunities as a Scholar, lifelong learning, teamwork and leadership, and civic engagement as an alum. You can read Tom’s full bio and get a more detailed breakdown below.

Guest Bio:

Tom Bonsaint ’02 Lib is currently senior director for Enterprise Campaigns for the Northrup Grumman Corporation where he focuses on above plan growth opportunities across the company’s strategic enterprise campaigns. Tom is an executive sponsor for one of the Pride in Diversity Alliance employee resource groups. Before this, Tom was senior programs director for Land and Maritime Sensors business unit of Northrup Grumman Mission Systems. Additional roles he held at Northrup Grumman included senior director, strategy and global operations for the Advanced Defense Services division of Northrup Grumman Technology Services, and senior director, Business Development for the same division. Tom also served as director, Global Capture Management with the Northrup Grumman Corporate Global Business Development Office, reporting to the Chief Global BD Officer. Prior to joining Northrop Grumman, Tom held positions of increasing responsibility for 11 years at the Raytheon Company, primarily focused on global business development and capture in the defense, civil security, and cybersecurity markets. Tom is a 2005 graduate of the Raytheon BD Leadership Development Program. Tom brings experience working in the C4ISR, sensors, cyber, critical infrastructure protection, biometrics, and intelligence domains in the US, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. Bonsaint previously worked for the U.S. Department of Defense Office of International Security Affairs, U.S. Department of State Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), all in Washington, D.C. Tom earned is BA in International Politics with Honors from Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts in 2002. He also earned his MBA from the University of Rhode Island.

Episode Specifics:

· The transition to the Schreyer Honors College from the University Scholars Program

· Experiences as a political science student

· The impact of September 11th, 2001 on University Park

· Interning at the Pentagon and getting the first job after college

· Leveraging employer benefits to pay for graduate school

· Utilizing the benefits of being a Schreyer Scholar

· The importance of lifelong learning and thinking beyond a specific degree

· Strategic thinking in a hectic world

· The differences between large corporations and smaller firms

· Leadership and teamwork lessons

· Taking on additional work to support diverse communities in a corporate setting

· Civic involvement outside of work

· Skills that Scholars should focus on regardless of major to succeed in the “real world”

· Stories from finding work life balance through the performing arts

· Insights from a unique career

· The importance of coaching and mentorship

· And a hot take on opinions on alumni swirl ice cream

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Credits & Notes:

This content is available in text form here.

This show is hosted, produced, and edited by Sean Goheen ‘11 Lib (Schreyer).

The artwork was created by Tom Harrington, the College’s Web Developer.

The sound effect is “Chinese Gong,” accessed via SoundBible used under Creative Commons License.

The theme music is “Conquest” by Geovane Bruno, accessed via Pixabay and used under Creative Commons License.

Greeting scholars and welcome to following the Gong, a podcast of the Shire Honors College at Penn State. Following the gone takes you inside conversations with our scholar alumni to hear their story so you can gain career in life advice and it spanned your professional network. You can hear the true bread of how stollar alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rind the gone and graduated with honors, and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Shawan Goheen, class of two thousand and eleven and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back. Today's guest is Tom Bon seen, who's currently the senior director for enterprise campaigns for the northrop grum incorporation. He's held successive roles in the defense industry after graduating from Penn State's College of the Liberal Arts in two thousand and two. Our conversation focuses on taking advantage of opportunities as a scholar, life on learning, teamwork and leadership and civic engagement as an alum. You can read Tom's full bio and get a more detailed breakdown to the topics and the show notes on your podcast apt. Now let's get writing to our chat with Tom Following the Gong. Tom, thank you so much for joining me today here on following the gone. It's been a bit of a journey to get you on here, but I'm excited. I know we connected on Linkedin, which is another example of the great power of that tool. It's looking forward to this, but I want to start at the beginning, as always here, and asked how did you first come to choose Penn State and the Tryer Honors College? Sure, a thanks for having me on today. I appreciate the opportunity. So I'm a two thousand two graduate and that'll probably come through and some of the things that I talked about. My experience has been shaped by twenty years since being at Penn State. So while it's still memories I hold dear, it's it's been a minute or half of my life. I can say, though, I went to school in Pennsylvania for high school graduated in Marysville, Pennsylvania, and some of the students who were a year ahead of me where first year students at Penn State when I was a senior trying to figure out where to go to school. So what better way to experience university than go and sleep on the floor of a dorm? So I did that on the fall of my senior year and got to experience with lifelish like an Atherton Hall before I was a resident and loved it and thought this is the right fit for me. Loved the mix of the large research university and also all of the perks that come from being in the Honors College. And so when you actually started here we had just begun the transition from being the University Scholars Program to the Shuire Honors College, thanks to the transformative and just incredibly generous stiff from the Shuire family. What was it like being a scholar at that time? Yeah, so it's interesting. You know, my class was the first that matriculated with the name Shuire Honors College, and so I don't recall. I believe when I applied the paperwork still said university scholars program on it, but I can't remember the timing of when they announced the gift, but the gift was really transformative. The University Scholars Program had gone from being a floor in I can't recall which building on campus, but basically being a floor to having a physical structure. Willard, right, that's right, Willard famous for the Willard preacher, who is there. At the time that I was there and I is I recall they can. They actually did the construction of the the physical space that is the honors college and Atherton Hall, and we also saw a change in Simmons Hall my Sophomore Year, going to...

