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Brian Erickson, SFMBA ’21

Captain Brian Erickson, SFMBA ’21, joins Christopher Reichert, MOT ’04, to talk about his career from a 17-year-old service member in the Coast Guard to its first Chief Data Officer. Capt. Erickson explores leadership and innovation in a 233-year-old organization. 

He talks about growing up in a small town in Washington State, the opportunities, and experiences of serving in the U.S. Coast Guard for over 30 years. He’s been an engineer and pilot, and had participated in the rescue of over 35 people. 

Just before Sloan, Capt. Erickson was a budget reviewer for Coast Guard headquarters operational capabilities offices and was responsible for program requests for $1.3B and over 14,000 personnel. He was Commanding Officer of a 110-member Coast Guard Air Station serving the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and North Florida, before being selected for the MIT Sloan Fellows program in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic.  

Capt. Erickson has some great insights into leadership and innovation as he reflects on his time at MIT Sloan and what it takes to succeed in ever-increasing positions of responsibility, leading to his current role as inaugural Chief Digital Officer for the U.S. Coast Guard.  

Capt. Erickson can be reached on LinkedIn and welcomes talking with alumni, and prospective students. 

Sloanies Talking with Sloanies is a conversational podcast with alumni and faculty about the MIT Sloan experience and how it influences what they're doing today. Subscribe and listen on Apple Podcasts, Google, and Spotify.

Christopher Reichert: Welcome to Sloanies Talking with Sloanies, a candid conversation with alumni and faculty about the MIT Sloan experience and how it influences what they're doing today. So what does it mean to be a Sloanie? Over the course of this podcast, you'll hear from guests who are making a difference in their community, including our own very important one here at Sloan.  

Hi, I'm your host, Christopher Reichert, and welcome to Sloanies Talking with Sloanies. My guest today is Captain Brian Erickson, Chief Data Officer for the U.S. Coast Guard. Welcome, Brian. 

Brian Erickson: Hey, Christopher. Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to be here. 

Christopher Reichert: So excited to talk to you. So before we start, let me give some background to our audience. Brian was born in Port Townsend, Washington state on the beautiful Puget Sound, right? 

Brian Erickson: Yes. Yeah, I miss the mountains living on the East Coast. 

Christopher Reichert: So Brian has a 30-year career in the U.S. Coast Guard, starting out as a service member. He's been an engineer and pilot. I mean, so if you've ever seen any of those crazy rescue videos of a helicopter fighting a storm over our roiling sea, lifting someone up in a basket, Brian was the pilot of one of those beasts, right? 

Brian Erickson: That's right. That's right. Yeah. One of many heroes out there that are doing that every single day across the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico. But I did, when I was a younger pilot, I was able to, do a couple of rescues myself. 

Christopher Reichert: It's great. So just before Sloan, Brian was a budget reviewer for the Coast Guard Headquarters Operational Capabilities Office and was responsible for reviewing program requests of over 1.3 billion and over 14,000 personnel. Brian was the commanding officer of a 110-member Coast Guard Air Station, serving the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, quite a large territory, before being selected for the MIT Sloan Fellows program in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. And I want to touch on that remote experience with you shortly. So after Sloan, Brian was appointed the first Chief Data officer of the United States Coast Guard. So again, welcome Brian. 

Brian Erickson: Thank you so much, Christopher. And like I said, I'm just really excited to be here talking with other Sloanies. 

Christopher Reichert: So, did I miss anything? Oh, I did miss one thing—you've been responsible for or assisted in saving 35 lives and have over 5,000 hours of flight time, half private, half in the Coast Guard. Right? 

Brian Erickson: Yeah, that's exactly right. Yeah. Throughout my career, a number of opportunities for a bunch of different air stations where search and rescue was, was really the primary mission set that we were conducting. And then, yeah, I'm a general aviation enthusiast as well. I kind of got that from my father. 

Christopher Reichert: Oh, that's so fun. That's kind of one of my dreams is to say, “Hey, let's go to North Carolina today,” and you go and off you fly and three hours later you're there, right? 

