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7 Questions with Dr Charlotte Mitcham Farmer
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7 Questions with Dr Charlotte Mitcham Farmer
Name: Dr. Charlotte Mitcham Farmer
Current title: Managing Director Operations
Current organisation: The MITRE Corporation
Dr. Charlotte M. Farmer
Managing Director of Operations, The MITRE Corporation
Dr. Farmer is the Operations Director for MITRE's Enterprise Computing, Information, and Security, a corporate business unit. In her previous leadership role, she directed the work for the company’s nearly 9,000 technical experts. A relentless collaborator and coalition builder across public and private sectors, she focuses on strategy execution and mission delivery.
Known for leading large organizations in strategic planning, enterprise transformation, and performance improvement, Farmer compels stakeholders to consider multiple perspectives for holistic solutions. Her approach encompasses policy, priorities, people, processes, infrastructure, technology, financials, and communications.
A Wide-Ranging Career Influencing Global Security
In her previous roles, Dr. Farmer’s influence crossed multiple government clients. They include, among others, the U.S. Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Treasury, and Homeland Security. For example, in partnership with the Homeland Security Systems Engineering and Development Institute™, MITRE’s Center for Advanced Aviation System Development, and MITRE Labs, Dr. Farmer established a TSA Secure Flight Lab to help safeguard global transportation systems and personnel. Further, she has partnered with industry and academia to develop open standards that enable small businesses and start-ups to engage with innovative security solutions.
Widely known for her work ethic and approachability, Farmer helps organizations thrive by establishing programs that attract, retain, and engage talent in purposeful work. Supporting the Internal Revenue Service, in partnership with MITRE’s Center for Enterprise Modernization and MITRE Labs, she contributed to the successful rollout of a worldwide capability to securely exchange tax and investment data. The program engaged more than 150,000 foreign financial institutions and more than 200 countries. Farmer hopes that the outcome of this effort helps thwart terrorism and human trafficking.
Helping Staff and Students to "Engage with Purpose"
Despite all of her professional commitments, Farmer still makes it a point to give back. Farmer has supported Leadership Ethics and Diversity in STEM (LEADS) Workshops for almost a decade in effort to guide youth to STEM careers and exposure to West Point Military Academy. Farmer’s focus on impact in the public interest is just one of the many reasons she was named to Savoy Magazine’s 2020 Most Influential Black Executives in Corporate America. While Savoy Magazine heralded Farmer as an influencer, The Fierce Women ProjectTM recently lauded her as a luminary who inspires, engages, and empowers young women.
Along with these honors, she is a Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) STEM Modern-Day Technology Leader Award recipient, which honors underrepresented people in technical fields. At BEYA 2020, she was keynote for a design challenge for 15 of the historically Black colleges and universities with ABET-accredited Schools of Engineering.
A lifelong learner, Farmer graduated summa cum laude with a degree in chemical engineering. She also has a master’s in chemical engineering and an MBA. A participant in MITRE’s competitive accelerated graduate degree program, she earned her doctorate in systems engineering from The George Washington University while working nearly full time. She's a lean six sigma master black belt, change management advanced practitioner, a certified strategic planner, and a certified project manager. Farmer is married with three children, one an active-duty Army Officer, one a Federal government advisor, and the third a manager at a non-profit.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
In addition to being a servant leader, I am an inveterate problem solver and an inherent achiever. So, I often find myself with multiple commitments. Over the years, I’ve used several tools to manage my time: focusing effort on advancing strategic agenda, mapping and prioritizing initiatives against timelines, disciplining myself to be structured, delegating and empowering staff, and collaborating with peers to share enterprise execution.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Step up for the tough jobs, think big picture, and maintain focus on vision. Archbishop Desmond Tutu often says, “Think globally, act locally.” In the enterprise, be part of the solution by coming forward to take on difficult or complex problems. In working on the solutions, come from the perspective of what’s best or healthiest for the organization. Involve others in the process, and keep stakeholders informed so they can support and own the solutions. Don’t get discouraged and don't let up. Flex with new challenges while maintaining focus on strategic direction.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Structuring my day is critical to my special brand of “time management.” I begin my day with self-care such as meditation and exercise. I have an Old English Sheep dog (Theodore Augustus Farmer, “Teddy”), so walks are obligatory. When jogging or walking, I have time to think, review the previous day’s activities and organize my thoughts for the day. Mornings are my time for connecting with people, so I carve out about an hour to reach out to staff, leave my office “door” (virtual door in COVID) open for impromptu mentoring, or just chat with my mentor and peers. I devote time in the morning to read and respond to emails, meeting read-ahead material, and any work documents needing my attention. In the morning time remaining, I work on strategic initiatives at hand. At lunch, I take time to catch up with the world in the news, and read a little for professional development. My afternoons are typically peppered with meetings, with board work in between them. In the late afternoon/early evening, I respond to emails and work on internal duties such as employee awards, updating dashboards, reviewing and approval actions, etc. This is also the time – in addition to weekend – when I work on some of my community projects. In the evening, I carve out time for family, talking to and dining with my spouse and any adult child who is available. Late evenings and weekends, I connect with friends or prepare for the next day, including reading materials for projects. The last thing I do before turning off the light is read for myself then I give thanks prayerfully.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Always be in a learning mode. Supported by open-mindedness and patience, listening and learning skills have made me a better problem-solver and decision maker. It’s okay to be impatient to get things done, but don’t be impatient about absorbing new ideas, different viewpoints, technological advances, market trends, sociological evolution, political forces, etc..
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Courage: The Backbone of Leadership, by Gus Lee and Diane Elliott-Lee. The book bolstered my confidence to incorporate a moral compass in my thinking and decision making in the corporate world. The book has fortified my resolve to speak up when moral and ethical considerations are the driving forces for “doing the right thing.”
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Feed the pipeline at all levels, and then invest in new hires -- be a role model and mentor; offer meaningful incentives and quality-based motivators.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
In the time of COVID, my company saw a need to support the medical world with health data. Following the lead of Chief Health Officer, I stepped up to build a network of large technology companies (Apple, Google, Amazon, etc.) that agreed to develop, establish, populate, and maintain a national database of reported cases, histories, treatments, and outcomes. I reached out to existing colleagues and new contacts in more than a half dozen Fortune 50 companies, sharing my vision and plan and asking for their ideas. Together we put together a feasible solution that could be pulled together quickly, albeit with a lot of dedication, hard work, and overtime. Established from concept to operation in less than a month, this repository has served as a medical knowledge base for all the medical practitioners on the front line of battling the pandemic.