To the rest of the world, it was just another day. But Scott Lawler and his Combat Communications team, stationed on the ground in the Middle East, knew everything was about to change. Responsible for mission critical communications and IT equipment, they knew that the first strike would be a bomb launched from an F-117 stealth fighter over the AT&T building in downtown Baghdad—the hub that housed key Iraqi communications including the CNN feed. “We were watching CNN at the time,” he recounts today. “When the screen went static at 3:15 AM, we knew it was on. The fire and lightning of Operation Desert Storm was underway, destroying the Iraqi Army in only 17 days.”
Throughout his time in the U.S. Air Force first as enlisted and then as an officer, Scott encountered gut-wrenching and life-changing experiences witnessing individual sacrifices for the good of America. One of his airmen was a young mother with a three-month-old baby at home, and he can still remember the tears streaming down her face as she assured him that everything was okay, and she was going to do her job. “That memory is still vivid for me,” he says. “It reminds me every day that I need to get my job done, taking care of our cyber security clients no matter what.”
Now the Chairman and CEO of LP3, a premier cyber security firm serving government, private sector, and nonprofit clients, Scott is still motivated by the core mission of serving the country by protecting the Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense (DoD) from cyber attacks, breaches, and mission disruptions. As the peril of the internet environment continues to rise, Scott’s mission expanded to include American businesses, communities, and individuals. According to a recent Verizon study, 60 percent of small businesses that suffer a cyber attack are closed within six months—a catastrophe for everyone involved. “Most people never even realize the things that LP3 and companies like ours can do to protect their livelihood on a daily basis, but the mission is critically important for broader economic security, critical infrastructure protection, and national security,” he affirms.
LP3 was launched in 2004 by a system engineer friend. Scott joined the following year, bringing cyber security engineering expertise to the fledgling venture focused on services contracts for cyber security, mission system architectures, and cross-domain systems, even connecting sensitive military networks to the internet securely. Scott bought his partner out in 2006 and kept the business at around five employees for several years. “We were enjoying the niche market mission critical work we were doing, and the hassle factor was low,” he remembers. “We didn’t have to worry about things like recruiting, payroll, marketing, or culture. Being a small firm was fun, but around 2010, I decided to start growing it.”
With that, LP3 expanded scope to include cyber security across the Intelligence Community, adding more DoD, business, and nonprofit work. Now a multi-state team operating coast-to-coast, they work to secure the systems that protect, manage, and disseminate critical national security, as well as business critical, data. And, as traditional IT infrastructures advanced and modernized, they’ve pivoted their skill sets toward high-performance computing, cloud, automation, and wireless technologies ensuring clients have cyber resilience while under constant attack. “It’s important that we keep our mindset oriented toward innovation, continually refreshing our knowledge to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future,” Scott points out.
While the company’s growth has been steady, it has not been without challenges. Scott recently made the tough decision to close their commercial cyber security office in San Diego, relocating it to the DC area. “The office wasn’t being run well, and I should have intervened earlier than I did,” he remarks. “That was a lesson in trusting my gut as a leader. If something feels wrong, I learned that it’s important to act decisively and quickly. I have a habit of thinking the best of people and giving them the benefit of the doubt too long, but sometimes that’s just not in the best interest of the mission. I learned to listen to my gut and make faster business decisions.”
Now, as Scott looks to the future, he sees traditional passwords replaced with biometric and two-factor authentication. Fog computing, supported by Internet-of-Things-connected devices in the home and office, will augment data centers. Data mining and artificial intelligence are perhaps the greatest risks and yet least understood by the public, with large companies amassing an endless trove of detailed user information from advertisers and service providers. And, in the high-tech and often intimidating realm of cybersecurity, he sees the rise of many new firms emerging with newly minted cyber expertise trying to break into a hot market with weak capabilities that may not actually help clients reduce risk. This is a trend that makes an experienced firm like LP3 all the more important. “There is so much growth opportunity in this industry, both in the government and commercial sides. The cyber skills gap is real; there are so many people that need good, quality cyber help,” Scott says. “LP3 will continue to set itself apart with a deep, enduring commitment to integrity, technical expertise, and focus on the client’s mission delivering what we promise.”
