by Jeffrey J. Matthews
In recent years, one of the nation’s most outstanding leaders in the field of high technology resided not in Redmond, Wash., or in Silicon Valley, but in Washington, D.C. As the U.S. Army’s senior technology executive, Lieutenant General Steven W. Boutelle ’76 has been called “a true visionary” and “the driving force” behind a massive and complex transformation of the Army’s global command communication capabilities.
Boutelle, who retired last August after 38 years in the service, was responsible for managing multibillion dollar capital and operating budgets and for ensuring state-of-the-art communications for an organization of more than a million people.
“Our battlefield success is contingent on the right information reaching the right soldier at the right time,” he says.
To that end, Boutelle spent the past four years overseeing an evolution into what he calls “a net-centric, knowledge-based force focused on strategic and tactical responsiveness, and enhanced lethality and survivability.”
In other words, he’s the guy who made tech savvy a big part of being Army strong.
An unanticipated career
Boutelle’s rise to the upper echelon of the American military was far from predictable. True, his father had distinguished himself in the Pacific Theater during World War II, but like most soldiers of that era, the elder Boutelle had little interest in pursuing a long-term military career.
His son, Steven, was born in Pasco, Wash., just a few years after the war. The family eventually moved to Portland, Ore., where the younger Boutelle graduated from Wilson High School in 1966. With a natural aptitude for science and mathematics, Steven entered Oregon State University contemplating an engineering degree. At the time, though, his obvious intellectual potential was inhibited by a lack of academic ambition. After several semesters of what he calls “lackluster” performance, Boutelle arrived at the mature realization that he “was not yet ready for college.”
In 1969, no longer enrolled in college and with his generation’s war raging in Vietnam, Boutelle also recognized that he was a prime candidate for the draft. He seized the initiative and enlisted in the U.S. Army. (An official draft notice followed not long after.) Like his father before him, Boutelle had concluded that joining the wartime Army was simply “the right thing to do.” Nevertheless, he still planned to return to civilian life after his three-year enlistment.
Private Boutelle underwent basic training at Fort Lewis and, as a result of his superb scores on Army entrance examinations, was slotted for training as a nuclear weapons electronics specialist. Moreover, Boutelle’s superiors marked him as officer material, and within months he enrolled in Officer Candidate School. In February 1970 Boutelle earned his commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. After several tours of duty as a platoon leader in infantry and artillery battalions in West Germany, Boutelle returned to Fort Lewis as Commander of B Company, 58th Signal Battalion.
While posted there, the Army allotted Captain Boutelle a one-year leave to complete his undergraduate degree. He elected to enroll at the nearby University of Puget Sound. Still thinking that he was not an Army careerist, he pursued a B.A. in business administration, with an emphasis in finance. He graduated with honors in May 1976.
“My return to academia after years in Europe and across the United States,” he says, “drove home to me that a college degree was of paramount importance if I was to make a difference in the government or commercial sector.”
As a bachelor, one of the attractions of military life for Boutelle was the opportunity for foreign travel. After Puget Sound, he completed the Signal Officer Advance Course and headed to South Korea. This Asian tour was followed by various domestic and European assignments; his stellar performance throughout led to a succession of promotions. By the 1980s, Boutelle had finally accepted the reality that duty as an Army officer was his true calling, and he also realized that his most significant contributions to the nation’s military effectiveness would come in the realm of technology leadership.
During the presidential administration of George H.W. Bush, Colonel Boutelle served as chief test and evaluation officer and executive officer of the Army’s Command System Integration Agency. Later he worked as a war theater planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At that time the Joint Staff was under the leadership of Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and JCS Chairman General Colin L. Powell.
During the Clinton-Gore era, Boutelle served in several senior leadership positions instrumental to national defense, including service as project manager for the Army’s Field Artillery Tactical Data Systems, as program executive officer for both the C3S of the Army’s Task Force XXI and for Command, Control, and Communications Systems. Boutelle’s leadership in moving the Army to a “networked force” culminated in his selection to brigadier general.