...be secondary honors housing. Before Honors Housing had been in m keen and a flora and beaver. So basically Atherton and Simmons were just across the street from each other. And so my sophomore year I moved into Simmons as a scholar assistant and got very close to the honors college and learned a lot about all the ways that I could make the honors college things that benefit me, like the try the ambassador travel grant, getting to do honors options in certain classes and even working with a professor that I liked so much for my freshman year and getting him to create by my junior or his own honors class, which is fascinating. It was about hate crimes in Pennsylvania geography class. So yeah, I could keep going on and on, but I'm sure you have more questions shown, so let's stick with your scripts. Well, you just got a little bit of an insight into how I actually produce this podcast. So I do have some questions that I write out in advance so I know what I'm talking about and help our guests have a good experience here for you, the scholars listening now. You mentioned all those opportunities. Obviously one of those is the thesis. Do you remember what you wrote about, because I saw in the questionnaire we actually had the same thesis advisor about a decade apart. Oh, that's interesting. Wow, I wonder if we had similar experiences as well. When I was going to Penn state there was a fairly structured program within department of Political Science where you took class called Polysi three hundred H, then he took three or five ah and then three or six H is that still the experience that you had circa two thousand and ten? Two Thousand and eleven, I did take three hundred H I don't recall the other two, but I know I did get credit for writing my thesis. Okay, I don't know exactly if there's any political science students who are listening and you want to send us an email and tell us if we're right or all on fact checked us on this. Please do so. Please do, please leave it in the comments. So my thesis, I do remember the name of it and I'd feel bad for anyone who doesn't remember the name of their own thesis. But mine was called how to advertise America. It was a study of American domestic military propaganda, primarily focusing on World War One, World War Two and the Vietnam conflict. was really interesting. It kind of bore out from I didn't really want to take speech calm one hundred. I felt like I was already a fairly confident speaker and I'd heard nothing but frustrating stories from students who went into that with already experience, you know, public speaking and theater and that kind of stuff. I'd done on Steven Council, so I've kind of done a lot of that stuff. So I spoke with my honors advisor and so instead I took speech calm one hundred and fifty, which is a class at the time called persuasion and propaganda, and I just fell in love with the efforts that have been done over there the last hundred years or so to take what eventually had become propaganda. That turned into basically Madison Avenue, Madmen are advertising. A lot of those guys came out of World War One and two and created what at the time was the modern advertising industry United States. It's which continues to evolve, but still it's it's kind of interesting how you can use media to inform opinions and I think we've seen that a lot, particularly with the dawn of social media. Writing. Your senior year was nine hundred eleven, correct. How did that impact trying to the campus culture and your personal experience as a scholar, particularly in the Political Science Department? Sure, I'd like to answer that question, but to provide a context to in August of but the month before nine hundred and eleven and August of that year, at the end of the months, I had just finished an internship working at the Pentagon, so the the people and the building were very, very familiar to me. I had a lot of friends working in the Pentagon when it was attacked and thankfully none of my very close friends were were killed. Some were injured, but none of them were killed in that attack. It's a tragic loss of life in a scar that remains in America and ultimately...

...shaped in many respects the foreign policy that we've lived the last twenty plus years. So nine hundred and eleven, I was walking through the hub. The first plane had just hit and I sat down and a hundred Thomas for ib three hundred and three when the second plane hit, it was very clear at that point that it was a deliberate attack and the professor used that as a moment. He actually had the TV broadcasting and one hundred Thomas so we all watched the second plane hit in that room, hundreds of students, and he turned the TV onto mute and he started teaching. He's he took at was a horrific moment and turned it into a teachable moment. The class, as I said, was international business and so this professor talked about, you know, what this meant for America, what it meant for the world, and then I don't recall exactly what went out, but essentially we classes were canceled. We all went home and then we all tried to get in touch with family because, as for many people, we had heard about the plane landing and western Pennsylvania and it was unclear and early reports exactly where the planet hit. My parents were living in western Pennsylvania at the time and so we were all quite worried for each other. I want to take a step back do something positive after very horrifying time and very tragic event in American history. You mentioned that you had interned at the Pentagon right before that. Can you tell us about that experience, how you, as a liberal arts major, got an internship at the Pentagon, what you were doing and what you learned? Sure, and again I kind of have to provide a little context up front first. So my first year at Penn state I got an opportunity to go to the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference. I was one of two students that represented a penn state there and while I was there I met Dr Michael Mazar, who at the time was a research fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, C sis, in DC, and so working with him, he basically Saiid Hey, we have internships you should get in touch. So I took advantage of that, and this is what networking looks like, even back in the S, and reached out to him and he got me my first internship at CSI has. Then the next summer, when I was looking around at what I wanted to do, I took a more deliberate effort and said, all right, I got the CSIS thaying going on. What can I use for my network? And so I ended up getting job at the State Department, and so I in turned there in the bureau of Political Military Affairs for the summer, and that pm your or experience gave me the necessary in tray, I guess you could say, into the Pentagon. So I interned then in the office of the secretary offense and international security affairs and had a fantastic summer working at the Pentagon, State Department and CSIAS. It fomented my love for Washington DC, where I've lived now since two thousand and four and don't really plan to leave, even on the days when, like yesterday, was in the s and very, very cold. But I'm very happy in DC. It's been a good fit for me and I've seen a lot of my pen state friends kind of cycle through include many who work at the Pentagon, State Department, even the White House now. So you definitely leverage your network, which is always great advice and probably every person will give you that. How did you go about securing that first full time role after your undergraduate experience? Sure, so, I actually used on canvas recruiting and I put in my major of international politics and there weren't a lot of things that came up. At the time I was mostly government roles, but there was people that were doing interviews for Raytheon and narrow space in defense company that actually still has an office, I believe, in State College. So I applied for that and they flew me up to Rhode Island of all places, and right out of Newport, Rhode Island. There's a town a little bit north of there called Portsmouth on a Quinneck Island off the coast of Rhode Island, and I did an internship, or sorry, I didn't the interview there, and initially they brought me into have me work in contrast x and so I...

