On Board: My Life in the Navy, Government and Business 8

Paul Ignatius
2006, Naval Institute Press
Hardcover, 285 pp., $30

This small selection from the dozens of stories in On Board is in advance of the author’s appearances in Glendale, on Sunday, May 30, 2010 at 3 p.m. at the Glendale Central Library to talk about his book, and on Monday, May 31, 2010, 9:30 a.m. as Keynote Speaker of the Glendale Memorial Day Ceremonies.

Ignatius’ autobiography is a perspective on modern American history from a man who had a significant part in shaping deals between defense contractors and U.S. military clients during WWII and the Cold War, and went on to hold high posts in the newspaper and airline industries.

Born in Glendale in 1920 to parents of Armenian descent, Paul R. Ignatius graduated from Hoover High School as class president in 1938, went on to USC, then entered Harvard Business School’s industrial administration and war production program which included a military commission. After his WWII Navy service, Ignatius completed his Harvard MBA, established a consulting firm, and was appointed to Pentagon posts culminating with his service as Secretary of the Navy during the Johnson Administration. After Nixon’s election, Ignatius segued into managing the Washington Post, then heading the Air Transport Association.

Student of modern American history and the “military-industrial complex” will be fascinated by the stories of his career ladder climb, and the issues he faced at different steps. Some of his ruminations in the book:

On procurement of bombs for Vietnam operations:

I was appalled by the amount of ordnance we were expending on a rural country with no well-established industrial base. On more than one occasion, I spoke to Army Secretary Resor about the huge quantities of artillery ammunition…

On the F-111:

I found myself in the middle of an emotionally charged controversy that had grown in intensity over a period of many months…The climate was so hot that even if the F-111B were an excellent airplane-which it was not-the Navy wouldn’t have wanted any part of it.

Ignatius began a short stint as President of the Washington Post after Nixon took office. His memories of publisher Katherine Graham and his approach to changing newsroom technology (!) and union press workers, offer fascinating anecdotes for students of print journalism history.

On “the newspaper business”:

For roughly six decades, from around 1890 to the middle 1950s, there were no significant changes in the post-Civil War technology…a quick walk through the Post composing room showed what was beginning to happen.

…How fast should we move into the promising new world? Who in the managerial ranks should direct the effort? How could we be sure that the anticipated savings would be realized?

It was easier to pose questions than to find the right answers.

In 2010, the word “profit” would replace “savings” in that last question, but as with his earlier career stories the issues Ignatius faced and how he dealt with them are still instructive today.

Ignatius went on to head a trade group, the Air Transport Association, and while he eschewed a typical lobbyist’s approach, he chose the job because it offered an intellectual challenge:

ATA had to forge industry views on complex operational and safety issues…

Five major problem areas dominated my period of service: hijacking and airline security; the air traffic controllers’ strike; fuel cost increases arising from the Arab oil embargo in 1983 and the Iranian Revolution in 1979; the battle over airline deregulation; and the persistent shortages of airport and airways capacity.

The whole book is a fascinating account of a 20th-century first generation Armenian-American’s success in the military, government, and business.

Thanks to Hoover High School for its 1938 yearbook photos of the school and class president Paul Ignatius, taken from a PowerPoint presentation made for Ignatius when he visited three years ago:

Hoover High School 1938 blog photo

Ignatius Hoover Student Body blog photo

Paul Ignatius also wrote Now I Know in Part, a privately-published book about his childhood and youth.

8 thoughts on “On Board: My Life in the Navy, Government and Business

Comments are closed.