In this monthly column, Defense Daily highlights individuals from across the government, industry and academia whose efforts contribute daily to national defense, from the program managers to the human resource leaders, to the engineers and logistics officers, to defense entrepreneurs.
Angela Ambrose is the Vice President of Government Relations and Communications at GM Defense LLC, where she works to influence the executive and legislative branches of government, and manages the development and implementation of strategic communications, media relations and marketing. She also served as the interim Vice President of Business Development from March – September 2021, leading all defense and government customer engagements and helping to shape the GM Defense pursuit pipeline.
How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?
I never envisioned working in the defense industry growing up, but I knew that some form of service would always be a part of my big picture. I first came to Washington, D.C., after completing my undergraduate degree, where I finished an internship in the Pennsylvania Governor’s office prior to joining the masses on Capitol Hill. I worked for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly six years, mostly supporting his Appropriations Committee assignment and picking up policy issues that aligned with my boss’s priorities and my own interests. Homeland security, defense and foreign affairs matters became my passion. When the congressman announced his retirement, I transitioned to the Department of Defense to lead a joint congressional affairs office, bringing counter-improvised explosive device solutions to the Hill. Before bouncing out into the private sector, my last stop as a government civilian was in the Intelligence Community where I got to see how the other side of national security took shape. My years on the Hill, at DoD and within the community shaped who I wanted to be and how I wanted to use public policy and communications strategies in the defense private sector world.
What are some challenges you faced working through your career?
I learned early on in my career that in order for employers and my employees to find value in me, I first needed to recognize value in myself. When I started at the DoD, I was worried that both my age and gender would put me at a disadvantage. I was younger than the captains, colonels, and senior civilians around the leadership table, but I was at the table and I knew that I was there for a reason. I was the non-traditional, unique adviser that the leadership needed and I brought a perspective that no one else could offer. I pushed my team hard and was aggressive about deliverables. I felt burned out and I knew my team did as well, so when I moved on to a new role I took a much needed pause that allowed me to identify that I could bring value by ensuring that my team felt valued as well. Finding balance in what I was asking of my people and aligning timelines, deliverables and expectations made me a better boss and a more capable leader. That small self-reflection continues to be the most valuable learning process that has guided me throughout my career. I value my leadership, my people, our mission, our customers and I have found value in what I offer to each.
Did you feel like you always had sufficient mentors and leaders to help guide you? Why/why not?
I am very fortunate to have had a multitude of mentors throughout my career that have guided me toward achieving not only my professional goals but have also helped me to balance those with my personal goals as well. To me, it’s critical to have sounding boards to help in decision making and redirecting during the inflection points we all face. I have people that are lifting me up and now am at the point in my career where I have many mentees who I can support in the same function. Having open dialogues, understanding their perspectives and imparting my own experiences and advice – for better or for worse – has become such an important part of my leadership style.
How do you work to be a mentor yourself to younger counterparts?
I want to make sure that there’s a robust pipeline of women behind me in the defense industry, since the pipeline in front of me wasn’t as wide or as broad as I would have hoped. The best thing I can do to mentor anyone is to lead by example and speak candidly about the hard work that it took to get where I am today. I’m passionate about motivating others to find and recognize their own value. You have to figure out who you are in order to find out what your value proposition is. But on a more concrete level, making myself available for those types of conversations to younger counterparts in my field is a key component of my mentorship style.
What does it mean to be successful in your career field?
Success is all about delivery and timing. Ensuring that we’re delivering the best product to our customers at the timetable necessary is paramount. On a more individual level, being successful also comes from a strong internal measure of accomplishment. Are you proud of what you’re doing, and are you proud of the way that you support your team? If you’re happy with your answers to those questions, then your success is already actualized.
How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?
During my career, the industry has, thankfully, expanded and rounded out who has a seat at the table. As a whole, the industry still has a way to go to expand, but the truth is that we need people from different backgrounds and experiences in order to produce our best work. In communications especially, we are trying to reach all types of audiences, so it’s essential to have many different perspectives on our team. If people only hear one voice or see one kind of speaker, then we’ve alienated our audience before our message has ever been delivered. We can do better, and we must do better.
What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?
I encourage everyone to reflect on “who you were” and “who you want to become.” That way, you can identify where you are now, and what you need to do to become the type of leader you want to be. There are leadership opportunities at every level of the defense and military community. Whether it’s explicitly clear or not, every role is one where you can manage both up and down and position yourself so that you are learning as much as you can while making impactful contributions to your team. We are all replaceable and there is always someone else willing to take the role you fill, so charge forward with the knowledge that you offer a unique perspective and find ways to grow in your skillset and expertise to remain one step ahead.
What do you see as the future of your sector in national defense?
At GM Defense, we want to help our military and government customers on a path to a more connected, more autonomous and more electric future. Innovation happens at a rapid speed and leveraging the best of what the commercial industry brings will enable our defense and government customers to access the latest advanced technologies. We’re able to deliver quickly to our customers because of our reach-back into our parent company, General Motors, and can rapidly deploy the latest commercial capabilities for their benefit. I think we’ll see more commercial innovation making its way into the national security sector in the coming years and I’m excited to be a part that.
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