...thought well, this is interesting. I didn't know that I'd be using my liberal arts degree for this, but as I was going through the interview process. One of the interviewers saw that I had worked the State Department and saw that I had worked on the office that wrote policy relating to export control, and so they actually created a job for me. It's kind of an unknown thing. At the time I was kind of like, wait a minute, you're going to do that, but at the time I was just coming out of college, so by their perspective I was fairly cheap and so they were able to hire me in. And then when I got to Raytheon and Rhode Island, I found out that they had a partnership with the University of Rhode Island to get your MBA for free and any time someone is willing and able to pay for your Grad School, it's a great way to go. Sean, I think you have some experience in that area, don't you? Yes, that is something I always, always, always tell undergrads is if you were considering graduate school, and obviously law and medical school probably don't apply here, but anything else, if you have the opportunity to get somebody else to pay for your graduate degree either, that is going to be doing your kind of the academic route and being a tea research assistant. Graduate Assistant something to that effect, or do what you did Tom which is get your employer to pay for it. I was a gea in Grad school. I worked in the campus activities office at UNC Greensboro. They paid for my school. Your employer, Raytheon, paid for your MBA, and that is not a bad way to go. You have to pay for your own Undergrad get somebody else to flit the bill for the Grad degree. Absolutely, and it's not. You know, I'm speaking acknowledging in this moment all of the privileges that have gotten to me to where I am. I think it's very easy for someone to just lean back and say, Oh, look at me, I'm so smart, I work so hard. It's like true, but a lot of stars had to align and a lot of benefits had to be afforded me such that I could do these things. You know, my internships at the time were unpaid internships, but I was able to get support from the Honors College, from the Department of Political Science, the College Liberal Arts and the Office of undergraduate education. So four different groups came together and, because I filled out my paperwork, gave me money that allowed me to have those internships. That helped me get my first career. I have to give a lot of thanks to I believe he's now retired, but Chris Gamble, who worked in the college liberal arts. He was the one that really grabbed my hand and said go here, go here, talk to this person, fill out this form. One time he sent me an email and said, k fill out this form. It was one page. I sent it back and I got a thousand, I forget, fifteen hundred dollars in my student account or the with the Burser, because it was some named scholarship thing for people who are studying when I studied and had a certain GPA. So pen state is like a perfect example of how to make a bureaucracy work for you. And if you're in the honors college that you have an incredible opportunity to get those benefits. Money and opportunities go to those who search them out. This first job did not fall in my lap. I did apply and if you think that you're going to get a job just by being smart and being successful, that's not really how the world works. So I apologize for the folks that have been had that experienced in life, but that is exceedingly rare and that's something that's a common theme on the show is there are so many opportunities for you as a Penn state student generally, and then you add in the layer of being a shriier scholar and that opens up even more doors and opportunity. So be sure to be proactively taking advantage of all of those, whether that is seeking out financial support, advice like listening to this podcast or talking to Lisa krichins Ti in our career development office and other opportunities. So you mentioned contracts and then reviewing your linkedin and in your kind of very long list of kind of roles that you've cycled through over the past twenty years, you've done a lot in sales and specifically in the defense industry. So how did you prepare for that, not coming from this meal college business, but coming from the College of Liberal Arts. Sure, sure, so. I also don't have...

...an engineering degree and work in a highly technical field, so let's add that into I was having discussion yesterday with somebody about an undersea communication system and at the end they said, oh, did you like to work on this project, and I said well, by degrees and international politics, I don't know that I'd be able to do very much coding for you and they laughed and they hit they've got. I know you did that. It's like, well, yeah, but I've been doing this for twenty years. I went to Penn state before. So if you want to talk about how to set yourself up so that you have some flexibility in your career, a liberal large degree, in my opinion, is a great way to do that. How did I learn to do sales? Well, I did a lot of theater growing up. I did student council. I did a lot of classes on international negotiations at Penn State, so I learned how people work and learn how to sell to people. Ultimately, all of sales comes down to people and if you can find yourself in a situation where, if you're like me, more of a natural extrovert than sales, could be a good career for you. I went into Raytheon working in the business development function, but working in more of a policy advocacy kind of standpoint, where I was basically flying down to DC and advocating on behalf of Raytheon for the sale of weapons systems overseas. At the time I was mostly focusing on sonar command of Control Systems on ships and on submarines. So I didn't know much about that going in, but eventually I learned and while I was getting my Mba, I also was elected into Raytheon's business development leadership development program so for two years I had rotational assignments and educational opportunities, professional development networking, where I basically was taught how to do business development and did business development roles where I was basically assisting other people. And so when I finished that to your rotation, basically my third year with the company, I got promote it to a manager level roll, which is not usually something that happens with only three years of experience, but it did because I had done this management training program and I had my MBA at that point. So I was able to move from somebody who is living up a Rhode Island to somebody who is down in DC and basically rebrand myself, not as a new hire or as a kind of a young kid, shall we say, because that is some of the old school mentality that I was facing at the time and ages them is alive and real in America, but I was able to really rebrand myself and come out and say hi, I just graduated the management training program I have a master's degree and I've been working here a couple of years. What Simons do you have for me? So it's been it's been a great ride, honestly. I've worked for Raytheon. I was there for eleven years. I've now been with north of Gremen almost nine years. They've both been great companies for me. Obviously I'm a bigger fan of NORTHRO GRUMMAN because it's Ram right now, but both have been really wonderful. I have been mostly working in business development. I at times have also had some strategy roles. I work at our corporate strategy and Development Organization now. So it's been fascinating. It's been a it's been a great career. I've been really happy. So you mentioned that you've trying to split almost evenly between those two major corporations. How did you end up making that switch from Raytheon to northrop? Talk US through that process. Sure, this this this isn't scripted, but it could be, because I found that job on Linkedin. So they are not a paid sponsor of this podcast, but they should be linkedin. And so my story for how I went from Northrope, sorry from Raytheon to north of Gremmen is. I was having breakfast one day and I got jobs that might be of interest to you flagged and it was director of international capture working at north of Gremmen's corporate office. So I started doing some digging around. I found some Penn state friends that worked there, including one that had actually gone to high school with me as well. So I reached out to her and said, Hey, what do you know about this, and so she did some digging and she came back and said,...