While Scott’s passion for LP3’s mission stems from his career in military service, his fascination with technology is rooted in the days of his childhood.
While Scott’s passion for LP3’s mission stems from his career in military service, his fascination with technology is rooted in the days of his childhood. His father, a DoD civilian who worked on emergency communications for the Army, was also a ham radio operator, and would have Scott climb up trees to hang antennas high in the branches. “He could communicate with people all around the world,” Scott remembers. “It sparked my interest in communications.”
Scott was born in Seattle, Washington, but his mother died when he was only two years old, and his father left him in the care of his aunt in North Dakota for a year. His father then brought him to Maryland to join his new step mom, his brother, two step sisters, and a stepbrother.
When Scott’s father divorced and remarried, the family soon moved to Tallahassee, Florida, to a rural home on a large lot on a dirt road. He had a new step mom and two different step sisters then. Scott was eight years old by that time and grew up running around in the woods and swamps with his two dogs, Pete and Repeat. “There were bullfrogs, gators, deer, and wild hogs,” he remembers. “My home life wasn’t great, so I was outside all the time. I developed a deep appreciation for nature and really enjoyed the outdoors.”
Even as a kid, Scott was always interested in technology. He remembers taking off a piece of his older brother’s motorcycle out of curiosity, and always tinkered with his father’s tools. “Dad had a five-gallon metal bucket half-full of nuts and bolts,” Scott recalls. “I was more interested in playing with those pieces and parts than with any toys. I loved being creative and trying to understand how things work.” When he got a little older, he built an elaborate three-story tree fort with twelve-volt car battery lights, fans, and telephones in four different rooms.
A naturally gifted student, Scott coasted through high school getting good grades with minimal effort—until his Spanish teacher, Mrs. Cassels, pushed him to work harder to reach his potential. “She helped me realize I should do more than I was doing,” he recalls. His physics teacher, Mr. Durbin, was also especially impactful. “We’d roll a steel ball down a Hot Wheels track and measure how fast it was going,” Scott says. “Then we’d calculate where it was going to hit the floor, and our answers were spot on—pretty cool. I loved it and decided I wanted to become an engineer.”
When Scott was sixteen, he decided to move out of his family home, renting a room from a friend and supporting himself by getting a job at an Albertson’s Grocery store. There, he had several exceptional supervisors that taught him the importance of showing up and working hard. “Years later, when LP3 bid to do work for a large company that invited over thirty companies to compete on the proposal, we were one of only three companies to actually come in person,” Scott recounts. “Just showing up with a great attitude really does matter in life and business.”
Though neither of Scott’s parents went to college, he saw his peers preparing for higher education and decided it was something he wanted to pursue as well. When he realized he couldn’t afford it, he decided to enlist in the Air Force. He graduated from Lincoln High School seventeenth in his class of almost four hundred students, and in August of 1980, his military service commenced. “I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I decided to give it a try for a couple years,” he says. “I had no clue that I’d spend the next two decades serving my nation in uniform.”
Scott spent the next six years working on F-15s as an avionics technician. It was an expansive education in the world of avionics, computers, radios, digital electronics, communications, high-powered radar, refrigeration equipment, optics, and more. He also served in Germany, where his roommate happened to be devoutly Christian. “I had always had some faith, but it started to really sink in that Christ was my true purpose and direction,” he says. Scott also began writing letters back and forth with his high school sweetheart, Debbie. She came to visit in Germany, and when he returned to the states, they married.