Brian Erickson: Exactly. Yeah, it's great. It's great. 

Christopher Reichert: So before we start the conversation, and just for context and since I love American history, I just want to give some stats on the Coast Guard. It was created by Congress in 1790 at the request of Alexander Hamilton, which I love. It's the oldest continuously operating naval service in the U.S. It's the largest and most powerful coast guard in the world, and it rivals the capability and size of most navies of other countries. There are 40, almost 45,000, active duty personnel and 7,000 reservists, and the motto is Semper Paratus, which is a Latin phrase, meaning “always ready”. So Captain, are you "apparatus" for this podcast? 

Brian Erickson: I am. I am today. And that's a pretty good summary. Chris, you do tremendous homework. 

Christopher Reichert: So tell us about what made you join the Coast Guard. 

Brian Erickson: Well so I was growing up in Port Townsend, lived there my whole youth. And it was a small town. I had friends, a great family, and I was a little bit bored though. I didn't want to stay in the town. And at the time, I had a couple of friends that were at the Coast Guard and I said, well, tell me a little bit more about that. So I started to research it. I actually, my senior year of high school, I was able to kind of like intern at the Coast Guard Station. There was a local 82-foot patrol boat in my town, and I was able to go down there and just learn about it. And I got excited about it, and I ended up enlisting in the Coast Guard and going off to Bootcamp when I was 17 years old, my mom actually had to sign for me because I wasn't a legal adult yet. So in order for me to say, yes, I'm willing to serve my country, I had to have my mom sign me in. 

Christopher Reichert: One of the things that I think about when I think of the Coast Guard is the humanitarian aspect that's built into the mission. Curious why you didn't join, say, the Navy or Air Force for that matter, given, your flight interest?

Brian Erickson: Yeah, no, all of those services interested me very, very much. I do, and as I've grown over 30 years, I have massive amounts of respect for the Air Force, the Navy. Throughout my career, I've served probably closest with the Navy and Marine Corps, and then maybe just a little bit later in my career starting to have peers that I depend on and work with throughout the other armed forces—Air Force, Space Force, et cetera. Army as well. Port Townsend is a coastal city. We're in the maritime environment.  

There's a wooden boat festival that Port Townsend is known for, so there's just a lot of maritime activity there, and certainly growing up around that probably gave me some thoughts about the Coast Guard that I didn't even know at the time. But like you kind of pointed out, the Coast Guard has this kind of humanitarian mission, but the Coast Guard does a lot of things, I think that people don't even know. 

We are a member at all times, one of the armed forces, one of the six armed forces, some people don't even know, that we are a member of the intelligence community. We are a law enforcement agency. We are a regulatory agency, and we have very, very broad authorities across the U.S. but also internationally. And like you said, there's a humanitarian and really a safety and security mission that we do both locally and abroad. So the Coast Guard has 11 statutory missions from Congress. Those include the ones that you're very familiar with, which would be search and rescue, drug enforcement aids to navigation, but also we do ice-breaking. It was a mission, both international, domestic, we ensure the free flow of commerce. 

Christopher Reichert: That's amazing. Yeah, I think if I was on my sailboat capsizing, I would love to see one of your Hercules helicopters over me. If I was drug running, perhaps not so much, right? 

Brian Erickson: Exactly. 

Christopher Reichert: So you started as a service member, and, just kind of thinking back over the last 30 years, at what point did you, I'm not entirely familiar with that sort of hierarchy of titles and whatnot. So the service member, would that be some non-office type of role?

Brian Erickson: Well, no, we consider ourselves service members. Any active duty we all consider ourselves service members. But yes, we, I actually started, enlisted and then I became an officer. And so, let me tell you a little bit about that transition. Kind of a little bit of a funny story. I went to basic training when I was 17 years old and back in 1992, and I was assigned, my first ship was Coast Guard Cutter Seahawk out of Key West, Florida. So I show up down there at nighttime. I'm 18 years old and I don't know anybody. I get on this base, never been here. I've never been to Florida, and now I'm going to be stationed at the very tip of it, as far away as you can get from Port Townsend, Washington, the complete other corner of the nation. 

