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Each government-contracting executive has a story — an experience that changed their professional aspirations, or paved the way to their current position.

From working with the DoD general counsel to serving as a Navy attorney, GovConExec talked to a handful of high-level executives and uncovered some of the pivotal career choices that best prepared them for their current day-to-day duties.

Whit Cobb, vice president and deputy general counsel at BAE Systems, Inc., learned how the government operates in crisis when he took a senior role in the Defense Department just days before 9/11.

“I accepted my position as the DoD deputy general counsel responsible for litigation on the Friday before 9/11, and after a gut check, started work in the Pentagon soon afterward,” he said. “Serving in that position and at that time showed me how the different branches of the federal government work together in a crisis, how major governmental decisions get made, and how the DoD leadership views and relates to industry partners.”

Like Cobb, Booz Allen Hamilton’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Bill Meyers learned about law in a government setting, where he gained experiences working with high-level clients at an early stage in his career.

“Starting my career as a Navy attorney, where manpower is at a premium, I had the opportunity to work directly with senior clients from the very beginning in a way that wouldn’t have been possible at a large law firm,” he said. “That experience of intense client interactions positioned me well to come to Booz Allen, where our law department is equally lean, and I felt a step ahead in terms of having the skills necessary to partner with the firm’s top leaders.”

Steve Hunt, vice president and CIO at Salient Federal Solutions, cites an experience that taught him valuable lessons about communicating complex issues.

“Very early in my career, I was given authority to influence the design of U.S. Air Forcewide logistics data systems,” he said. “I quickly learned the critical importance of paying attention to detail and being able to clearly explain complex issues for senior executives. These skills are just as important today as they were many years ago.”

Thomas McCabe, general counsel and secretary for Alion Science and Technology, gleaned experience from a stop at a similar company.

“For most of the 1990s, I was general counsel of GRC International, Inc., a publicly traded government contractor,” he said. “GRC was an incredibly creative, inventive company, full of brilliant people with advanced degrees from all technical disciplines. Alion uses this same intellectual openness and resourcefulness to solve the most difficult problems for government and commercial customers, both here and overseas. One of the most enjoyable aspects of working here is being part of this innovative culture.”

Jim Zarnick, national director of information technology, federal government services at Deloitte, built his experience in the commercial sector before transition to the government market.

“In my role as Deloitte’s director of information technology for federal government services, I regularly draw upon the product and business experience developed in the commercial IT marketplace, which was followed by nine years of leading custom systems development projects for federal clients. These experiences, combined with the federal consulting operations and compliance leadership roles that followed, have provided me the foundation necessary to respond to the IT needs of our practitioners and supporting functions needed to support our federal clients.” ♦