Alumni Spotlight: Peter Lawless

Jul 5, 2023

With two graduate degrees already achieved, a desire to grasp the most difficult element of the workplace (people) challenged a Navy officer to pursue further education in the human dimension of organizations

Peter Lawless, HDO Class of 2022, serves as Chief Financial Officer and Comptroller at the United States Marine Command, Blount Island. He holds masters’ degrees in both Accounting and Marketing, while having served in the Navy for 25 years. Obtaining very technical and quantitatve knowledge throughout his career, Peter was seeking to learn more about the most unpredictable, yet common element of all organizations – people. 

What attracted you to the HDO program?

PL: It actually all started with my daughter, who received her MA in Social Work from UT-Austin back in 2015. I remember walking around the campus in Austin and just being so impressed by the grounds and the facilities. The university has such a widely recognized and respected brand, I started looking into the programs they offer. Of course, my daughter told me “Dad, you’re out of your mind!” (Lawless already held Masters’ degrees in Accounting and Marketing) But I found the HDO Masters’ program was perfect because it covered the area that all the other programs don’t address-the people. It would address negotiation, motivations, conflict resolution, leadership in uncertainty, and it really ended up making me understand empathy, from both sides.

Already having received two Masters’ degrees, what inspired you to pursue a third degree?


PL: My first job out of college was with Proctor & Gamble and I noticed that most of my colleagues had not only gone to a lot of the top schools in the country, they also had MBA’s. I knew I would have to attend a program nearby, so I went to St. John’s University to get an MBA in Marketing. Later in my career, it became pretty crucial to have further education in Finance so I got a Master of Science in Accounting from SUNY-Old Westbury. After working both in Finance and serving in the Navy for 25 years, I realized I had both the technical and quantitative skills to do my job well, but I was missing the ‘people element’-and the human dimension of the workplace is the most difficult to grasp.

How do you think your HDO experience has impacted a generally strict environment like the military?


PL:I remember in John Traphagen’s class, he would always quote Voltaire, “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware those who find it.” If one of your employees comes to you and says they want a promotion and compares the amount of work they’re doing to another coworker, in the past I would’ve just started looking into it immediately with no follow up questions. Now, with my HDO education, I first ask, “well do they report to you? Do you know and understand their entire scope of work?” It takes more searching for the truth and the cause. I’ve been using the term “tactical patience”, especially in situations where it’s more beneficial to just take your foot off the gas and allow situations to fix themselves. Other situations require more action-but the knowledge of those two is very rare. I’m certainly more thoughtful in all my work.

As far as the military goes, the environment may be strict, but employees and soldiers are still human. Whenever human beings are present, there’s opportunity for imperfection and mistakes to be made. Sometimes when orders come down, a chance to ask thoughtful follow-up questions presents itself. Of course, this can’t always happen, but presenting different perspectives or thought processes to officers is appreciated and taken into account more often than one might think. 

I realized I had both the technical and quantitative skills to do my job well, but I was missing the ‘people element’-and the human dimension of the workplace is the most difficult to grasp” 

If someone was on the fence about pursuing a Master’s degree with HDO, what piece of advice would you give them?


PL: I’ll say just one thing, I wish I had obtained the HDO degree first before pursuing either my Accounting or Marketing degrees.


(1) Peter and his family attending his December 2022 graduation (2) HOOK ‘EM!

To find out more about HDO’s Master’s Program, visit us here