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WHF Profile: Jeff McLean (2017-18)

Prior to White House Fellowship, I served as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot and test pilot for many years. My wife was a U.S. Air Force pilot at the time, and with a young family, we were beginning our transition from active-duty service to careers as reserve officers. The Fellowship became an important inflection point in our transition into our civilian lives and careers.  

I first became aware of the fellowship while I was in graduate school when a mentor of mine was selected to serve as a fellow in the Bush Administration.  This person was of exceptional character and was passionate about making a difference, and I noticed that every one of his classmates, all from different backgrounds and communities, had those extraordinary elements in common. I followed his career and the careers of his classmates and of subsequent classes, and I noticed that each person not only brought incredible skills and track records of impact to the fellowship, but they also conducted fascinating work while serving as fellows and went on to have meaningful careers as leaders in their fields and communities.  This was a community of leaders and change makers that I aspired to be part of. 

During the Fellowship, I was placed in the White House Office of American Innovation, and I describe our office as an empowered change agent within the executive branch that sought to identify and implement new thinking and ideas to solve long-standing challenges and improve government services in order to improve the quality of life for Americans. We achieved an immense amount in a short period of time across a broad range of areas from federal IT modernization and workforce development to prison reform. 

As a fellow, you have the remarkable charge to work right alongside the principal leaders of the executive branch and earn their trust and partnership.  For instance, I had the incredible opportunity to work closely with the team to help formulate and lead an initiative on prison reform that included drafting an important executive order and leading a successful legislative effort that resulted in passage of the First Step Act, the first major prison reform legislation in decades. Throughout that experience, I not only had the honor to work with and learn from incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated government leaders, career public servants, and invested community leaders from across the political spectrum, but I was fortunate to witness firsthand how the many intricate gears of our government work together to produce improved outcomes for our citizens. 

While the experiences of working in the White House were life changing, the best part of my fellowship year was building strong and lasting friendships with our class of fellows.  Collectively, we shared so many great experiences and learned so much from each other and together.  We were a group of individuals from varied professions, backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, but we were a very cohesive group, united by the desire to serve our country and learn as much as possible in order to return to our communities as better, more impactful leaders. Since we were placed alongside cabinet secretaries and White House offices, many of us found ways to collaborate on major initiatives, which made our work even more meaningful. My classmates are friends for life and are people I seek out for guidance and perspective when I’ve got big decisions to make.  

Leaving the fellowship, I was inspired and determined to apply and build upon the many lessons of the year to serve my hometown community in the way that I had seen so many dedicated public servants lead at the federal level. It was a great privilege to have had so many people invest their time and mentorship in me, and I want to pay that forward and serve those in my community in a more impactful way. 

Today, I serve as the President of ghSMART & Co., a leading management consulting firm focused on leadership advisory. We serve as close advisors to the most influential boards, CEOs and investors in the world, helping them build valuable companies and strong executive teams, and I leverage the lessons from my White House Fellows experience each day.  

ghSMART is a firm of nearly 200 incredibly talented individuals that are committed to the belief that leadership and highly effective leaders are the most important levers for positive change and impact in this world. Our work enables us to help highly impactful leaders be even more effective, which translates to more successful companies that raise the quality of life for their employees, families, and communities in which they operate.

My fellowship year was life changing. I learned an immense amount about how our government works and the many varied forces that guide our country forward each day. I also observed how national leaders navigate and influence the political and policy landscape, and my faith in our institutions was strengthened. The most profound takeaway from the fellowship was realizing how many skilled and dedicated professionals serve in our government each day and the amount of alignment and collaboration that happens behind the scenes to serve the American people, despite the headlines we see each day. The scale of impact is immense, and there are incredibly talented people that are working hard every day to keep our country strong and serve our people.  Having a front row seat to observe the complexities of how our government works and the opportunity to get in the arena and move good work forward for the American people was an incredible experience.