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When I was an Air Force officer, I commanded an operational flying unit during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. Everyone came home safely.
At this point in my career, however, I count my accomplishments less in terms of jobs and more in terms of the people I’ve helped to grow, get promoted, and succeed. And Booz Allen’s impact on client missions is what keeps me passionate about the work I do today.
We have the ability to look at capabilities across the firm and craft a solution that integrates the best of those capabilities. I’ve talked with a lot colleagues at other firms, and that cross-firm approach doesn’t exist in a lot of other places.
Senior Vice President Ken Mills leads the firm’s business supporting Air Force clients at the Pentagon and at several major commands, including Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command, and Air Education and Training Command.
Ken also leads our defense functional community and as well as overseeing areas of our ethics and compliance program, and is the firm’s sponsor for the Wounded Warrior mentor program.
Ken joined Booz Allen as an associate in 1997. During that time, he has provided a range of consulting services in the national security area including working with the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century.
Prior to joining Booz Allen, Ken spent 26 years as pilot in the Air Force, where he commanded a flying squadron and operations group. He also served as chief of air crew management on the Air Staff and chief of the joint readiness division on the Joint Staff.
Ken received a B.S. in engineering science from the U.S. Air Force Academy and a M.S. in materials engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He completed the decision models for management executive education program at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Why do you have the career you have? A fundamental driving force in my career is a question I’ve asked myself over the years: Do I have the stuff to make it in tough situations? I’ve always felt a challenge to push myself and have impact. It’s why I went to the Air Force Academy and why I continue to take on challenges today. I liken this feeling to what Teddy Roosevelt expressed in his famous “The Man in the Arena” speech. I like being in the arena, finding a tough problem, and working as hard as I can to succeed.
Why is Booz Allen an ideal firm for someone with expertise and skills in your line of work? After a 26-year Air Force career, I came to Booz Allen with context about the needs of defense clients. However, I knew little about organizational design, or systems delivery, or advanced analytics. Starting out as an associate, I got to work with a group of collaborative people from these other functional areas, which allowed me to become a business leader within the firm. One reason Booz Allen is an ideal firm for someone coming out of the military is the way we combine our functional capabilities into a multidisciplinary solution set for our clients. I don’t think our competitors look at growing leaders that way.
How are you working to build the next generation of Booz Allen consultants? I do a lot of storytelling. I have dinner with my people about every 6 weeks to build the lore on how to lead in a service organization. It’s really around telling stories of success or failure, and how we learn from the failures.
What are the most pressing needs across the DoD? One, the ability to make timely decisions, with the best data, in an extremely complex environment. Second, to take advantage of technology so clients can achieve their missions in more effective and efficient ways. Third, the need to transform organizational structures, especially within the DoD, to achieve greater organizational efficiency. Fourth, cybersecurity. This is the most pressing need from a mission standpoint.
What was your first job? Stocking shelves at the A&P supermarket. I remember the union rep coming up to me on my first day and telling me that 10 percent of my earnings were going to union dues.
What is one thing you always have with you? My wedding ring and my Air Force ring.
What’s an idea or invention you wish you’d thought of? The airplane. I admire what the Wright brothers were able to accomplish.
What’s something not many people know about you? I was a pilot before I came to Booz Allen and I learned to fly with at the French Air Force Academy, during an exchange program with the U.S. Air Force Academy. You had to be fluent in French to qualify for the exchange program. I thought I was fluent, but realized maybe not as much as I thought once I got there. I had to learn all the controls, manuals, everything for flying in French.
What motivates you? Tough problems. I hope that motivates everyone at Booz Allen.
What’s been your life’s biggest challenge? Raising my two daughters to become healthy, productive, independent young women. I was in the military for 26 years and it was a challenge for me was to be a present in my kids’ lives as I would have wanted to be, since we were moving around and in some cases I was gone for 6 months at a time.
Where do you see Booz Allen in the next 100 years? Booz Allen 100 years ago looked very different. It was smaller, organizationally different, and served a smaller group of clients. But there are fundamentals that have lasted more than 100 years: the commitment of leadership, our core values, and outstanding service to clients. In 100 years we will continue to exist because regardless of the nature of our business, or the nature of our clients, those fundamentals will be there, even as we evolve to meet our clients’ needs.