And the young petty officer checks me in, and he walks me at one in the morning to this room where there's two other guys sleeping. He said this is where you will live. And so he's like, your ship is underway. They'll be back in two days and you will join your crew when they get back. They're out serving, and they were conducting migrant interdiction operations as there was a kind of heavy flow at the time from Cuba. For a couple of days I kind of shadowed these guys and start to get my bearings and get my sea legs, and I show up down there in Key West and I meet my ship and I start to serve on the ship. Well, by Christmas, I got this letter in the mail that said, "Hey, your ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) scores were high enough, you might be a possible candidate to the Coast Guard Academy. You should apply."

So, it was just a one-page letter, it was a recruiting letter for enlisted service members to try to apply for the academy. And so I called my mom, I was like, "Hey, should I do this?" And she, I mean, she almost reached through the phone and grabbed my throat, "yes, absolutely, you should do this!" And so I did the application and I had to go do my SATs, I had to get a physical, did all these steps. And then eventually they said, "Hey, you are not going to make it to the academy this year, but we could send you to this prep school called Naval Academy Prep School." So I did that for a year, and then I went to the Coast Guard Academy for four years, and you commission as an Ensign, an officer. 

And so that was kind of, that is not the standard path. There's only about, I mean, we graduated with maybe about six people that graduation year that had gone that path. So, every academy year only has a few prior-enlisted members that will, that will make it through the four years and then graduate and serve out some time. And I am now the last person in my class who was a prior enlisted member and still serving on duty. And, I mean, I'm so old that I'm actually, I think I'm the last person in the Coast Guard that served on that class of ships that I went to when I was 18 years old, these ships were decommissioned about two years after I got there. So there isn't a lot of sailors left in the Coast Guard that served on the surface effect ship down in Key West. 

Christopher Reichert: That's amazing. Yeah, I guess it's like in computer language, I'll be like, oh, you were on a mainframe, right? 

Brian Erickson: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I'm definitely a green screen guy and not a color monitor. 

Christopher Reichert: So you're a captain now, and I think the next step is what, Rear Admiral?

Brian Erickson: Yes, yes, yes. Very tough step to get to. 

Christopher Reichert: So you went through the Coast Guard Academy and then you also went to Purdue am I right for a Masters… 

Brian Erickson: That's correct, yes. 

Christopher Reichert: Aeronautics and Astronautics. Wow. 

Brian Erickson: Yes, yes. Yeah. Great experience at Purdue, and many of our officers along their career path will have the opportunity to apply to, we call it graduate school, and then also further apply to senior service school, which is the opportunity that I had with MIT. So once you get that education, of course they want to use that education. The Coast Guard paid for it. The Coast Guard should gain value from that. So I was assigned after Purdue, to the Aviation Logistics Center as the C130 product line engineer. So, I was responsible for an entire fleet of aircraft within the organization to ensure airworthiness, new product development, and the sustainment, the long-term sustainment of the asset for the organization. 

Christopher Reichert: So, you've been in positions of increasing responsibility for a while now and leadership is tough. How do you build and keep a team motivated? Tell us about your leadership thoughts—do you think that they're innate to you, or is it something that you acquired over the years, and how's it changed? 

Brian Erickson: Yeah, so that's a great question, Christopher. I think that it's both. I think there's a balance. I think you have, a certain DNA that you get in your youth and as you're growing up, with your family and your surroundings, and you get some early habits and you rely on those. And then along the way, you meet amazing people, mentors, experts, that are absolutely amazing leaders. And you just try to fill your toolbox, full of tools, your leadership toolbox, full of tools so that you can then become a leader that is respected as well.  

Motivating teams is always something that I'm always trying to refine the way to do it. And it seems like each team is different, and you have to apply different leadership skills, I think, to different teams. 

