When he talks about George Mason University, Horace Blackman, BA American Studies and English ’93, is undeniably enthusiastic. “It's exciting to see what the future holds,” he said. “It's exciting to see the next 10 years, much less the next 50 years.”
Blackman is in one of the best positions to witness—and shape—that future. This alumnus of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences was elected to the role of George Mason University’s rector by the Board of Visitors in July, after serving as vice rector for the past two years.
Blackman is the Senior Vice President and Business Unit Leader at CGI, a multinational information technology and systems integration company that is one of the largest IT and business consulting firms in the world. He leads the Defense, Intelligence, and Space Business Unit within CGI Federal, a role that follows on a career built on leadership in complex systems and industries. Through his work at CGI, Cognizant, Leidos, Lockheed Martin, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he has wielded his expertise in information technology to deliver digital business, digital operations and digital systems and technology to commercial healthcare payers, government, and public health programs.
How does a Mason graduate with two humanities degrees find himself leading a series of vital functions in major global information technology firms? Very intentionally, and with a knack for asking questions and appreciating new opportunities.
“I originally came to Mason thinking I was going to be a business or an economics major,” he recalled. “What drew me to become an American studies major and get into, at the time, the College of Arts and Sciences? I had a number of professors who were very well schooled in the classics, which give you a fundamental education. It got me to think, got me to learn, got me to expand my horizons, got me to experience things I’d never experienced before.”
Upon graduation, 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. It was “one of the defining opportunities of a lifetime,” he said, “the sort that takes me to this very day. I went to work for a small company that no one had ever heard of at the time, in an industry that no one had heard of.
“I went to work for AOL.”
America Online, of course, didn’t stay unknown for long. One of the earliest pioneers of internet service, by the mid-1990s, AOL had nearly three million users. Blackman was employee number 485. Within a few years, when he left the company to attend business school, the company had grown to 7,000 employees and was celebrating five million users online.
At AOL, said Blackman, “I learned about building a business. I learned a lot about 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.”
Blackman earned his MBA from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and went to work in commercial consulting, where his education plus his hands-on experience set him up for success. “We had major clients who I felt I brought a lot of value, not just because I had an MBA from a top school but because I had done something; a lot of them were just trying to figure out how to do this thing called the internet.”
His consulting work led him to responsibilities in the healthcare field, and, following a large restructuring project within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he joined the department 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, a recognition of achievement and advancement in service to the federal government.
As he moved through his career, Blackman was inspired to play a leadership role at Mason. He was nominated to the Board of Visitors by then-Governor Terry McAuliffe in 2017 and reappointed in 2021 by then-Governor Ralph Northam. These have been busy years for the board, including 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.”
He appreciates the energy of Mason’s leadership and its commitment to the university’s growth. “Everybody feels, acts, and behaves as if they have a personal stake in the success of Mason… If you told me when I was a student that we would be an R-1 university at this point in time, that we would have almost 40,000 students, that we would have accomplished all the things we've accomplished as university, that we would the epicenter that is fueling to growth within Northern Virginia? It would be a tough thing to believe. But here we are.”
And he sees the value of his foundation in the humanities. “The biggest advantage I have is I approach every situation as someone who has a thirst for knowledge and someone who is thinking and learning. The day you don't learn is a day you didn't really grow. And I got that from my time at Mason.
“Coming in as a humanities major, it gives you the opportunity to be able to do anything, because if you learn how to think, you learn how to learn and understand critical reasoning and analysis skills, you have the ability to apply those in any number of situations.
“The ideas come from creative people,” he continued. “That’s the one constant I learned in my career: the people who can think can have great ideas and can actualize their ideas.”
December 16, 2022