...well, they're looking to make some major changes in the corporate staff and you might be a good fit. So I applied and Linkedin and will be a Linkedin, and then I had a phone screen, then I had a phone's, another phone call with someone from HR. Then I had a panel interview with five Vice Presidents and then I had a final closing interview with the Chief Global Business Development Officer at the corporate headquarters, a few doors down from the CEO. was very intimidating, but the process itself was basically trying to us out if I'd be a good fit for a team that they were looking to put together. So I joined a team in two thousand and fourteen and it's been wonderful. I've been with northrop like since I started, actually on April Fools Day, so April first two thousand and fourteen, I walked in the office and got my badge, got my computer, got my office and met the CEO while he was getting himself some soup down in the cafeteria. My boss introduced me to him and it told me a lot about the then CEO that he would take his time to go get his own soup, because clearly he could have had people bring the suit to him, but he was out and about and people were coming up to him and he was very cordial. It left a really good impression for my first day of work. You mentioned that you work in strategy development and obviously the world is only moving at a more breakneck pace, especially the last two years have exemplified that. So how do you balance the need for long term thinking with needing to be agile and flexible to you know, especially during a pandemic where, you know, in November of two thousand and twenty one, it felt like it was almost over, we were in the tail end and then nomacrown variant comes along and up ends that. How do you balance those competing forces? Yeah, so the pandemic is something that's obviously impacted all of us and it's impacted us as an employer as well. We've been really lucky that, at least from my personal perspective, that there was a vaccine mandate that was put out for all federal contractors. That's currently in a fight in the court system, so I won't comment on that, certainly on behalf and worth of Grumman, but I can comment as an individual that that we've had really high vaccination rates and I am a believer in science and believer that vaccines work. So maybe people will come at me for that, but I'm allowed to have my own opinions and my opinions have changed and evolved as the data has continued to evolved, and I think that is the sign of a strategist. If you go in and have a particular point of view, that's fine, but if, over time your point of view does not match the data that's in front of you and you continue to hold that point of view, then the problem is not with the data. The problems with your point of view. There is a concept out there called selection bias, for basically people go out and or confirmation bias, or they basically go out and say I'm going to find only data, the points, two things that I believe are true, and I'm going to use that to inform my decisionmaking, and that's not really the best way to formulate a strategy. So for me, I'm trying to look at all of the data points, based on what's happened in the past, make my genie balls type prediction of what's going to happen in the future, which is very difficult to do. Sorry, my crystal ball, I don't know why I said Genie balled and know what a genie ball is. My Crystal Football prediction of what's going to happen in the future, because ultimately we have a finite amount of people, we have a finite amount of resources, by that I which generally mean money, and we have a finite amount of time. There's also the danger of analysis paralysis, for all you do is keep thinking about what should we do, what should we do, what should we do, and in the end you do nothing. So a lot of strategy is kind of, if I can use a sports metaphor, which I generally hate. If you've it's actually a more of a literature metaphor. If you read the book money ball or seeing the film, you basically have a finite amount of money and you have to put it somewhere, and so my job is to look...

...at that in the course of you know, double digit million dollars and say where should we place our investments? Where do we want to place our bets? And some of those are going to pay off and so of them aren't. But hopefully, if we're making the right kinds of calls, more will pay off and more will be successful. Definitely worth the read. Actually had to read that for a class in Undergrad. So really fascinating book to check out there. So good recommendation Tom now. We just talked to corporate strategy. What about your own career? You've I've alluded to this. You've had a lot of different titles in your career. Sure have you had a strategy or do you just trying of let the dice fall where they will as opportunities present themselves? What's your take for your own personal career trajectory? So I'll bring it back to schooling. You know, for some people a small liberal arts college is the right fit for them. For other people large research university is right for them. I knew going into pend state that I wanted the big school experience and I''ve had, similarly, the big corporate experience. If you go to a very small firm, then you might find yourself in a position where the only way for you to get promoted is for someone at a level above you to leave. I've really enjoyed the fact that I've worked for very large companies north of gum and employees over ninetyzero people, and so while it gets a little bit more difficult the higher up you go in the organization, there's always another roll out there that I'm qualified for and that's allowed me the opportunity to move around pretty much every two or three years. It's spend my experience that when I first take on a new role, I spend the first year learning a lot and then I try to apply that in the second year and by the third year I said, Gosh, this again. I've already dealt with this twice. So at that point I usually get excited and think, you know work and I go next. One of the other things that you find in a large organization like these companies, and I would expect many other employers is that we have a tendency to reorganize. One joke I heard was that Raytheon was an acronym that actually stood for reorganized. All Year. Then hope everything operates normally, and there's a little truth to that, because as soon as even the with or the rumor of a reorder goes out, some people immediately hit the panic button. I started doing that earlier in my career and then, after going through a couple of them, I realized this is a perfect example of something that I can't control. I can do a few things to kind of position myself for roles that I know are going to be created, but I'm really not going to make be in the position to decide my future. So one of the things I've done is we talked about networking, is make sure m networks are always warm. The last thing you want to do when you need a job is to be reaching out to someone who haven't talked to for years and basically have your hand out and say hey, I need a job, help me. It's much better for you to pro actively reach out to them. There are a lot of people that I can point to where I've been able to help them find new roles by connecting them to people that were hiring, and that is the best way to get a job is when you get a very warm introduction from somebody said Hey, you know, I've worked with amy before. Amy's great, I think she'd be great at this job, and then you step back and let amy take it over. So kind of as a follow up and another question that I had wanted to ask, but you try to teach it up nicely, you mentioned that northrop is huge. So what tactics as a team leader do you use to try and bring together teams from across such a massive organization? Who? That's a great question. Now we're getting into my fundamental style as a manager. I think one of the things I've learned as that the most the best successes I've had in life have been successes through teams, and so a lot of what I try to do is look at how I can bring teams of people together to make them more successful. A lot of that looks like me listening more than I'm talking. A lot of that looks like me really trying to get all of the folks in the room feeling like they can comfortably participate. If someone is going to be. You know, if the...