At the urging of some insightful Air Force leaders, Scott began taking classes at community colleges wherever he was stationed. With a solid 4.0 GPA, he applied to the Airman’s Education and Commissioning Program, a highly competitive Air Force scholarship for enlisted airmen. He didn’t make it the first time, but he applied again and landed the scholarship that would transform him from enlisted to a commissioned officer. He spent three years at Texas A&M, where he earned his degree in electrical engineering with a specialty in digital systems. When he graduated in 1989, he enrolled in Officer Training School, where he was chosen to be the student Wing Commander. “I don’t really understand why they picked me, because I had never thought of myself as an out-front leader,” he says. “I believe in the inverse pyramid theory of leadership, where it’s my job to support all the people that are actually getting the real work done.”
As an officer, Scott was able to lead enlisted airmen very effectively and insightfully because he had been one himself. When he knew they were capable of more, he called them out on it, expecting and getting excellence. He spent four years stationed at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, serving on multiple deployments across the Middle East and in other locations, which was difficult for Debbie. “While in Combat Communications, I was on four-hour standby for worldwide deployment, and Debbie would cringe whenever I got a phone call from work,” he says. “I’d be gone for a year at a time when we had two small kids. It was really hard on her and the kids, but she was incredible. Not only did she take care of herself and our kids, but she stepped up and took care of the families of the people that worked for me. Some of their spouses didn’t know how to write a check, start a mower, or hire a plumber. To her credit, Debbie took care of not only our family but others, too, even as she struggled herself.”
As the enterprise communications engineer working connections for 33 bases around the Southwest Asia theater for Desert Storm, Scott was charged with setting up telecom and computer networking capabilities for an Air Force wing in the middle of nowhere within 72 hours. “That was a very rewarding leadership environment for me, and there were so many instances where teamwork and creativity came to bear,” he recalls. “We once had to borrow the United Arab Emirates king’s cherry picker to string up fiber around a base. Another time, we had to lay a long copper cable run but didn’t have a trencher, so I arranged for a team of 30 local laborers with shovels to bury it, singing while they worked…which got me teased all over the base.”
“It’s not about your rank, your job, or whether you have a corner office. It’s about whether your people respect you, and whether you can motivate them to complete the mission.”
Through his service, Scott’s identity as a leader was forged in the trenches alongside his team. In one instance, one of his Air Force enlisted Staff Sergeants was responsible for leading a 20-person team in deploying a large computerized telephone switch. When an Army team of 37 people showed up with the exact same piece of equipment and an Army Captain in charge, the two team leaders began butting heads. It fell to Scott to referee between them, and Scott was struck by the conduct and competency of the Staff Sergeant. “It was one of those really interesting learning moments reinforcing that leadership isn’t a title,” he remarks. “It’s not about your rank, your job, or whether you have a corner office. It’s about whether your people respect you, and whether you can motivate them to complete the mission. My Staff Sergeant was a very capable person, and I really respected how he handled himself gracefully and professionally in that very challenging and confrontational situation. It was an important leadership lesson for me taught by someone junior to me.”
In another instance, Scott was the lieutenant responsible for setting up a satellite dish. He still remembers how one of his very junior enlisted airmen came up and let him know he had pointed the dish in the wrong direction. When Scott double-checked, he found that the youngster was right. “I was so grateful that I had created a culture of respect and openness so that this young kid was willing to come up and tell me, the site commander, that I was wrong,” Scott explains. “Even though I screwed up, I felt good about that, from a leadership perspective, because we were able to fix it and make things work. It reinforced my belief that listening is one of the most important attributes of leadership that I need to always remember and improve. I’ll never forget that.”
