Thunder Clouds on the Horizon: Insights from the Helm of U.S. Department of the Navy
Honorable Thomas B. Modly of Ohio is a strategic, innovative, and impactful leader with distinguished accomplishments in the military, academia, business, and government service at the highest levels. He recently served as the 33rd Under Secretary of the Navy, and for five months, as the Acting Secretary of the Navy. Throughout his tenure, Secretary Modly focused on increasing agility and accountability throughout the Department’s workforce and in its vital business operations, including information management, that support war fighting wholeness for Sailors and Marines. His leadership style was marked by his compassion for Sailors and Marines and their families, his propensity to challenge conventional wisdom, and his prioritization on the intellectual development of his subordinates. His frequent, open, and active communication with all levels of the nearly 1 million person Department of the Navy was a hallmark of his tenure.
Secretary Modly undertook the most comprehensive review of naval education in over 100 years. This study led to the implementation of key organizational, governance, and policy reforms which will elevate education as a true warfare enabler, and better support the development of strategic and critical thinking in the naval service. While serving as the Acting Secretary of the Navy he took an aggressive approach to addressing many of the Department’s issues to include its lack of an integrated, forward looking shipbuilding strategy, strongly advocating for a 355 Plus ship fleet, putting a spotlight on the USS Ford and its myriad of high profile development issues, elevating information management and investment to the highest level of the Department, and proactively pushing uniformed leadership to more actively engage in the COVID-19 crisis. Secretary Modly also made the bold and unconventional decision to name the next aircraft carrier after an African American sailor who fought bravely at Pearl Harbor as a way to honor all African American sailors, all enlisted men, and all those who fought and died to defend the nation in the Navy in World War II. During his tenure Secretary Modly was known for his candor and willingness to address the toughest challenges facing the Department in an open and honest way. Despite only serving five months as the Acting Secretary, his focus on long-term strategic challenges lead Forbes magazine to refer to his initiatives as strengthening “his position as one of the most politically adept Naval Secretaries of the post-Cold War era.”
Prior to his current position, Secretary Modly was a Managing Director with PricewaterhouseCoopers. At PwC, he was Global Government Defense Network Leader and the lead partner for the firm’s NATO account. While at PwC he also led economic development teams in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the stabilization efforts in both countries. His experience also includes time as the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Financial Management where he drove business management reforms for the Department and 10 years as a corporate strategist and mergers and acquisitions specialist in the aviation/aerospace and information technology services industries.
Secretary Modly is the son of Eastern European immigrants who escaped from behind the Iron Curtain after World War II. He was raised in Cleveland, OH before entering the Naval Academy where he graduated with distinction. While in Annapolis he also began work on a MA in Government/International Relations from Georgetown University. He completed this degree before entering flight school where he earned his wings as a Naval Aviator. Secretary Modly was also an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the U.S. Air Force Academy. After leaving active duty he earned an MBA with Honors from Harvard Business School with a concentration in Business, Government and Strategy.