...boss comes in and they're talking over everyone else, or if the boss says, well, I really think we should go left, then you, being the person in the room and says that's a dumb idea, we should go right, can be, as they say, career limiting. So I try to be the kind of leader that listens more than I talk. I try to be the kind of leader that makes everyone in the room feel like they're comfortable and I'm trying to also lean on the expertise of the people around me. I am, you know, people say I'm not the smartest person in the room and that's the bit Cliche, but I work with literal rocket scientists. I work with people who built the James Web Space Telescope that had three hundred plus maneuvers had had to do in space that we're single points of failure, and so far, as of today, January twelve, it's done all of them. So this is a ten billion dollar piece of equipment that's been under construction and thought about for the last twenty years and is going to, let us look back to someone will again fact check me, I think thirteen billion plus years into the past and the foundation of the universe. So yeah, I am. I am truly, very often not the smartest person in the room, but I want that person to feel comfortable telling me I'm wrong or telling me why they think we should be doing something. I think a lot of leaders come in and say, you know, I've been doing this for twenty years and this is the way we're going to do it because this is what worked for me fifteen years ago. So all the world's a lot different than it was fifteen years ago. So you better make sure you're thinking is updated to and I'll put my own NBA coursework to good use here. The term, you probably could call that a psychological safety hmm. Really important to look into that, regardless of what your major is. So you know, hit pause, maybe go on wikipedia and proves that article for just a minute here and then come back and join us now. I noticed in the question you're also so kind of on the same vein and taking that a step further, in addition to your regular day job at north at Northrop, you are also an executive sponsor for a, I think you called it, an employee resource group. Can you talk about that and how you got involved in why you take on that additional work? Sure, sure, so. I live my life as an outsis gay man here in DC. I'm not doubting myself on this podcast. I may be to some people who don't know me, but that is my lived experience and I wanted to create an environment at work that was welcoming to our employees, to make them feel like they can come out at work, because studies have shown that people who are out at work are happier and more engaged at work. So there is data there and I wanted them to feel like we're a good employer. While we we call the employer of choice. You know, we have with Ninetyzero employees. We have a certain amount of turnover. We have people who retire, we have people who seek new careers, we have people who decide, for one reason another, to leave the workforce. So we're always hiring and I want people who are on the LGBTQ spectrum to feel like northrope is a good place for them. So being in the employee resource group was something that I joined when I entered the company and now I work as the executive sponsor for one of our chapters. I've been really pleased with some of the progress we've been able to made, been able to make progress, is not done. Like with any sort of thing in American society, things continue to evolve and the bar keeps getting higher. But one of the things we did last year was change our benefit system to match the and I'll get the name wrong, but it's WPA thh. It's a World Association for Physicians Providing Healthcare to the Trans Community, and we changed our benefits such that certain procedures that previously had been deemed elective and would be out of pocket were now covered by our benefits. So that covers a very small employee population. For the employees who are out and identify or not out and identify as trans or non binary and choose to engage...

...in some sort of medical transformation. That's not the experience of all Trans and non binary people, but for those who do go through that process it's incredibly expensive. I don't know, other than anecdotally, kind of what that means, but you know, for people who want to go out and feel like their life matches their way they feel inside, that can be incredibly expensive and you shouldn't have to go into debt to be who you are. That is absolutely incredible. Tom Great Work there. Now I know you're involved in some other community groups outside of work. You find some balance by getting involved in the community. Obviously there's probably no shortage of things to do in the DC area. How do you kind of I don't know if relaxes the right word, but how do you find that balance outside of work? Sure, sure, so. Some of the volunteer things I could probably speak of. One that I'm most involved with and kind of related to what we just talked about, is I'm on the Victor Campaign Board for the Victory Fund, which is an organization that teaches people how to run for elected office in the US and also helps raise money so that they're able to have more successful campaigns. You know, a lot of people will think of the bigger people. You know, Pete Buddha, judge tammy senator, Tammy Baldwin. Sorry, I should have sits secretary Boota judge, but you know, there are people who generally are running at all levels of government, including one of the candidates that we and endorsed. It wants to be on the board of a library for their community and that is an elected position. So we we basically have a staff that I'm a volunteer, but they have a paid staff that goes out and finds candidates and helps train them to run and then helps fund their campaigns, and so that's been something relatively new that I've gotten involved with and it's been really interesting to learn how the process works and actually to get to know some of the elected individuals. You know, I went to an event in December with somebody who, well, I just say I'll say his name. He's the state senator from Massachusetts, and we went to dinner. He's a state senator, Julian Seer, who represents Kate Cod, Martha's vineyard and Nantuckett, and I had met him a couple times in provincetown, where it's a very popular gay destination spot in the summer, but I didn't really get to know him and so these last couple time I've actually got to know them a little bit better and it's interesting to hear him talk about the things that impacts his community. One of the things that is huge for them right now is offshore wind farms. So these are wind farms off the Cape and the impact that they're having to the power grid, the impact they're having to clean energy, the impact they're having to the fisheries industry. These are all things that he's, as a member of one of the committees who sits on has to get out and get smart on, and so just really learning about the breadth of his experience and how he brings that to his roles of state senator has been is really interesting. So kind of a last career question for you just been also tie into your volunteer work. To what stills do you think scholars, regardless of their major, should be working on developing to how a successful career and a happy life beyond college, and how can they start building those skills now as a student? Yeah, really I would say communication skills is probably be the biggest one. There are very few people who work like as a sole proprietor, where all you do is work by yourself and you don't interact with anyone else. I think that really just is in the world we live in, and so there are certainly careers that you can find success. You know, perhaps may becoming an author or something like that, but most professional business world and in the nonprofit world as well, and academia, if you can't communicate your thoughts, your ideas and you can't advocate for them. It's really difficult to find success out there. You don't necessarily have to be the...