Always an encouraging and supportive leader, Scott spent his time in the military building people up and encouraging them to grow. Later in his career, his unit purchased a large 30’ by 40’ American flag that they’d hang up on radio masts for reenlistment ceremonies. Enlisted airmen get to choose who conducts their ceremonies, and many men and women chose Scott to reenlist them—a huge honor. Scott, too, received his share of recognitions, most notably the prestigious Company Grade Officer of the Year Award from the 5th Combat Communications Group. He’s most proud, however, of a different Company Grade Officer of the Year Award he received from some of the people in his unit. With their own hands, they fashioned a simple wooden shield with a 2-foot wooden tent stake and a satellite radio handset, like a telephone handset, with a curly green wire antenna stuck on top of the stake. “They put time into making it for me, so it means more to me than any of the other fancy store-bought awards that I received over the years,” Scott affirms.
Among the most poignant moments of his career, however, came when he decided to retire after 21 years of service. By that time, he worked on communications architectures and cyber security across all Air Combat Command bases. Later, he stood up and worked on the DoD Computer Emergency Response Team at the Defense Information Systems Agency, as well as the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations (JTF-GNO) team that later became the core of USCYBERCOM. Considering retirement, he knew that if he stayed in service, he would have had to move his two high-school-age children several more times before they went to college, which would be horrible for them after finally getting settled down. “Take care of my flag,” he said during his retirement speech, referring to the big flag that had meant so much during the many reenlistment ceremonies he had performed. The remark drew up a well of emotion, and he wept as he walked out as a Major in August of 2011.
When Scott transitioned from military to civilian life, his greatest struggle was confronting the reality that not all leaders are good at what they do. When given a choice between good and bad, they don’t always do the right thing, and they don’t always know how to manage people well. He came face-to-face with this during one business venture for schools with a partner that turned out to be a very controlling micromanager. “It was a great business opportunity at the time, but because of his lack of leadership skills, it failed–a hard lesson to learn.” Scott says.
Fortunately, Scott’s Christian faith gave him the wisdom and grace to confront the decisions that led him there, and to make the tough decisions required to move forward. “Through trials and tribulations, I’ve learned to rely on my faith a lot more,” he says. “Christ gives me a proper lens to organize my priorities in life, family, and business. Even in battlefield situations, when things were very stressful, I could look around and tell who the Christians were just by the peace that was obvious on their faces. The more stressful the situation got, the more obvious it was. I see that in the business world too. God is everywhere. I just have to remember to take a breath and acknowledge it.”
After retiring, Scott took a job at Veridian, where his cybersecurity division grew 40 percent amidst the dotcom bust. They were then acquired by General Dynamics, where Scott stayed on as CTO with a nice top-floor corner office. Despite the perks, he hated the job. “I was just making PowerPoint slides about other people’s PowerPoint slides and arguing with people over spreadsheets all day,” he recalls. “I was insulated from reality, too far removed from the real challenges of real customers with hard missions. I wanted to get back to a place where I could dive in and get my hands dirty again. I found that chance in LP3. It’s clear to me now, that’s where I’m supposed to be.”
“Keep learning, reading, and observing, and make time to reflect and absorb those lessons. And, most importantly, act on them,” he says.
In advising young people entering the workforce today, Scott underscores the importance of finding a mentor and learning leadership through observation, education, and experience as they work through professional challenges. He builds up his own professional repertoire in this way as a member of Vistage International, a CEO and executive peer coaching program. “Keep learning, reading, and observing, and make time to reflect and absorb those lessons. And, most importantly, act on them,” he says.
“I also learned that leadership isn’t perfect. I make mistakes and others make mistakes that affect me. But, with prayer and confidence in God, I get myself up, dust myself off, and move forward. Sometimes it’s hard,” he says; “leadership is sweat equity in the mission, caring about people, persistence, and grit.”
Beyond that, Scott reminds every American to remember the blessing of each breath we’re lucky enough to breathe on American soil. “The flag means so much to me because it symbolizes the fantastic opportunities we have here in this country,” he says. “So few Americans have traveled outside the U.S. to really realize the greatness and freedom of our nation. But in serving overseas, I met so many people who didn’t have a tenth of the opportunity we have. Consider it, recognize it, make the most of it, and thank God for it.”