The August 2019 Blue Goose Five Questions feature, with France Hoang (The Office of White House Counsel, 2007-09)
France Hoang could compete for the title of “the most interesting man in the world.”
He is a veteran entrepreneur who has been on the founding teams of companies that have generated over $600 million of combined sales and employed over 1,200 professionals across the fields of law, aerospace, defense, government services, and artificial intelligence. He currently serves as Chief Strategy Officer of boodleAI, an AI company that helps nonprofits find new donors; is a partner at FH+H, a law firm with more than 25 attorneys in Tysons, Virginia; and serves as a Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at the U.S. Military Academy. From 2010-2018, he served as an executive at MAG Aerospace, helping lead the company’s growth from startup to over $325M in revenue.
France also has over 20 years of national security experience, with service in every branch of the U.S. Government. He served as Associate White House Counsel from 2007-09. Shortly after leaving the White House, France mobilized in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, where he served as the Executive Officer of a U.S. Army Special Forces Company on a combat deployment in Southeast Afghanistan. A West Point grad (top 1% of his class), France previously deployed to the Former Yugoslavia during Operations Joint Endeavor and Joint Guard. France was born in Saigon, left Vietnam “in a hurry” in 1975 before the age of 2, and was raised in Tumwater, Washington.
Q: Can you tell us about your new venture, boodleAI?
We’re at the start of yet another industrial revolution, which will change society as much as the assembly line did 100 years ago. But this revolution will be in intellectual, not manual, automation, and artificial intelligence will be a huge driver of that automation. Human-AI teams will transform society during our lifetime. boodleAI built an artificial intelligence engine that enables AI assistants to help nonprofit fundraisers find new donors (boodle.ai), help veteran political candidates raise contributions (adjutant.ai), and help commercial companies find more of the people they’re actively looking for (guidon.ai). I co-founded boodleAI because I believe that AI can help people connect to the causes they care about.
Q: You have had a fascinating career – from West Point and the U.S. Army, to the law, to the White House, then rejoining the Army and deploying to Afghanistan with Special Forces, and now as an entrepreneur. What have you learned about managing your career and making these important professional transitions?
All of my career decisions have been driven by one overarching desire: to serve and repay this amazing Nation for the opportunities it has given me. I am one of the 110,000 Vietnamese refugees evacuated by the U.S. at the end of the Vietnam War and I’m keenly aware of how different my life could have been.
My resume looks like I have professional ADHD. But I always pursued my passion for service, which includes periods of time when I prepared for future service and periods of time when I sacrificed to serve. When it comes to a professional life, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you tolerate, so have a very low tolerance for a professional life you’re unhappy with.
Q: Are there any lessons learned from being an entrepreneur that you’d like to share with your fellow BCAs?
One definition of entrepreneurship is the “pursuit of outcomes beyond the resources you control.” Under that definition, all of us trying to make a difference and create change are entrepreneurs. I firmly believe great entrepreneurs are driven by a desire to serve. Entrepreneurs serve by bringing to life something that they think can help others and they feel not just a desire but a need to build it. Lastly, reasonable people accomplish reasonable things, so if you want unreasonable things accomplished, you require unreasonable people. Successful entrepreneurs are often unreasonable people.
Q: The response to the upcoming BCA reunion has been incredible. What do you think it is about the shared experience of our service in the Administration that makes people want to reunite?
When people ask me what it was like to work in the White House, I ask them to imagine a place where everyone is the best at whatever it was they do and where everyone is putting their absolute best foot forward in the service of something greater than themselves. That’s the White House, multiplied by 365 days a year. Gathering together allows us to remember that special time and renew our faith that “we can do anything if we do it together” (to steal a quote from one of my heroes, William Knudsen.)
Q: Can you leave us with a favorite story from your time in the Administration, along with a leadership lesson that still serves you to this day?
Towards the end of the Administration, we had gathered several times in as many weeks to say goodbye to senior staff, each time with a sendoff and reception in the East Room. So it was no surprise when an announcement was made to gather once again. I walked to the East Room wondering which senior staff member we were farewelling that day. When the staff gathered, President Bush took the podium and announced that this gathering wasn’t to say goodbye to anyone but rather to celebrate all of us who were staying and to recognize us for the work we had done and continued to do for the American people. It was a surprising, humbling, and incredible thoughtful gesture by the President.
I think of that day often when I think about the culture of the organizations I’ve been a part of since the Administration. It reminds me that it’s important to give people the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the meaningful work they do and meaningful relationships they’ve created (to borrow from Ray Dalio).