For the fourth iteration of our fireside chat blog post series, we hosted Michael A. Brown. Michael is a Venture Partner at Shield Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage companies at the intersection of commercial industry and national security. Before joining Shield Capital, Michael held roles, including the Director of the Defense Innovation Unit and CEO of Symantec.
Here are five takeaways from the discussion:
1. What advice would you give yourself if you went back to the beginning of your career?
“When you start your career you are focused on your management chain, thinking about ‘how do I get ahead’? What you’ll see as you become more senior is: There’s a lot of value in understanding the perspectives and experiences of the people around you who are in different functions. I wish I had spent a little more time on this early on, trying to continue to be well-rounded and understand the different perspectives that people bring since someday you may be asked to lead a diverse set of functions.”
2. What advice would you give people managers at Applied?
“You need to have an agenda. As the manager of a group, where is this group going? How are you going to improve it and leave it better than you found it? You can just get the job done by keeping up with things, but more important is: What’s your agenda to improve how your organization or function is getting its job done? What positive stamp are you going to leave?”
3. How do you know if your company is betting on a category that’s going through a fundamental shift? How do you anticipate that shift coming?
“That is tough to see, and you’re relying on senior management to keep asking the right questions about what’s happening in the environment around us. Of course, everybody at the company can provide their input on what’s changing in the environment around us that’s different from previous expectations. Every business is going to be disrupted if it lasts long enough.”
4. During your time at the Defense Innovation Unit, what have you learned about the U.S. Department of Defense’s procurement problem?
“In the 60s and 70s, a lot of the technology the military needed, it either developed itself or it was an early adopter and investor in the companies developing it. Today, most of the technology DOD needs—AI, cyber, autonomy—is coming from Silicon Valley, Boston, and other innovation hubs. The Pentagon is still using a system that doesn’t really optimize for buying from innovative companies on the outside that are software-centric and have short product cycles.”
5. What keeps you up at night?
“As a country, we’re not investing as much as we should in future technologies. We’re not making the long-term investments in technology needed to stay a global leader. [...] Drawing on the competitive nature, the innovation, and our ability to bring in people from other parts of the world to create phenomenal companies, that’s a huge strength of the U.S. We need to continue to invest there so we can continue to lead the world. That’s the best guarantee for economic prosperity and national security.”