Mark Albrecht's PRGS Alumni Leadership Award Speech
Thank you all for your warm welcome back to RAND and the PRGS. It is a true pleasure to be here today and a distinct honor to be recognized as the inaugural recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Leadership award.
First, I want to add my congratulations to the class of 2012 who will join the nearly 300 proud graduates of this institution in service to the nation and the world. These impressive graduates have focused on policy fields ranging from health care and education to national security. Congratulations, and to them I say, ‘welcome to the arena.’
I want to offer a special thanks to my family who has come here today to join in the celebration of this wonderful award.
We have been members of the RAND family for almost thirty years and remember the days of old - waiting for the WATS telephone line in the old lobby, made available to employees for long distance calling on the weekends. Many a Saturday we would wait for our turn at the wooden phone booth with the small yellow light atop the door to call long distance for free…to San Diego!
Nicole, Alex and Olivia have personal associations with RAND that are special - affecting their lives and their careers in important ways. My wife Kathe has been a RANDite from the very beginning, in truth, she is smarter than me, attending events and lectures, helping me with my statistics and econometrics assignments, enjoying the company of our colleagues and their families and even, on occasion hosting distinguished visiting RAND scholars like Harold Laswell in our home…even learning how to make a Martini, or should I say, several martini’s for our colleague Harold. She is an inspiration and the best life partner a person could ask for; I simply can’t thank you enough.
I would like to take just a moment to say a few things about PRGS and RAND and the wonderful career I have enjoyed.
Of course, no recounting of PRGS would be complete without recognition of its founder, Dean Charles Wolf.
Charlie is a powerful intellect, disciplined thinker, tough minded realist and…. complete dreamer. Yes, dreamer. Charlie told me once that he conceived of a graduate school at RAND because he was tired of hiring new PhD’s from Harvard and Chicago and then training them to think like RAND thinks. “Why not cut out the middleman, take the cream of the graduate crop and make them RAND thinkers from the very beginning?”
Not very practical, certainly not very easy but with Charlie’s vision, his persistence, his persuasiveness first with Harry Rowen, then Don Rice, then the board of trustees and finally the government customer Charlie got his school and PRGS was born. Conservative, cautious, measured Charlie Wolf is also a risk taker, even a bit of a gambler. Charlie knew all eyes would be on the first few PRGS classes, how good were they really, could they measure up, would it be worth it, would they stay the course.
A lot was riding on Charlie and Don’s shoulders in 1973 and that’s when Charlie decided to admit me to the third PRGS class. Me, a medieval historian, bound for Oxford to study Common Law, headed for a career as a law professor.
Not surprisingly they ‘quarantined’ me in an office at the end of the old Social Sciences wing across the hall from another outlier, another unusual hire, a lawyer at RAND, named Michael Rich.
RAND of the 1970’s was competitive, really competitive, led by two VERY competitive individuals, Charlie and Don Rice. I have described Dean Wolf and any of you who have played tennis with Charlie know of what I speak. Don is no less a fierce competitor on and off the field – focused, disciplined with a disarming squinty smile.
I remember especially well one time when I was playing on a RAND intramural softball team and, as luck would have it, Don Rice was the pitcher for the opposing squad.
Don was pitching high arching slow pitches with precision and strategic intent, short, long, inside, outside, all with typical intensity and perfect form. Well, Don served up a fat one and, as they say in baseball, I got all of it and it soared outside of that Santa Monica little league park like a towering Mark McGwire home run….Don was not pleased.
Later in that game, I was a lead off hitter and while the teams were changing fields, Don looked at me and said, ‘well there big fella, can you hit a curve ball?’
Gamely, but somewhat naively, I said, ‘sure.’ Don cautioned the catcher, ‘heads up’ and proceeded to rear back and throw a smoking overhand banana curve ball headed straight for, well, it seemed for sure at my head. Just as I hit the deck, the ball snapped off right across the plate. Point made, RAND was not for the faint of heart…and not for amateurs.
Not a bad environment for graduate school, and not a bad proving ground for the rough and tumble arena of Washington DC.
Throughout my career, in the intelligence community, on Capitol Hill, in the White House and in the commercial marketplace, the lessons of PRGS, the discipline, the methodologies, the perspectives, the competition, the calculated approach to risk all fortified, prepared and bolstered my approach to service. That’s why I am so taken by today’s PRGS motto, ‘Be the answer.’
Today’s environment is tailor made for RAND and PRGS graduates. RAND is one of the world’s most recognizable and truly admired brands. Say “RAND” anywhere in the world and you will be met with instant recognition, admiration and a little bit of awe. And today’s policy landscape is as chaotic, uncertain and unstructured as it has been since RAND was conceived at Douglas Aircraft back in 1948. What a wonderful time to be at the citadel of innovative thought…but its not enough just to ‘be here,’ you have to produce, you have to deliver, and you have to live up to the reputation.
Just one example – today, the emerging cyber warfare threat is more dangerous, more insidious and more threatening than nuclear war was fifty years ago and yet no one knows anything about it. We know how to identify worms and viruses, how they work, how they are created and disseminated, what they can do both offensively and defensively and yet we know nothing about strategic utilization of them, the integration of them into real war plans, the management of them in global models of stability.
And unlike nuclear weapons, the barriers to entry for cyber war are virtually non-existent, we can’t tell the difference between a group of high school or college pranksters, organized crime, or a competent military rival like China! Concepts such as ‘containment’ or ‘deterrence,’ staples of strategic thought invented here at RAND are outdated and ill-suited. “The truth is that the cyber-universe is complex well beyond anyone’s understanding and exhibits behavior that no one predicted, and sometimes can’t even be explained well,” concluded the JASON group, an independent advisory group of the nation’s top scientists, in a November 2010 report to the Pentagon. “Our current security approaches have had limited success and have become an arms race with our adversaries,” they said. The government is so confused that DARPA has devised a new ‘Plan X’ for cyber warfare that is aimed at tapping into the brainpower and innovative skills of ….social network companies, like Facebook and Groupon and electronic game designers, like Electronic Arts to help them think strategically through the cyber warfare problem. That would be akin to the old Strategic Air Command looking to Mattel or the Bradley Brothers Company for strategic advice on nuclear war in the 1960’s. These are problems for RAND.
And on and on, economic inequality and the new Malthusianism, or identifying the patterns, significance and models of information flows, choice and action of social network communications, each public policy problem calling out for innovative thought, new methodologies, new paradigms, just the kinds of things that built RAND and the incredible brand recognition it enjoys around the world today.
PRGS trains students to meet and engage these monumental policy problems better than any other institution, but it is up to each individual to seize the moment, step up to the challenge, and be the answer.
Since I left PRGS, I have been blessed to work with and for some of the great leaders of our times - several of whom are here today, and all of them exhibit one trait that is critical for PRGS graduates – they are not afraid to work with people as smart or smarter than themselves, they look to find the very best people, give them responsibility and accountability and let them perform. The PRGS board of advisors is comprised of people just like this. I strongly recommend alumni to use them, lever them to find others who are so disposed. This more than anything will serve them well. My career is mid-stream; these graduates’ careers are just beginning. I look forward to see what paths they clear, what contributions they make and the service with distinction they will accomplish. Thanks to you Susan, thanks to the PRGS board of advisors and thanks to all of you for this wonderful honor.