The many proud men and women of the U.S. military branches who, on a daily basis, go out and defend their country against those that would threaten or harm it, can count themselves lucky that Duane Piper and Silverback7 are on the team.
Now the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Silverback7, a defense company dedicated to providing training and exercise development and intelligence analytics (providing highly skilled subject-matter experts to intelligence agencies) for Special Operations units of the U.S. military and the intelligence community, Duane’s years of hard work and dedication have paid off.
“Coming from a family of modest means I learned what it meant to work for the things that you need,” Duane continues, “What that taught me is that if you’re willing to work for it, it’s out there. You just have to be willing to work. Sometimes you may have to sacrifice but if you do those things and are committed to it, you can have it.”
Silverback7 was founded in 2005 by retired Lieutenant Colonel Steven Lahr and Seargent Major Steven Wade, who are described by Duane as patriots who would do anything for their country. Lieutenant Colonel Lahr served 26 years and Seargent Major Wade served 28 years in the Army, crossing paths in the same unit at the latter part of their careers.
After retiring from the Army, both Lahr and Wade, along with five other men from their unit, were sitting around a table one day, discussing ideas for starting a business. When the time came to discuss a name for the business, the men all agreed to utilize the nickname from their days in the unit when they called the older, more seasoned and mature men on the team, ‘silverbacks’. As there were seven of them sitting around the table, the name Silverback7 was coined.
Thus Silverback7 was born, but as the company began to grow, Lahr and Wade realized that they needed seasoned help to continue growing and maturing the business. Originally hired as the Executive Vice President and Director of Business Operations, Duane intended to do just that.
“They woke up one day and suddenly the company was at $3.5 million and they didn’t know where it came from. They had the foresight to realize that the business would keep growing and they needed to have a business infrastructure, but they had no point of reference; no experience ever having done that. They realized that they needed someone with a business perspective to come in and take the helm for that piece of the business and build an effective, scalable infrastructure and then manage this portion of the business. That’s what I was hired to do.”
Though he is now quite clearly the epitome of success, Duane’s modest beginnings and early stage poor scholastic performance could have easily derailed his accomplishments.
Born in the small, two exit town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Duane lived with his mother who was the paralegal for the town’s well-known criminal attorney and his father who sold heavy construction equipment. At the age of seven, Duane’s parents divorced and he and his older brother moved, with their mother, into their grandmother’s home.
After living with their mother for several years, Duane and his older brother decided to go live with their father instead. As a travelling salesman, this meant a lifestyle filled with frequent moves and over the course of the next six years, Duane attended five different schools in four different towns.
“We would go into a new school and spend time getting to know somebody and then right about the time we were gelling and becoming friends, we would find that it was once again time to move. So I think that kind of hardened me some, to how quickly I warm up to folks.”
Though it may take him some time to open up to new people, once Duane has had the opportunity to get to know someone, and call them friend, he becomes deeply invested.
“While I like to think I’m a pretty friendly guy, I don’t open myself up too easily to new relationships. Once I get to know somebody over time, I take those relationships and friendships very personally. I hold them very deeply.”
The multiple moves and lack of having a significant role model or mentor in his life began to have an impact on Duane’s school life. While attending high school, Duane began to falter. His lack of self-discipline was reflected in his grades over the last few years of high school.
Duane recalls, “I was a fairly good student until I hit the 10th, 11th and especially the 12th grade – when I got ridiculously lazy. My wife went to the same high school, she was a sophomore when I was a senior, and she likes to say there should be a plaque somewhere in the high school that says, ‘the guy who was most unlikely to succeed’ with a picture of what I have done since then.”
When it came time for Duane to apply to colleges, he believed that he would get accepted to every school. When he didn’t, Duane enrolled at the local junior college but after two years, he was asked to leave.
“I just didn’t go to class,” Duane explains, “for example in one of my business management courses, the first day of class that I attended was the last day of the class. There were only two tests in the class (the mid-term and the final) and they said the mid-term was optional so I only came in to take the final. I got a B on the test, but they failed me because I didn’t come to class.”
