One indulgent use of a personal blog is to drop a nod in the direction of a salutary individual, and I’d like to do so for my departing boss, Jim Simon.
Jim has been the founding Director of the Microsoft Institute since 2004, when Bill Gates and Craig Mundie personally decided to establish a small outfit to use the benefits of Microsoft’s advanced research and development activities against intractable problems for the global public sector. They had been talking with Jim for several years, back when he was a senior executive at the Central Intelligence Agency and after, to understand how to improve government’s adoption of modern technologies.
Jim had a long and storied career in the federal government. In the CIA’s senior management ranks under DCI George Tenet he took on broad responsibilities that presaged the creation of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). From his official bio:
A career CIA officer, Mr. Simon was appointed by President Clinton and confirmed by the Senate in 1999 as the first Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Administration, a position he held until retirement in 2003. As deputy to the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence for Community Management, he was responsible for setting policy for and overseeing the budgets of the 14 agencies that comprise the Intelligence Community. After September 11th, he was designated as the senior intelligence official for homeland security establishing and chairing the Homeland Security Intelligence Council.
While he was still in government, Jim was a sought-after counselor to those (like Gates) seeking to uderstand why government acts the way it does. For those interested in improving government technologies, his knowledge has been invaluable; after all, his experience included oversight of multi-billion-dollar national strategic projects, and intimate involvement in establishing the CIA’s In-Q-Tel venture capital firm (see pdf report, Accelerating the Acquisition and Implementation of New Technologies for Intelligence). Federal Computer Week once quoted Jim in 2002 with a necessary insight for anyone doing government acquisition:
In fact, the CIA itself is tired of vendors approaching the agency with what the vendors insist is the “total solution,” said Jim Simon, assistant director of central intelligence and the intelligence community coordinator for homeland security. The “total solution” doesn’t exist, he said. (“CIA Venture Firm Devises Tech Review Strategy“)
Jim was no technologist in government, though he managed technical programs, as a renaissance man. My own early background in political science and as a Pentagon Soviet analyst meant that I first learned of Jim’s legend in that light. He grew up in CIA as “an analyst’s analyst,” brilliant and uncompromising. Read the blunt article he co-authored immediately after the 9/11 attacks about the need for intelligence reform in Daunting Challenges, Hard Decisions: The Inteffigence Community 2001-2015.” That article’s conclusions keep being drawn, its recommendations repetitively proposed, again and again after each failure right through today.
After leaving government and setting up MSI, Jim hired some of the best and brightest from senior government roles for the Institute (and, grading on the curve, hired me as well). We’ve had a lot of fun in the past few years. The pictures on this page are from trips he and I took together, for example, examining Microsoft Research in various corners. And I’ve enjoyed tweaking him and his Alabama ways once or twice here on ShepherdsPi (see the April Fool’s classic “Microsoft Research Reclaims Value of Pi“).
This column is no obituary. Jim will continue in another role at Microsoft, as Chief Strategist for our Worldwide Public Sector group. He’ll also continue as a valued voice in the ear of government officials, on reform strategies and security priorities. You can connect with him on LinkedIn… though I haven’t been able to persuade him to use Twitter yet 🙂
The company has asked me to take Jim’s place as Director of the Microsoft Institute. I know I’ll be relying on his counsel, and his example, for a long time to come. Especially once he starts using Twitter….
Filed under: Government, innovation, Intelligence, Microsoft, R&D, Technology Tagged: | 9/11, analysis, Bill Gates, Cairo, CIA, Clinton, Craig Mundie, DHS, DNI, FCW, Federal Computer Week, George Tenet, Homeland Security, In-Q-Tel, Intelligence, Jim Simon, Microsoft, Microsoft Institute, Microsoft Research, MSFT, MSI, ODNI, pyramid, R&D, research, Sphinx, tech, technical, technologies, Technology, terrorism, terrorist, VC, venture capital