Executive Mosaic is honored to announce Arnold Punaro, chief executive of the Punaro Group, as the newest inductee into the Wash 100, the premier group of leaders who create value and execute strategic vision at the intersection of the public and private sectors.
Across a career dedicated to public service, Punaro has held a wide variety of leadership positions across the military, government, private sector and other organizations.
Punaro joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1968 and retired having reached the rank of Major General. Reflecting on his 35 years of military service, Punaro told GovCon Exec he is “struck by the bravery of our military when under fire.” It is a constant that has stuck with Punaro since early in his career, and is of particularly personal significance to him.
“When I was in Vietnam the Marines in my platoon were all draftees and put their lives on the line for our country 24/7, just as my father did in World War II and my son did in Iraq,” Punaro said.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the bravery of a young corporal who sacrificed his life to save me and other Marines when we were under attack by a large North Vietnamese force. I remember his valor, as well as the bravery of all those I served with, each and every day.”
Punaro would serve on Capitol Hill during his government tenure as the staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In that role, Punaro focused on national security matters and worked for Georgia Senator Sam Nunn.
It was in that position that Punaro said he began to see the Marine Corps’ dedication reflected in those serving in the civilian sectors and within government contracting firms; a far cry from “the caricature that is often portrayed in movies and by the media,” Punaro said.
“These hard-working individuals are focused on meeting the many challenges faced by our government and they deserve our thanks for their ongoing commitment and accomplishments,” he added.
When he ultimately moved into industry, Punaro spent 14 years with then $11-billion technology and services contractor SAIC, rising to the executive vice president rank and serving as general manager of the firm’s Washington operations.
He initially joined SAIC as an individual contributor before leading the firm’s business development team for five years and going on to gain enterprise responsibilities in government relations, worldwide communications, crisis management and facilities and real estate.
Punaro would help bring in billions of dollars of new work to SAIC and helped grow the firm’s annual revenue by more than 10 percent.
When he began looking to next steps after his retirement from SAIC, Punaro said he was motivated to complete a major project for then-Defense Secretary Defense Robert Gates by chairing a Defense Business Board task force focused on reducing the Defense Department’s overhead.
That ran parallel to his wish to have more time to speak out on “key policy issues such as the unsustainable costs of the all-volunteer force, where we are reducing the warfighting ability of our military,” Punaro said.
Punaro had initially pushed for the creation of the DBB in 1997 when he chaired a review of the Pentagon’s business practices for then-Defense Secretary Bill Cohen. He has also chaired a DBB task force that made recommendations on reforming the Pentagon’s acquisition process, and was recently elected chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association, the largest U.S. national security organization with more than 1,600 member companies.
After SAIC, Punaro said he also wanted to make progress on his book “The Washington Battlefield,” which he continues to write and “will provide an insider’s view of how decisions are really made in Washington,” he noted.
As he looked to his next business venture, Punaro said he wanted to channel his experience from across military, government and industry into helping other businesses, which led him in 2010 to found the Punaro Group, his Washington-based consulting firm that provides services in business development, strategic planning, federal budget, market analysis, communications, crisis emergency management, government relations, and sensitive operations.
Punaro said he is proud of his recent accomplishments in these areas in addition to his work serving as an independent advisor to the Secretary of Defense through his work on the Reserve Forces Policy Board.
Through the Punaro Group, Punaro said he has been blessed to provided guidance to “some terrific companies” ranging in size from small startups to the Fortune 500 “in a very uncertain and unpredictable fiscal environment,” Punaro noted.
“We are in an era of increased instability and danger in the world, but we face decreasing resources to deal with this environment,” Punaro said.
“What continues to impress me in industry is how leadership is always looking to be out in front of trends, particularly ones with a potentially negative impact on their business,” he added. “Unlike government, business is more focused on making tough decisions based on these trends and then moving on.”
As he looks forward, Punaro said he is excited to continue to help government and business become more efficient and effective “in tough budget times while improving their ability to deal with these threats.”
“I believe it is both ‘good government and good business.’”