In this month’s "The Sounding Board," meet Richard (Dick) Paul, Chair of the FLC National Advisory Council (NAC) and a non-voting member of the FLC Executive Board. A former Major General in the U.S. Air Force, he is an independent consultant with more than 40 years of R&D related management experience. Paul describes how the ability to tap into a range of perspectives brings value to technology transfer and to the FLC Executive Board.
How did you get involved with technology transfer (T2)?
My original involvement with T2 was with the Air Force, as the commander of Wright Laboratory and then Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) when four Air Force “super labs” were consolidated into a single entity in 1997. So I had a top-down perspective of T2, which was different than it would have been for someone who came up through the system in various T2-specific roles. As a lab commander, I gained an immediate appreciation for the value of T2 but also for the lean environment in which T2 offices often operate. The AFRL mission, first and foremost, was to transition technologies to meet warfighter needs, whereas the focus of our T2 office was to transfer some of those same technologies to the private sector for non-defense applications. There was a beautiful synergy, but also a “competition for resources” between the two missions that was sometimes a challenge.
What aspects of your long career have been most useful for your work with the FLC Board?
I think the multiple perspectives I’ve gained have been invaluable. I’ve already talked about my perspective as a lab commander. After retiring from the Air Force, I went to work for Boeing in Seattle and got a first-hand appreciation for the larger industry perspective on access to technologies in the federal labs and other external entities. And for several years, I served as a member of the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Advisory Committee, where I gained a better appreciation for the challenges that startups and small businesses face. All three experiences have shaped my appreciation for T2—the challenges and complexities as well as the wonderful opportunities.
What’s something about being involved with the FLC Board that has made an impression on you?
I’ve marveled at the professionalism and dedication of FLC Board members from a range of agencies over my decade of involvement. While turnover on the Board is a given because of FLC’s bylaws, the constant has been the caliber of people with whom I’ve had the chance to associate. They are smart, they are dedicated, and they are subject matter experts on many aspects of tech transfer. At the same time, I have found them to have broad perspectives, to think strategically, and—perhaps most importantly—to have fun. These are all volunteers with full-time day jobs—they do this because they want to, not because they have to.
What’s the most valuable thing that the NAC as a group brings to the FLC Executive Board?
I think it’s the independent nature of our advice. That’s what we do—offer advice—with none of our NAC members having a “dog in the hunt.” Therefore, we can give unvarnished perspectives that FLC leadership can take or leave. We always try to advise on matters of genuine interest to the FLC Executive Board, and we always try to do so in a respectful and constructive manner.
What do you wish more people knew about the NAC?
The NAC is a group of volunteers, just like the FLC Executive Board. Its members, all of whom are super-busy people, freely give their time, primarily because each of us believes in the value of the federal labs and the T2 mission. The quality of the NAC’s advice is directly proportional to the quality of its members, and I’m proud to say that our current members are rock stars in their own rights. Our collective experience covers the spectrum of large and small industries, venture capital, university T2, local and state government, public-private partnerships, other non-profit associations, government experience in multiple agencies, and more. We pride ourselves on being able to provide a multifaceted external stakeholder perspective in the interest of furthering the missions of the FLC and federal tech transfer.