Leading with A Clear Vision! |Dr. Kathleen L. Kiernan | NEC National Security Systems

Dr. Kathleen L. Kiernan


" The ability to understand anomalous behavior, apply instrumentation and analytical exploitation to it is a large part of what we do at NEC."

NEC NSS was envisioned and designed by NEC to optimize its ability to deliver key capabilities and technologies to federal government customers across the homeland security, defense, and national security threat landscape. Working within a classified environment carries tremendous responsibilities and requires a seasoned team and an experienced leader with credibility in each of those communities. They have exactly that with Dr. Kathleen Kiernan or Dr. K to all who know her. 

Kiernan’s three decades of experience in federal law enforcement and her public-sector security expertise made her a natural choice to guide them into the future. As the industry grows and evolves, her visionary leadership will prepare NEC NSS for what’s coming around the corner. The relationships and trust that Dr. Kiernan has built over her career and her dedication to providing shared value to their communities and customers is a powerful combination.

When asked why NEC NSS, Dr. K immediately responded, “It was love at first sight for me, a new challenge with a global company that builds and fields the capabilities to protect those who protect us and operates with a clear vision and sense of mission.”

Dr. Kiernan is a dedicated public servant and still actively participates on several advisory boards and humanitarian initiatives that align with NEC’s goal of social value creation. She believes that digital solutions can address society’s most complex problems with technology and co-creation.

Overcoming barriers & becoming a Mentor

Having had multiple career opportunities in law enforcement, intelligence, academia, and the private sector, while being a student of history, Dr. Kiernan knows that barriers have always existed and have been overcome through an equally diverse set of circumstances: time; tenacity; persistence and resilience, and sometimes, even luck. “We are preceded by women (and men) who dared to challenge an existing status quo, not because of who they were but by what they wanted to contribute to the world,” she says. “That includes medicine, science, warfighting, firefighting, codebreaking, law enforcement, and intelligence to name just a few. These individuals were my heroes and my inspiration to make the choices I made and earn a seat even if it had been previously unavailable. Earning a seat and a voice that matters is very different than being entitled to either, in my opinion.”

For Dr. Kiernan, sometimes barriers were simply organizational traditions put in place at an earlier time. Changing them was looked at as a negative, not as a positive component for change. “I smile in reflection sometimes about colleagues in my early law enforcement career who were not keen about women on the job, who to this day send daughters and now even granddaughters to me for career advice and mentoring. That tells me we managed to get it right!”

The steadfast leader has influenced women in two very important ways: Modeling the behavior and pursuit of excellence our company stands for and values-driven leadership and mentoring. She led a recent mentoring event held in conjunction with Women’s History Month, bringing together over 125 women from graduate students to senior leaders to exchange best practices and build new mentoring relationships. 

Kiernan values engagement at every level, believing that engagement within our organization. With their customers, partners and suppliers yield the best possible solutions and minimize the predictable friction that inevitably occurs in the business world. She believes in and practices transparency and a communication style that is surprisingly candid and always transparent, and that has encouraged others to do the same, which results in a proactive business posture.

She and her team actively contribute to industry associations, public and private partnerships such as InfraGard National Members Alliance, and volunteer with and for the communities they serve.

Finding Success to become a Leader

Dr. Kiernan found elements of success in every single job she has have ever held, and it is because she learned something of value from each one that she carried to the next one. “I have had the great opportunity to work across the globe and witnessed that behavior always transcends culture. The ability to understand anomalous behavior, apply instrumentation and analytical exploitation to it is a large part of what we do at NEC. Technology should enable not impede safety, security or privacy-yet be robust enough to identify and mitigate early indications of threat. For NEC and NEC NSS, that is a continuing success, and how one can culminate into a good leader.”

She believes that the characteristics of a leader include:

  • Quiet competence.
  • Patience.
  • A willingness to be wrong.

The ability to develop and drive a values-based mission recognizes challenges as opportunities.

“I know that investing in your human capital (your team) has an invaluable ROI; that thinking together as a team ensures cognitive agility and allows us to respond to the complexities of the world, in law enforcement, intelligence, and business,” elucidates Dr. Kiernan. “I have had the opportunity throughout my career to understand the importance of being the first woman in several roles and the criticality of understanding how insignificant those achievements would be remembered if I were the last woman to earn the role. My best advice is that competence is the best tool for success.” Armed with such a unique ideology, Dr. Kiernan has taken the company to new heights.

Taking the Company Forward

NEC has an established track record of 122 years in technology design and development, innovation, and discovery. NEC NSS, while new, literally is supported by that cumulative knowledge and experience which has and continues to change the world. This includes identity and biometric technologies at the edge, anomaly detection, artificial intelligence, and machine learning applied to complex national security challenges and robust research and development investment. They partner with purpose and what that means in practice; they seek to work with small-cleared businesses and other large integrators to build the best and most scalable capabilities for the requirements of our customers. Their ability to bring in particularly small businesses provides each with an opportunity to gain qualifications for doing business with the federal government. Their work with other large businesses makes them better and more collaborative.

For the days to come, NEC NSS will continue to grow and expand its service to government customers, invest in its partnerships, and operate at a speed that anticipates emergent threats to safety and security, developing technology and services that protect those who protect them. “It is what drives my team and me every single day. This includes contributing to the complex global issues of human trafficking, homelessness, and the loss of identity and thus access to needed health and other services,” says Dr. Kiernan. 

“We see this as our obligation as technology leaders, but as importantly, as global citizens to build a safer world for the generations who will follow us. For me personally, continuing to grow, learn and give back through volunteer work I do with preparedness education for children and families and to raise awareness for research on breast cancer, a disease like many which do not discriminate,” explains Dr. Kiernan. “For the past two decades, I have been participating in the Susan G. Komen Walk for The Cure with a great team and we have vowed to keep walking until a cure is found or we are no longer physically able…we are still walking!”



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