Duane’s parents were very disappointed that he continued to not apply himself and when he was called into the Dean’s office and was told that he was no longer a student there, his parents became quite angered. This anger led to an ultimatum – get a job or go into the military, but either way, Duane had to move out.
“Frankly, the reason I went into the military was because my dad came home and said, ‘You’re going to get a job or you’re going to go in the military, but you’re going to do something – because you’re getting out of my house.’ I just thought the military would be the lesser of two evils, so I went and signed up for the Air Force and two weeks later I was gone.”
Duane received a wakeup call when he wanted to sleep at 3:00 AM after arriving in San Antonio, Texas for basic training. His drill sergeant had another idea.
“I remember showing up in San Antonio as a scraggly hair civilian and I had a drill sergeant in my face like all those stereotypical drill sergeants depicted in the movies and he kept me up for what seemed like 24 hours straight because I just wasn’t listening to what he wanted me to do.”
This time was life changing, and after that, a fire was lit under Duane that could not be put out. He credits his time in the Air Force as teaching him about commitment and loyalty and as being one of the best things that he’s done in his life.
During his time in the Air Force, Duane served as a nuclear missile technician and then a warranted procurement official. Though he never went overseas, Duane’s military career was exceptional, with a rapid path of promotion that created a situation where he found himself unable to advance further within a subsequent round of reenlistment.
“I was an enlisted guy and I made Staff Sergeant in just under 3 years and put the stripes on my sleeve in under 4 years, which in my particular career field was considered well below the average line for promotion. But what that meant was that when it was time to re-enlist, there was zero chance for promotion within the next term of enlistment. It would have been mathematically impossible for me to get promoted.”
During his six years in the Air Force, Duane continued his college education and once he left, he worked full-time and took classes part-time, completing his undergraduate degree in Business Administration within two years. Gone was the underachieving young kid who did not wish to work hard and in his place was a self-motivated, disciplined man ready to take on the world.
Making the Dean’s List in his last years pursuing his baccalaureate degree, Duane then obtained a Master’s in Business Administration from the Keller Graduate School and has been fine tuning his education at the University of Virginia’s Darden School by way of its executive education program.
“Now, I believe very strongly in the power of education, whether it is formal or self-study. I encourage everyone that wants to learn something new to get a book and read about it and to apply it to their life. Education is so important…”
After leaving the Air Force, Duane went to work for a small company for two years. When the business was taken over by another larger conglomerate, Duane chose not to stay with them.
“This was my entrance into big business, and when I jumped back into Government Procurement, just on the commercial side. But things didn’t go so well and through a recommendation I got an interview with SAIC and the FBI. I was offered a position with both organizations and I chose SAIC.”
Duane worked with SAIC for almost ten years, making his way up the ranks, and during that time he served as a business lead for an operating division that was comprised of all retired military. There he met the younger brother of his now CEO at Silverback7 and the two soon became close colleagues and friends.
Duane was asked as a favor to assist the newly formed Silverback7 with some of the broader business-related issues that arose as they were just starting the company. Though he was working full-time with SAIC, Duane would assist where and when he could as they came up against business tasks that they didn’t know how to complete.
Shortly thereafter, Duane was recruited by the staff of a retired major general who he had worked with earlier in his career. The general was working for a company called General Dynamics Information Technology and he asked Duane to join them as the Vice President for Contracts and Ethics. At first Duane said no, as he didn’t have the interest in leaving a P&L role for a return to an administrative staff position, but after several meetings and some persuasive final discussion with the general, Duane agreed to the move.
After working for General Dynamics for a year and a half, Duane was approached by Silverback7 to take an equity position as one of its corporate leaders and board members and the rest is history.
Despite his slow start, Duane Piper has blazed a path to the finish. Dedicated and steadfast with an allegiance to country and those he calls friend, Duane proves that discipline, hard work, and loyalty can take you all the way. Whether it’s on the back nine or helping those on the front lines, Duane Piper demonstrates his commitment to our country; showing us all that the start doesn’t always dictate the finish.