...best writer if that's not something that's going to be a focus of your career. You don't necessarily have to be the best speaker if that's a focus of your career. But if you can do both of those things and find that you can communicate persuasively, makes a big difference. I remember one of the classes I took at Penn state was advanced expository writing, and that is really something that I carried over into my career. The other thing I think I learned a lot in my career at the Pentagon, at the State Department, was how to write a one page memo. So how to take a very difficult, complex topic and break it down into one page actionable information for a leader is huge and that is something that I think, while we don't necessarily use memos as a way of communicating anymore, but how to get a huge concept and distill it down and into something that's digestible, you know, even down the to Meybe a hundred, forty characters. That makes a big difference. That is really good advice and I think you can probably triplate that also to writing a clean and concise email. Would probably fit in that that same vein. Oh yes, if I have to scroll down in order to figure out what it is you're trying to tell me, then it's too long. So we're going to go into the last third here. What would you say is your biggest success to date? So, and working in Business Development, I think the biggest successes are always going to be the projects that we've won. So I can point to certain things. One of the ones I talked about a lot is I had the opportunity to go to the north of Iraq during the Iraq war and met with the Kurdish regional government and in doing so, found that they needed to shore up the security of a new airport that they were building. So the Kurds exist as the largest, I believe this is still the case, and people will fact check me, the largest ethnic group of stateless individuals. So people who identify ethnically as Kurdish fall in the north of Iraq. You're on Syria and Turkey primarily, and the Kurds in the north of Iraq took the opportunity that, after the first Persian Gulf War, we created what they call the no fly zone and the north of rock, and so the curds were able to basically create a level of autonomy under Saddam Hussein and then certainly after he was toppled. That allowed them, after he was toppled, to form their own government, create political parties, etc. And they have money up there because there is oil up there, but they have themselves surrounded completely by states that generally don't treat ethnic Kurds very well. That's my personal opinion again, and I think history would point to that as well. So the Kurds need a way to get in and out of their country and they need to be safe and they need to be secure, and so that was the problem that they came to us with. And so I was on a team of individuals that went to the airport as it was being constructed and did site surveys and eventually prepared proposals for what would eventually be a winning contract for that. The final stage of the contract had me briefing the head. I can't exactly remember what his title was, but it was a national security related title and he was the son of the then I forget if his title was Prime Minister, but certainly his father was one of the leaders of the Kurdish regional government and his son was basically the guy who's in charge a national security so again, kind of intimidating going to brief him at his fortified palace that was on the top of a mountain. It was it was unique to say the best, say the least, but yeah, it resulted a lot of interesting travel stories and it was a very difficult contract to compete. We had European companies that were going against us, Chinese companies. There are a lot of people that were interested in providing security there and ultimately I was pleased that raifeon one that contract. On the flip side, what would you say is a big it or what would you say is one of...

...the biggest transformational learning moments that you've had in your career? So, yeah, at one point I was going through a leadership training program and they gave me a career coach and it was fantastic. If you haven't had the opportunity to work with a coach or know someone, especially we know someone who's looking to get a coaching certification, is required to do a certain number of hours for free. I would definitely check that out. I came across one of those lately, which is why I'm kind of dropping that. But my career coach I went to them and said, hey, my boss is undermining me and all these meetings, he is interrupting me, he's doing all these things and he's just being a difficult person. That was not the language that I used. I use something a little stronger and I said, you know, he's basically making life miserable, miserable, miserable, sorry for me. And so she said, well, why are you letting him? And I said well, because he's doing this and he's doing that and he's, you know, he's undermine and she said no, no, no, why are you letting him? And I'm like, Oh, yeah, I'm letting him bother me. I don't need to let him bother me. And so from then on I kind of viewed him as more of a tragic figure and it kind of made it a little bit easier for me to kind of walk in the room and say, Oh, okay, this isn't really even about me. This is him trying to feel like he's smart, making sure he feels like he's relevant, making sure like everyone knows that he's smart. I said that twice because that's what it was, and so that was an incredible learning moment for me and I've carried that over. So whenever I work with difficult people now I look and see why are they behaving in it's a vocal way, because there's always something behind that. There's always, you know, a bruised ego, there's always someone with the steam issues. There's always something and you might not be able to figure out what that is immediately on day of, but over time that's something you're going to suss out and it's going to make a big difference in how you show up, because you're giving all of the power and how you feel to someone else in those moments. So you mentioned the career coach. So kind of a related question. I always like to ask. How do you approach Mentorship, as both the mentor and also as a mentee? Sure, so, I actually have a call with one of my mente's tonight, Michael, so I'm looking forward to chatting with him. I met him through an APP called worthy mentoring, which seeks to create mentoring relationships for people in the LGBTQ pus community. So a little drop for them. One of the founders lives in DC and they're a great organization. So I'm sorry. Your question was how do I how do I make mentoring successful? As ever you ask Sean. Yeah, more or less. How do you approach it? You've probably been a mentee at points. Your mentor now. How do you approach that? What suggestions do you have for students? Sure, yeah, the most important thing is that if you ask someone to be your mentor the it is on the mentee to follow up. This is someone who's willing to give their time to help you and I'm very happy to have discussions with people. I've met with mentors, mentees from the Honors College, from the Department Goal Science, from the College of Liberal Arts and even outside of there, from people who have an interest in getting a career like mine. You know, it's very easy for somebody like me to give an informational interview kind of like this, or all I do is talk about myself. You know, I'm the expert on me, so it's very easy for me to do that. I think in mentoring I look a little bit differently because I'm not there to talk about me. I'm there to listen to experiences that someone's having and then ask them, you know, well, if that's the problem that you're dealing with, what is something that would make this better for you, and then saying, all right, what's the concrete first step you can take tomorrow that's going to get us down that path, and then really going back and iterating on that. You know, not just having a single mentoring session and then walking away. That's not really how getting better works. You can't show up to rehearse a concert, sing it once and then...