Some things that I've noticed lately, empowering people to show you their expertise and just let people run, giving people a space to innovate and become better, and then build something of their own, take ownership of it, deliver it, and help them as a leader. Help them find a way to promote whatever it is that they have built to production so that they can share this with others and bring mission success to whatever it is that you're doing. That's one thing. And then another thing recently that I've put some thought into is looking at individual athletes. Each person on your team brings a special capability, a special talent, a special experience, and history. And being able to exploit individuals and their abilities to create and bring solutions to the broader team is important. Finding individual talents and individual athletes and letting them have a place where they can create and build is, I think, bringing us some great value. 

Christopher Reichert: So coming to the Chief Data Officer, you're the first Chief Data Officer, if I'm not mistaken. Tell us what do you see as your role and why was this role created? 

Brian Erickson: Yeah, it's a great, great question. When I was at MIT, I could start to, I wasn't paying close attention to Chief Data Officer when I first got there, and one thing that we might talk about is if I had another shot at MIT Sloan, how I might have set that up. But it's not like you can just take second shots at MIT Sloan. So, but when I first got there, I wasn't really focused on the role of a Chief Data Officer. As I departed there, during my last semester, I had some insight that this was where I would be assigned. So I started to focus on some courses, curriculum for tips and tricks on what I'm gonna experience as a Chief Data Officer. 

So, I jumped into the role. At the time, it was the Chief of the Data Readiness Taskforce. We had formed a task force in August of 2020 to bring the Coast Guard to become a more data-driven organization. We were focused on the workforce development. What kind of people are we going to need, and what kind of skills do we need to become data-driven? We were focused on data governance and data fidelity.  

Tech Way Ahead was the technology that we were going to need to enable our data-driven organization. And then we were also, it was right around the COVID time period, and we were working with a company where we could kind of pilot some big data applications, and, so another one of our functions was called Pilot Program Realtime Learning, which was applications like what kind of use cases should we be going after? How do we integrate data-intensive tech with the business units of the organization?  

And so those were our kind of our lines of effort in the data taskforce. And so, when I came on, we were still in the middle of being able to see our organization and understand where we were with vaccination delivery, vaccinations for our workforce, and other analytics that were surrounded by that. At the same time, we were trying to build a more data-driven organization, and identify the educational needs of our members, et cetera.  

The data-oriented task force stood down and we were able to establish the Office of Data and Analytics. So the first time this organization has ever had funded personnel in an office, specifically looking at the organization through a data lens all day long, and it's just a really, really exciting time for our organization. We have a number of things that we've accomplished over that time at Data Range Task Force, a number of things we've accomplished even within the last couple of months. And we've got just a fertile field out in front of us of opportunity on how we're going to make this organization more data-driven. 

Christopher Reichert: What sort of accomplishments can you talk about, and what do you see as kind of your next few challenges, if you can talk about it?  

Brian Erickson: Yeah, absolutely. So, along that path, everything we are doing feels like we are pioneers. We've been around since 1790. We have never done this stuff. We've never had a data strategy. We've never had a big data platform. We've never had a data catalog. We haven't spent a lot of time to really architect our cloud environment. We haven't had any, a lot of energy to move there now. And now we do. We did a first data strategy. We did a first cloud adoption strategy. We set up a data governance board of senior members, chaired by two star flag officers that are central to the operations at our headquarters. But it's also, there's membership within our operational field to ensure that the operators are receiving the value from our data as they conduct their operations. 

So we've got the data governance board, we also have a data governance committee that we stood up and that's chaired by me. We have the first data lexicon, so we're all speaking the same language. We established the Office of Data and Analytics and have funded members in that office. We stood up an integrated data environment, a big data platform, and we have started to ingest data streams there. We have established technical authority of the Chief Data Officer for artificial intelligence, machine learning, and analytics. To me, these are big steps for the organization and the majority of the big steps are really going to be in people and culture.  Then we're working on the tech solution there as well. 

Christopher Reichert: Yeah, that's interesting that you mentioned people and culture, because I was going to ask, as a 232-year-old organization, it can hardly be called a startup. So, it must have a strong culture in a certain direction. I'm curious about what sort of friction or cultural components that you see as areas which will need extra work to overcome?

