“You’re a lawyer, what are you doing getting a business degree?”

I get this question a lot.

The idea to start my business school journey started in California in the late summer of 2022. For the better part of the last decade, I had been an attorney for Army Special Operations Command where my portfolio included writing legal reviews for new weapons systems to operate on the battlefield.

One day I stood in a hot, dusty desert, eyes squinting up at the sky. A semi-autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (aka ‘drone’) small enough to fit in a backpack lifted off and loitered in place above our heads as it began scanning the clear blue sky. It quickly detected another enemy drone miles away. And within a matter of seconds, it sent a variety of sensor data to the computer next to me in an easily readable and digestible format.

Our group analyzed the data and concluded it was, in fact, an enemy drone. The man at the computer looked up and asked for permission to engage. At the click of a button, the drone flew off and tracked the threat. Then, off in the distance, we could see a ball of smoke in the sky. While our drone was in flight, we were continuously receiving updated information about the enemy so that, if necessary, we could override the system to change course or completely abort the mission.

It didn’t take a technical expert to understand the gravity of what we had just witnessed in this product demonstration. The enemy drone threat in the Middle East and around the world was getting worse by the day. Many of our current solutions to date have ranged from limited to wholly ineffective. This capability, and the artificial intelligence it had employed, had the potential to change the game.

When the simulation was over, my boss looked to me “How ya feeling, judge – can you get to ‘yes’ on this, you think?”

I was confident in my ability to interpret and apply the laws, regulations and policy that pertained to a weapon system such as this one. I was well versed in the rules of modern warfare—from advising commanders on lethal targeting engagements overseas, to drafting legal opinions for novel weapon systems to operate on the battlefield, these issues were the mainstay of my career. Autonomy, and artificial intelligence more broadly, was the new and next legal frontier.

Where the Law Meets Business

What really caught my attention, however, was the meeting that came next. Listening to the vendor briefings and looking at PowerPoint slides with numbers and figures, my mind went blank. Words like ‘scalable,’ ‘margins,’ ‘lean-manufacturing,’ and conversations around budgeting and milestones—they were familiar, but they meant nothing to me.  I realized I didn’t speak or understand the language of business.

I applied to Fuqua with the hope of closing my knowledge gap, to merge the languages of law and business so that I was better equipped to advise senior leaders on issues of national security. What I have found is my MBA experience has provided much more than that—it’s given me a new perspective.  

I spent the last decade answering the questions, “Is it legal?” and “How do we minimize risk?” I’m now looking to answer questions like “How can we do this better?,” “How do we maintain our competitive advantage?,” and “What stakeholders do I need to engage to achieve our desired outcome?”  

The Fuqua Weekend Executive MBA program has helped me build on my ability to identify and assess risk. More importantly, however, it’s given me the tools and network to identify and leverage opportunities. From gaining insights from professors like Professor Saša Pekeč teaching how AI can improve managerial decision making to networking with my fellow classmates developing novel AI tools, I have at my disposal a wealth of knowledge and resources that inspire and equip me to innovate in the national security space.

Capitalizing on the Opportunity of AI

Thanks to Fuqua, I am now able to fully appreciate and see the environment for AI within the defense industrial base as primed for unprecedented innovation. The Executive Branch has been clear in its mandate to develop and integrate AI into our national security infrastructure. Congress likewise has provided the financial backing for these endeavors, infusing $1.8 billion into AI development for national security. It’s time for industry to seize this opportunity.

So, whether it be the development and use of autonomous weapon systems, the use of natural language processing to translate intelligence, virtual reality simulations to better train our soldiers, or the use of back-office applications to improve organizational efficiency, the potential for AI to transform our nation’s defense resources is truly unlimited.

The old lawyer in me understands the rules of this game. The new business leader in me knows how to play. The perspective is priceless. I have Fuqua to thank.  I look forward to working with industry and government leaders to seize what’s possible, to ensure the U.S. can leverage AI to its advantage.