...go home and give a great show the next night. You know, any sort of performing arts, any sort of sports, any sort of really anything in life. The more you do it, generally you're going to get better at it and there is a time in life where you can get to the point where you basically say I need help. That doesn't mean I'm not a good person, it doesn't mean I'm not smart, it doesn't mean I can't be successful, it just means I acknowledge the fact that the perspective of somebody else could probably make me all of those things and in my opinion, mentoring and being mentored has been the one of the most transformative experiences in my career because it's been a really wonderful opportunity for me to look at the things that I don't know and learn from others. You mentioned performing arts, and something that you've neglected to bring up so far, and I want to give you an opportunity here, is one of the organizations that you are a part of and continue to be a part of as an a lum if you would like to talk about that right now, sure. I think that's the lead up for me to talk about music. Ninety three essence of joy. So my freshman year, sorry, my first year at Penn State, I joined university choir, which at the time was led by Dr Anthony t leach, who was also the conductor and founder of essence of joy. So I did university choir for a year and I went to seeing essence a joy concert and thought, wow, I love this. I already loved Dr Leech and his conducting style and the way that he taught music, but I didn't know that I could really, as a person who identifies as white, perform music of the African and African American tradition in a way that was from a place of appreciation and not a place of appropriation. So Dr Leach invited me to attend certain church services in DC the summer that I interned at CSIUS, and I went to those services and felt incredibly welcomed and really sang the music along with the the congregation and realize this is music I can learn to sing, and having Dr Leech in front of US teaching it in a way that is respectful and reflective of his experience as a music educator and as someone who grew up and what he would call the Black Church, I I really I don't know. I mean, I i's hard for me to find the words to describe what being an essence of joy was like, a truly transformative I'll of just one example. We did a southern tour and we went to historic ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where Dr Martin Luther King Jr was a preacher and where his father was a preacher and his mother played on the console. And while they're it's now a national historic landmark. We had a park ranger there and so Dr Lead to went up to the park ranger and said we're a choir. Can we sing something? And we did and we sing we saying we shall overcome and we all started crying and we saying how great thou art and Dr Leach went over and was playing on the console and we saying how great thou are and everyone was crying. The Park Ranger was crying, the tourists were crying, and then when we were done, the Park Ranger went over to Dr Leech and said this is the console that Martin Luther King's mother was playing when she was assassinated. So interesting fact for people who don't know that story. I'm sure you can look that up as well. But just to have that be a moment that happened to me twenty plus years ago and I can recall it like it's yesterday. You know those. That's the impact that as is a joy had in my life. A few years after graduating penn state, out of a desire to keep singing, we formed a five hundred and one c three, the essence of joy alumni singers. You can check us out at EOJAS DOT ORG and I've been singing in that group since it was founded,...

I believe, in two thousand and five or six, quite a long time. I've been on the board of that organization a couple times as well. We've traveled in that organization. We've Sung in South Africa twice. We've done Belgium, Luxembourg and France. We went back to France again, we went to Korea, we've been all over the US and really had a fantastic time doing so. It's been one of the most important and transformative experiences, like I said, of my life and allowed me the opportunity to be on a stage and to perform, do something I love and really see how music, especially that particular musical tradition, informs American culture, forms American society and informs what it means to grow up as a person of color in America. So I noticed on the questionnaire that you also had a unique opportunity that I assume steps from your involvement in that group, involving a performance on bet because this current yes, that actually wasn't with essence of joy, that was with a different choir that I sang within the DC area. But the daughters of the American revolution have a constitution hall and DC a performing venue and Marion Anderson had been in disinvited from there as a black opera singer during the FDR administration. So that space, which is still around, today. A sorry. Mary Anderson then gave a very famous performance on the steps of the link memorial, invited there but by the first lady at the time, Eleanor Roosevelt. You can evolve find footage of that. It's amazing. Singing is hard. Singing outside is even harder. Singing outside in the winter as an opera singer, it's crazy hard. So incredible singer and incredible story. So, as part of commemoration of that and, as we could probably also say, a little bit of reparation for that, the Dr Constitution Hall invited Bet to put on a concert and at the fifty anniversary of Oh no, I'm sorry, I'm getting my math wrong. It wouldn't have been fifty. Would have been much later than that. Maybe he was seventy five. I don't want to do the math right now. I can't. No over recording. This isn't my love language. But at the anniversary of one of those they commissioned a piece from one of the singers from sweet honey in the Rock and she performed. She created a piece called an ave a for marian and it was about an ave a. So indication of Mary and Anderson and so I performed that on bet but the lineup is huge. They had Jesse Norman was there singing as well, and they had Malcolm Jamal Warner. But my favorite, though, because I'm a kid of the S, was emcy Hammer. That is incredible. So I know you've mentioned a few faults along the way. Are there any other professors or friends from your scholar days that you would like to give a quick shout out to? Sure, I'm definitely Dr Michael Berkman. He has been someone who I've kept in touch with. I think it's helped that he's had the same email address since the S. I won't give it out here, but you can look it up. I'm sure there's still a Ph server or some sort of directory out there somewhere. Sean's nodding. Yes, it's Dr Berkman was my honor's advisor. I I had them for Pollysi H my first semester at Penn State and was my honor advisor the entire time I was a student there. He was also, you know, someone who I would consider a friend. He's someone who's reached out at several times when he said Hey, I'd like you to talk to the student. That's always been a good use of my time. He's never brought me anyone that wasn't interested in continuing contact and follow up my polls. I One h classmate who's now famous as well as far news, terrabbi, she might be a good featured guest for you. She's another honors College Grad who now works and Personal Finance and and journalism. She inspired in me an interest in personal finance, so I actually went out and got my certificate and personal finance from the University of Virginia and so I now, on our PROBONA basis, provide financial advice...