Brian Erickson: You're exactly right, and I think that, I think MIT Sloan helped me do this. I have to pull myself out of the mindset of being part of the problem. I've been in this organization for 30 of those 230-plus years. And so I'm part of the problem. It's refreshing that the organization has committed to an office like this and has given us a lot of leeway to innovate and figure out a better way to do things.

Let me tell you a little story. I had a new officer, young officer report aboard. She had served on a Coast Guard cutter, actually the same Coast Guard cutter that I served on, the Coast Guard Cutter Mellon. 

So she was a 2019 graduate, went to the Mellon, then she went to a fast response cutter down in Florida, and she served there as the executive officer, and then she reported up to my office. She has an operations research bachelor's degree from the [Coast Guard] Academy.  About a week later, about seven days later, after she got in, I called her into my office and I said, “Hey Claire, how's it going? How do you like working here in the Office of Data and Analytics?” And she told me this story. She said that she went over to her aunt and uncles and they said, “Hey Claire, how's your new job? How's it going?” And she said, “this is the closest to a startup that the Coast Guard has.” And when she told me that story, I was kind of floored, in a good way. I was really excited that she had said that. But I was skeptical. So, in my mind, she does not know the organization like I know the organization, but I went home that weekend. I was thinking about it all weekend. I cannot think of another office, another operational unit, another place in the organization that is close to a startup as our office. Our office is empowered to change culture. It is empowered to change policy. It is empowered to change and modernize how we do business in the organization. And she was exactly right. Right now, we are in, the majority of my team is in a single conference room, if you will, but we have built kind of like an innovative hub where we can share ideas with no walls, and we have that now and, and there's really this startup kind of mindset. 

We want to be able to move fast, and fast in a 230-plus-year-old organization, it may not be, fast like, some of the startups that are happening out of MIT, but we feel like some of the things that we're doing is fast-moving and we are only getting better at that, and we want to keep that. And I thought to myself, the day that I don't have the next, young officer come in and tell me that story is the day I've lost some of my competitive edge. I want to be able to keep that as long as I can and keep on driving this organization forward and, hopefully, keep the senior leader engagement and, collective energy from senior leadership that we have now long into the future. 

Christopher Reichert: So how did you get chosen for Sloan? After you already had a master's in Aeronautics and Astronautics? 

Brian Erickson: Yeah absolutely. So there's only one Coast Guard Sloan person a year, and we have had one since, I believe it's 1978, every single year. One Sloan applicant has come from the Coast Guard, and as far as I know, everyone has made it. When I was applying to Sloan, and I was like, "oh my God, I'm going to be the first one that that doesn't make it!" There’s going to be a gap that year. It's like a question mark. It's going to be my name in gray. Thank goodness Sloan picked me. I'm sure they needed an anchorman or something, but one of the desires of the program sponsor, this office that I served in, Office of Budget programs, they are able to communicate to the board their desires for an applicant, and in those desires, often I think it would say something like, if you served in this office, then you're someone that we would be interested in having go to this program. I was looked at by this board and was competitively selected to go to Sloan, which is such an amazing blessing, and I'm just so thankful that I was able to get that opportunity. 

Christopher Reichert: Tell us about the experience of attending Sloan during COVID. 

Brian Erickson: Yeah, so, since there's always a Coast Guardsman that's at Sloan, I was able to reach out to,my buddy Ben Keffer, [Deputy Chief, Office of Budget and Programs (CG-82) at U.S. Coast Guard], who was there at the time. I came up and he and I went for a run around campus and he was just showing me all the places that I could live, and by March of 2020, things are starting to change.  So, my incoming class was on a very large WhatsApp group, as international students were very concerned about whether or not they were going to be able to even come to the U.S. Many of these people had already paid their initial non-refundable deposit to become a Sloanie that year, and so there was a lot of stuff being worked, which no one knew how to do, between the program at Sloan and the students, particularly international students. There were opportunities for deferrals. Some countries, I think the right choice was going to be to defer because they weren't going to be able to make it to the U.S. that whole year.  

