As an undergraduate at George Mason University, Horace Blackman thought he would major in business or economics, but he soon changed his mind.
“I had a number of professors who were very well schooled in the classics, which gives you a fundamental education,” said the newest rector of Mason’s Board of Visitors. “It got me to think, got me to learn, got me to experience things I’d never experienced before.”
Upon graduation in 1993 with bachelor’s degrees in American Studies and English, Blackman paired his love of learning with his interest in business and worked in commercial banking. But he was soon drawn to an unconventional path.
In “one of the defining opportunities of a lifetime,” Blackman went to work for a small unknown company in an industry that no one had heard of.
“I went to work for AOL,” he said.
Blackman was employee number 485 at America Online, which, of course, didn’t stay unknown for long. Working at one of the earliest pioneers of internet service, Blackman says his time at AOL taught him about building a business and technology.
“I was not an engineering major, not a computer science major, but I found myself, two years later, giving speeches and telling rooms full of folks what the internet was about and how this business was going to work,” he says.
Blackman went on to earn an MBA from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and work in commercial consulting, where he was elected as rector of Mason’s Board of Visitors in July, after serving as vice rector for the past two years. His education, plus his hands-on experience, set him up for success with clients. “A lot of them were just trying to figure out how to do this thing called the internet.”
His consulting work later expanded to the health care field, and he eventually joined the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to manage and grow its IT initiatives. For his work, he was named a 2014 Federal 100 Award winner by Federal Computer Week and GovExec.
These days, Blackman is senior vice president and business unit leader at CGI, one of the world’s largest IT and business consulting firms. He’s also using his leadership skills at his alma mater. He was elected as rector of Mason’s Board of Visitors in July, after serving as vice rector for the past two years. Since his 2017 appointment, he has helped lead Mason through a presidential search, a global pandemic, and major social upheaval.
“It’s been an incredibly transformational four-and-a-half-year run,” said Blackman. “I have learned a lot.”
The foundation for his success in all ventures, he said, is his thirst for knowledge. “The day you don't learn is a day you didn't really grow. I got that from my time at Mason.”
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