Former US Secretary of Defense

Chuck Hagel

Leadership Exchange 2020 speaker session

Fireside chat: Leadership in uncertain times
Watch an intimate discussion with one of our nation’s leading voices on domestic and global issues. We take an in-depth, 360-degree look at the world today, including the interplay between global politics and US foreign policy on global markets, and the role of developing countries/emerging markets. We address the fate of democracy without bipartisan consensus and the future of America. Watch the video.


Chuck Hagel was the 24th Secretary of Defense, serving from February 2013 to February 2015. He is the only Vietnam veteran and the first enlisted combat veteran to serve as Secretary of Defense. Over his tenure, he directed significant steps to modernize America’s partnerships and alliances, advance the rebalance in Asia Pacific, bolster support for European allies, and enhance defense cooperation in the Middle East while overseeing the end of America’s combat mission in Afghanistan. In addition, he led major initiatives for service members and their families, including increasing resources for suicide prevention, combating sexual assault, and accounting for missing personnel. Further, Mr. Hagel improved partnerships with the Department of Veterans Affairs to include health record interoperability, service treatment record transferability, and continuity of mental health services and support. Mr. Hagel launched the Defense Innovation Initiative to better prepare the Pentagon for future threats, and enacted comprehensive reforms to the Nuclear Enterprise and Military Health system.

He is the author of the book America: Our Next Chapter, a straight-forward examination of the current state of our nation that provides substantial proposals for the challenges of the 21st century. Alan Greenspan says, “America: Our Next Chapter should be required reading;” former World Bank President James Wolfensohn declares the book, “a must read.” Journalist and author Tom Brokaw states, “this is a book for people who care about their country,” and General Colin Powell says that Hagel “writes with insight, expertise, authority, and with the credentials that come from his dedicated service in war and peace.”  Mr. Hagel was the subject of a 2006 book by University of Nebraska professor Charlyne Berens entitled Chuck Hagel: Moving Forward.

Prior to his election to the US Senate, Mr. Hagel worked in the private sector as the president of McCarthy & Co., an investment banking firm based in Omaha, Nebraska, and served as chairman of the Board of American Information Systems (AIS). Before joining McCarthy & Co., Mr. Hagel was president and chief executive officer of the Private Sector Council (PSC) in Washington, D.C.; chief operating officer of the 1990 Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations (G-7 Summit); and president and chief executive officer of the World USO.

In the mid-1980s, Mr. Hagel co-founded VANGUARD Cellular Systems, Inc., a publicly traded corporation. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Mr. Hagel to serve as deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration, a nomination unanimously confirmed by the US Senate. Mr. Hagel also served as deputy commissioner general of the US for the 1982 World’s Fair. From 1977 through 1980, Mr. Hagel was manager of government affairs for The Firestone Tire & Rubber Company in Washington, D.C. From 1971 to 1977, he was chief of staff to Congressman John Y. McCollister (R-Nebraska). In 1969, Mr. Hagel worked as a newscaster and talk show host with radio stations KBON and KLNG in Omaha, Nebraska.

Mr. Hagel served in Vietnam with his brother Tom in 1968. They served side by side as infantry squad leaders with the US Army’s 9th Infantry Division. He earned many military decorations and honors, including two Purple Hearts.

In the early 1990s, Mr. Hagel served on the Board of Trustees of Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust, and in the 1980s served as chairman of the $240 million Agent Orange Settlement Fund.

A fourth generation Nebraskan, Mr. Hagel was born in North Platte, Nebraska. He graduated from St. Bonaventure High School, Columbus, Nebraska; the Brown Institute for Radio and Television, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Mr. Hagel and his wife Lilibet have a daughter, Allyn, and a son, Ziller.