So, a lot of that was happening in the beginning. I was set, I'm going, I'm going no matter what. I just didn't know if I should move up, right away or not. I ended up choosing not to. So, our whole summer was online and then later on the Fall was online. There was an opportunity to come into class for a short period of time after, I think it was after Thanksgiving, and then a big break until you could go back on campus until March. So I spent a lot of that time hanging out with my folks and doing school in a house that was, was available for me. 

But of course, there was a lot of lost opportunity in Cambridge. But we found ways to connect. And I'll give you an example. You know, we did a whole bunch of stuff on Zoom. We got to get an idea of each other's character and very comfortable. One of the guys was having a party for graduation because graduation was going to be virtual. He invited me and my friends over to his house and it was like we had been friends for years. There was so much trust, like we had been going to school together for years, like an entire college experience. How was it? I don't know. I don't have an experience to gauge it against. For me, it was great. We got our homework done, we had plenty of time with teachers, we had plenty of time with the faculty. The program went above and beyond to find ways for us to connect, creative ways for us to connect online. I can reach out to any one of my classmates right now and say, Hey, can you get me a meeting with this person that's in your circle, and it's going to happen. 

Christopher Reichert: So when you think back on the educational side of Sloan, is there anything that you use most often today? 

Brian Erickson: Yeah, so, let me tell a little bit story. So because of the military system, military rank, this is my last opportunity to apply for Sloan. I couldn't wait until later. Even when I went to Sloan, I was a Captain Select, so I was making the next rank. I would never have another opportunity to go. So now that I've been a Chief Data Officer for a year, man, I wish I could go to Sloan. I wasn't focused when I was there, I was exploring, which is good.  It was great. I was exploring as much of the ecosystem at MIT as I could. But now I really want that experience and I want to focus on being a Chief Data Officer. I want to find the expertise that is there. 

I want to reach out to other alumni. I want to, I really, and I do that now, but I can just imagine the opportunities, the entrepreneurial spirit that is happening there in, in all of the startup activity that's occurring when you're on campus and when you're in the ecosystem. I'd really love to kind of focus my studies on what I know now. That would be great.  

But when I was there, I started to take some courses in my last semester that might be beneficial for work as an analytics leader or a data leader. One of them was with John Akula, "The Law of Big Data AI." It was a really good primer for ethics in data and artificial intelligence. I fall back on that once in a while as we're approached with more ethical thoughts, or rather ethical issues, approaching entry into organization-wide artificial intelligence and machine learning and understanding how you are going to govern your artificial intelligence ecosystem, which is much different than governing a data ecosystem. 

So that's one course that I think about and have kind of looked back at some notes on things. And then a number of courses had you look at how do you extract value from whatever it is that you are doing? Does your customer really understand the value you're trying to create? And who is your customer? I took a pricing course and even the pricing course, the way you look at pricing, has applicability across an analytics space as to how you might look at a business unit and how to create value.  

It was interesting, I went to a Chief Data Officer forum where Chief Data Officers from around the nation get together and exchange ideas. One of the people there had pointed out that as a Chief Data Officer, you want to know what your business units are concerned about interests them. You really want to understand them. And from their perspective, it was revenue generation, cost avoidance, and risk reduction. Everyone in the audience is nodding. Yep, that's exactly right.  

A lot of what we are going after is mission success. That's not even in there. And so, I was sharing with the team, our very unique data sets that we have within the organization. Ship movements, full motion video, law enforcement activity, drug interdiction, and then when we have the classical data sets as well. What I don't generally have is a customer list, right? I mean, a lot of the problems was that they, that these Chief Data Officers are working on, is getting the customer list into one single tech stack. And the customers in Asia were in the same stack as the customers in the Americas. 

Those are big problems that they're dealing with, but that was not the same problems that I was dealing with. So going all the way back to tying that into MIT Sloan, it would, as I'm listening to their comments, I'm thinking back about how to create value. Who's the customer? Does the customer really understand the value that you're trying to create? And then how do I apply it to kind of a more military setting?  

