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One of the great fortunes of any professional career is the great people one comes across. They are the people who lead in difficult situations; take on jobs few covet and regardless of the situation always have something positive to say. Such is the description of Mike Hickey, Verizon’s Vice President for Government Affairs and National Security Policy. After several years of serving in Washington, Mike has decided to do the unthinkable – he’s retiring to enjoy the good and great life he has earned for himself and his family.

For those of us fortunate enough to work with Mike, his professionalism, level-headedness and willingness to hear things out became the measure by which we would judge the leadership of various groups working in homeland centric areas. Besides his tremendously important portfolio at one of the nation’s pre-eminent communications infrastructure providers, Mike also held significant leadership roles with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s National Security Task Force and the NSTAC. Both of these groups are particularly notable given the seniority of the people involved, the issues they deal with, and policy and programmatic pronouncements they make. Regardless of whether it was these particular groups or some other type of organization or meeting he was involved, Mike became, for lack of a better description, one of those types described by the old television commercials for long gone financial firm, E. F. Hutton, “when he speaks, people listen.”

With Mike in charge, you could be assured that every voice would be heard at the table, it would most certainly be welcomed, and it was always respected.

Let’s face facts. There are very few people in Washington who are that inviting to real dialogue and are actually that nice. There are certainly people who go through the motions of being professionally cordial while pretending to facilitate different opinions, but in the end, you know they don’t really mean it. They are the fakers, and you certainly know them when you see them. There is no way Mike Hickey has ever been that person.

For those of us fortunate enough to work with him in the public and private sectors, you could be assured when you said something to Mike in confidence, it stayed that way. If you wanted a frank and honest opinion he would deliver it. Even if he had something critical to say, he never offered words with any of acerbic or pugnacious edge that others (like me) might offer.

Maybe it’s the native New Hampshire in him. I don’t know, but I do know Mike Hickey as the guy you wanted to have as your ally and partner on issues big and small. He has been one of the unsung heroes of improved private sector engagement on national and homeland security issues. He has never sought the limelight nor has he ever been one of those leaders whose ego or attitude was as big as his mouth.

Mike has had much to crow about, but that’s never really been his style. He’d rather have a conversation in the back of a room at a reception to tell you what he’s thinking or what he knows or to tell you how his beloved University of New Hampshire Wildcats are doing in their college football and ice hockey seasons. His obvious pride for his home state is actually infectious, but I have drawn the line when it comes to his devotion for his Tom Brady-led New England Patriots. There are just some bridges this native Western Pennsylvanian can never cross, and that by far is one of them!

The work Mike has done over the past years really makes him one of the iconic people in this first era of homeland security. Our nation is truly a better place for his leadership and for those of us privileged to work with him, we are also better for his example, counsel and friendship.

Congratulations Mike on the many jobs you have done so well and the ones we will drag you back into to serve in the future days.

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More