...for friends and family. I have two sessions this week with people for about an hour, so that's been fascinating. One of my friends from elementary school, who I hadn't seen since the second grade, even though we shared a tent together at cub scout camp, was in my dorm in my year of the Honors College, three floors away. As name is Dr Brian Kovac. He's now professor at Carnegie Mellen where he teaches economics. He did another great person to talk to as another interesting career trajectory where he had gone to Penn State to study engineering then got a master's in public policy, then got a PhD in economics and now teaches in a public policy program at Carnegie Mellon. So pretty fascinating person and again one of my friends since elementary school. We last track of each other and then found each other on aol our senior year and then saw each other at I don't know if they what they call it now. I think it's called showtime, but for us it was called fitcap freshman to testing, counseling and advising program was the then student orientations. So I saw Brian Kovac for the first time and like ten plus years and it was crazy. And then finally, Brian Kovac's roommate our first year was this guy named Steve, and Steve was this friends with somebody named Laura, who I so I met Laura Rosenberger our first, I want to say, like the second day of my pen state experience. She is now the China director on the National Security Council. Has had an incredible career working in government for the National Security Council State Department, very senior roles, one of my very good friends. I was just at her house a couple weeks ago making lackas for Hanka, so a shout out to her as well. I would love to say that should be a great feature guest, but she works more than anyone I know in life and so I don't know when she was going to have any free time to talk to you, Seawan, regrettably, which is a shame because she's fantastic. She was our she hates when I do this, but she was our college of Liberal Arts Marshall. She graduated from Penn State with a triple degree and a four point now and a minor, at least one minor. So just incredible individual, wonderful human and like her, like Brian, like all the other folks that have touched my penn state experience, I'm really thankful that I have them in life. You know, it's kind of fitting that, as we wrap things up, that I'm being interviewed on follow the Gong, because when I was a student we didn't have a gong. We had a sad little bell and I remember bringing that bell and feeling an incredible experience of I don't know, jubilee just for all the time and effort that you spend, but I gotta believe banging a gong is way more satisfying. Oh it is. It is and fall two thousand and nineteen. So we had one graduating class that got to use it before the pandemic began. We actually upgraded the Gong thanks to a donor that provided the funds for us to purchase a full size stage Gong that you would see and like an orchestra. So that's sucker. Is Loud. Let me tell you. My Office is probably a good hundred feet away and I can hear very clearly when it gets run. So so it's a great great to hear it when it does ring, because it means the student succeeded and completed their thesis. And just one quick note for those of you who are like, what is ft cap or what? That's what we call NSL. So that was the forerunner to a much better program that we have now, an NSO we still do showtime, which is a key part of the Shire experience for our scholars. Now, you mentioned connecting people. I know we've talked about Linkedin a lot. If a scholar wanted to reach out to you and do that information interview, dive a little bit deeper into your story, Tom how can they get a hold of you? I'd recommend linkedin. Honestly, on there's not many people the last name bond saint on Linkedin, so just look me up there. I'd ask that you send a message rather than just a request.

I work in a field where there are certain elements of foreign governments that would be interested in creating a relationship with me, and so I need to be very careful about who I interact with online, especially if it's something that's anonymous like a Linkedin, where I don't know who the person is. So I would just encourage people to reach out and say who you are and say what it is I can do to help you in your career. You know, I would love to see more pen staters and more honors College grads out there succeeding. It makes a lot easier for us to be successful donors back to the school. The money that I said that I was given by the College of Liberal Arts, Department of Political Science, Honors College and Office of Undergraduate Education is something that I now, as an alum, give back. I give through a donor advised fund, which is something that works for me, and that's because I'm a personal finance nerd. But in the end, you know, those unpaid internship created the trajectory of my career. I would not have been able to have unpaid internships. I would have probably had to continue working at the gap in the summer and that would not have led me down the path. Maybe I would be a regional manager at the gap right now. I'd certainly be better dressed than I am today, but I don't know that I would have had the same opportunity to use my degree in a national politics in the way that I've been able to now. Well, we certainly appreciate your support on behalf of the development and alumni relations team here in the college and all of our students, and I have to imagine if you stayed a gap you would have at least been the assistant to the regional manager. That was very good. I feel bad for the students listening who are too young to get that reference. So I'm afraid you've dated yourself now, Sean, and you're even younger than me. You would be surprised with what Gen Z's relationship is with the office. So I think most, most people, I think we'll get that that joke. So if one of your head I apologize, but I did it now and now that you told them where to find it, but there you go. This is not sponsored by peacock, but that is where you can find it now, since it came off of Netflix. Last question, as is tradition here on following the gone if you were a flavor of Burke Creamer, your ice cream, which would you be? And as a scholar alum, most importantly, why would you be that flavor? So I'm not going to go down the lazy route and say scholarship because, let's be honest, that was the rebrand of an existing flavor of wonderful rebland and I'm bad that they have it. But I got to go with a flavor that was created while I was there, which is alumnic Swhirl, and I've heard some hate on alumnic swhirl on this very podcast and I feel bad for that an individual that they have such terrible taste. And if you don't know who I'm speaking about, just going to have to go back and listen to all of the previous podcast to find that reference, because Shawn is not going to reference it right now. But alumnic swirl is a fantastic mix of fruit and MOCHA and I just think it's great. It's not a flavor combination that I've found in other desserts generally speaking, but I think it's just the right balance and for me, if you're going to show up from having visited Penn state with something in a cooler, I'm okay if it's that well. I actually, as the host, I don't remember which of our guests dished the alumni swirl flavor. It is a very common answer, I will give you that, but it is also a really good flavor. Like you said, it's a really unique one with the blueberry and the MOCHA chips, so you can't go on with that one. Always a good choice. Tom Thank you so much for joining me here on following the Gong, not following the Bell, as it was in your time, and really appreciate all of your insights. You heard how to get ahold of him. Really appreciate your time today. Thank you, and thank you for the opportunity. I'm always trying to uplift pen staterors and make the world a better place, so let's see if we can do that together. Thank you, scholars, for...

...listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show probably supports the Shuire Honors College Emergency Fund, Benefiting Scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at rays DOT PSU DOT Edu. Forward Slash Shreire. Please be sure to hit the relevance of scribe, like or follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the college on Facebook, twitter, instagram and Linkedin to say uptodate on news events and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or a scholar alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on following the gone, please connect with me at scholar alumni at PSU DOT edu. Until next time, please stay well and we are.

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