The value for us is mission success. It's not necessarily a dollar. You have to change the currency a little bit. I mean, you're a military Chief Data Officer. You're trying to, of course, use the taxpayer money in the most efficient and best way possible, but truly national defense, mission success is really where you're looking. What does that currency look like? What does one element of mission success look like? That's what I'm trying to get after as a Chief Data Officer. 

Christopher Reichert: So on that, what is your definition of success, say, I don't know, over the next six months? What’s kind of the next success that you want to accomplish in the short term, let’s say? 

Brian Erickson: Yeah. So theres a couple of things that I find that I have to balance immediate business value with foundational work. Some people will say I need some quick wins here. That's immediate business value. I can shift my whole team and we can just go after quick wins, but we're going to be the same organization that we've been since 1790. We haven't really shifted the culture and the focus is really on getting after some foundational problems. Data governance is extremely unsexy. It is not what is going to look good. It's going to be hard to see, it's going to be hard to measure. But there is, in data management, governing your data and finding a way that someone can take ownership with data is an important step if you are going to become a data-driven organization. Right now, I think over the next few months, I'm going to balance the immediate business value with the foundational work. 

On the foundational work side, we are going to identify domains so that we can then establish owners, and then we will start to put data within those domains. And then owners will start to identify stewards within their domains, and they will start to begin to care for the data. Some of our modernized tech that we're bringing online that we haven't had in the past will help us do that. Where we can start to have visibility of data sets, we can have visibility of who owns them, and then people can start to manipulate that data or the process that ingests that data to ensure that we have high-quality data and the right data for whatever particular use case we are working on.  

I need to paint a picture for leaders who are not in this space. Not only leaders, but the rest of the organization. This is hard data to understand, and really what does artificial intelligence really mean for your organization? Where do you extract value? It is a hard picture to paint. If you've never seen it before, I can show you what it looks like to rescue someone with a helicopter. I can walk you to the edge of the pier. I can show you exactly the steps we go through. I can take you inside the aircraft, I can take you for a ride and I can show you exactly what happens and you have a mental picture for the rest of your life on what it means to send a helicopter off to a rescue.  

I cannot show you what it looks like to govern your data and then extract that to an insight. Painting that picture, or data storytelling if you will, is something we're going to work on over the next six months as well. On the immediate business value side, we've got some things going on. We're trying to bring more technology online. We're bringing cloud computing in a more enterprise-solution manner. We're bringing that forward. I work very closely with the CIO and his staff. 

Christopher Reichert: Any parting advice for future Sloanies, prospective Sloanies, whether your Coast Guard colleagues or anyone else looking at Sloan? 

Brian Erickson: Yeah! Absolutely. So, I would say that this goes right in line with the Sloan program, always favor that drink with one of your classmates over anything else, over getting your homework done, over going to class, reporting to the program for some, whatever you think it's critical, but it's not. Go grab a drink with your Sloan buddy. Take some time to talk. You learn so much about these people. My class is just amazing, a 110, mid-level executives from all across the world. I'm sure that you had, Christopher, you have the same friend cohorts from your time at Harvard or all of the time that you spent at MIT. But the cohort is just amazing. We would have these, you're familiar with the Muddy Talks? We had Muddy Talks and you would learn so much about everybody's past. The network is gold. If you're just on the fence about one particular course or another one, pick the one that's most exotic and interests you the most and try to squeeze it in. You will want to go back as soon as you're gone. I think that's the only advice that I have. 

Christopher Reichert: That's excellent. Well, thank you to Captain Brian Erickson, Sloan Class of 2021. first Chief Data Officer of the United States Coast Guard. Thank you for joining us on this episode of Sloanies Talking with Sloanies

Brian Erickson: Hey, thank you so much, Christopher. You take care. 

Christopher Reichert: Sloanies Talking with Sloanies is produced by the Office of External Relations at MIT Sloan School of Management. You can subscribe to this podcast by visiting our website,, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Support for this podcast comes in part from the Sloan Annual Fund, which provides essential flexible funding to assure that our community can pursue excellence. Make your gift today by visiting