By the fall of 2001, Major General Boutelle was stationed at the Pentagon as director for Information Operations, Networks, and Space, working for the Army’s chief information officer. The Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon resulted in the death of 125 government employees, including 11 from the CIO organization. Boutelle soon found himself in Southwest Asia helping to establish and coordinate command and control communications systems for American combat operations in Afghanistan. Subsequently his focus shifted to the immense
battle-communications challenges related to the war in Iraq. Three months after the March 2003 invasion there, Boutelle earned promotion to lieutenant general and joined the Army staff as chief information officer, responsible for some 17,000 communication technology personnel stationed across the globe.
The tools of leadership
Boutelle’s leadership promoted informational and technological collaboration among U.S. military services and the country’s allies.
“Collaboration means sharing common knowledge in real time,” he says. “These days, that’s essential on the battlefield. Today we can share pictures, graphics, overhead imagery, and plans among decision-makers, even when those people are separated by thousands of miles. Folks in Qatar can have a real-time vision of people in Afghanistan or Iraq and staffs in Qatar and even in Florida, at U.S. Central Command Headquarters at McDill Air Force Base.”
Moreover, Boutelle notes, “Our satellite capability enhancement allows forces to operate through sandstorms, night, and even over extremely long distances. Forces could zoom in and out, seeing troop locations for 10 miles, 20 miles, or the entire country of Iraq. Battle command doctrine is being shaped by the ability to have ‘live’ situational awareness while communicating and collaborating on the move via a space-based network.”
In May 2005 the University of Puget Sound formally recognized Boutelle’s decades of selfless and influential public service by granting him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. A day before Commencement, he met with Puget Sound students to discuss his unpredictable career path and the subject of leadership.
Instrumental to his own success, he attested, was a serious commitment to lifelong learning by both formal and informal means. Beyond his Puget Sound degree, Boutelle is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College, the Defense Systems Management College, the Army War College, and Marymount University’s M.B.A. program. He emphasized to the students the value of close and consistent reading inside and outside of one’s specific discipline or profession, especially the value of studying the ideas of influential authors and current international events.
Within the Army, the general is renowned for instructing subordinates that soldiering is more than a mere occupation, it is an evolving “profession” that demands a serious commitment to continuous education.
Other keys to effective leadership, says Boutelle, are vision, adaptability, and mentoring. He describes his own executive approach as “effectively articulating and communicating a clear organizational vision and then seeking to energize people and supply them with the resources necessary to accomplish their objectives.”
In the complex and fast-changing field of high technology, Boutelle says a leader’s adaptability is paramount, as is the ability to “virtualize”—to visualize connections and relationships between concepts and various technologies and to anticipate second- and third-order consequences of decisions.
Boutelle also believes in concerted attempts at mentoring. Long the beneficiary of numerous personal and professional mentors, he argues that those in organizational positions of power have an obligation to cultivate the next generation of leaders.
The next step
Although recently retired from active duty, Boutelle, at 59 years old, has no plans of slowing down. No one would complain if he did. As the Army’s chief information officer, he endured an incredibly taxing international travel schedule that kept him on the road more than 200 days a year. Still, says the general, “I have never regretted a moment.”
He resides currently in Alexandria, Va., with his wife, Tracy. His daughter, Whitney, is a junior at West Virginia University. On November 27 Cisco Systems announced it had retained him as a vice president in the company’s Global Government Solutions Group, charged with building a new unit within Cisco that will establish Internet routing using commercial satellites.
Jeffrey J. Matthews, director of the Business Leadership Program at Puget Sound (“Army Strong, Technology Strong,” page 28), is co-editor of Leadership in War and Peace: From George Washington to Colin Powell, which will be published in 2008 by the University Press of Kentucky. Another Matthews book, The Followership of Colin Powell, is due out in fall 2009. But Matthews’ creative energy isn’t directed entirely at business. He co-hosts a weekly KUPS radio show with International Political Economy Professor Nick Kontogeorgopoulos, playing power-chord rock from bands like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC. He also escapes to the racquetball court twice a week. “It’s been me and Konto against econ profs Goodman and Mann for the past three years,” he says.