December 5, 2007

More Than Just a Job

Renee Becton Strickland ’82, former Air Force officer, launches a consulting firm – and more

By Barbara Mulligan

Five years ago, Renee Becton Strickland ’82 retired from the U.S. Air Force as a colonel following a 20-year military career that included serving as deputy program manager of a cutting-edge technical intelligence program.

She describes those years as fun but incredibly fast-paced and demanding. She was ready to relax a bit and spend more time with her twin daughters, she says: “I kidded that I was going to get a part-time job at Starbucks.”

But now, says Strickland, who is a member of the Lafayette Leadership Council, she’s often busier than ever, thanks to a combination of family commitments, volunteer work, and what she terms a “part-time job” as founder and chairman of the board of Edge Consulting, Inc., in Centreville, Va.

Strickland happily blames her husband, Frank, a former U.S. Marine Corps and CIA intelligence officer, for the change in her professional plans.

“We talked about doing it for a while when I was still on active duty,” she says, explaining that her husband and a friend, Chris Whitlock, wanted to begin an intelligence consulting business—and wanted her on board.

“They convinced me,” Strickland says, explaining that she signed on with the understanding that “this cannot be a full-time job for me.” At first she handled all financial aspects of the firm. Now, with a staff of about 40 working on projects related to defense and intelligence, she says, “The bigger we’ve gotten, the more I’ve backed off from day-to-day activities.”

But Strickland still participates in long-term decision-making and planning and plays a key role in maintaining the culture of the company, whose services include analysis and decision support, strategy development, process improvement, capability development, and leader development.

The company’s literature says, “Our executives model life as more than work and money – esteeming others; genuine behavior; physical, mental, and spiritual health are important to a full life.”

“We’re trying to make sure that the culture of the small, family-oriented group we started does not change too much,” she says. “We created and want to sustain an environment where everybody functions as a family. We want people to be part of a larger thing that’s more than just a job. We want to make sure every person feels like he or she is part of something that’s pretty special.”

At first, Strickland says, that wasn’t an easy task. “It was a little stressful,” she says. “You tell someone who’s been working for a whole career as part of a bigger company, ‘Trust us, it’ll be fine!’ You have to be very deliberate about the people you hire.”

After 20 years of working in an extremely structured, top-down environment, she had to do some adjusting of her own, she adds.

“The military, obviously out of necessity, is very hierarchical,” she says, explaining that when Edge Consulting began, she was less in favor of a “bottom-up” mentality than her husband and colleague were. “Left to my own devices, I probably would have gone to a more structured situation.”

Strickland, who earned a bachelor of arts degree in engineering from Lafayette and participated in ROTC as a student, began her Air Force career classified as an engineer, managing parts of a space-related ground system in Colorado Springs.

“I stayed in the space community and became more and more involved in intelligence aspects,” she says, explaining that, at the time, the programs she managed were considered covert. “It was not at all what I had expected as a 22-year-old coming into the Air Force,” she says.

Her military career included experience in budget development and justification, systems acquisition and operations, and security policy and personnel security. In addition, she served as the first public affairs officer for the defense department’s National Reconnaissance Office, which designs, builds, and operates the nation’s reconnaissance satellites.

Strickland earned an MBA degree from Northrop University and an M.S. in strategic studies from the Air War College. She was honored with the Defense Superior Service Medal, awarded by the secretary of defense, and the Medal of Distinguished Service from the NRO.

These days, she says, she spends a large part of her time ferrying her teenage daughters to classes and activities, volunteering at their school, and helping them through the joys and perils of learning to drive and starting to date. “We have, over the past four years, spent an incredible amount of time together in the car,” she says with a laugh.

Strickland also teaches a Sunday-school class for preschoolers. And, over the last several years, she assisted her father, former Federal Emergency Management Agency director Julius W. Becton Jr., with his book, Becton: Autobiography of a Soldier and Public Servant, set for publication by U.S. Naval Institute Press in February.

“I’ve been his closet editor,” she says, noting that her father served 40 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a lieutenant general. After his stint with FEMA during the Reagan administration, he served as president of Prairie View A&M University for five years.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” Strickland says of her life. “I’m happy with that. I love telling people that I’m retired, but I’m finding myself actually busier than when I was working full-time.”

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