2017 Honorees

Ray Mabus

The Edmund S. Muskie Distinguished Public Service Award

Ray Mabus has been a change leader throughout his career, from attacking entrenched public corruption as Mississippi’s State Auditor in the early 1980s to reviving a bankrupt publicly traded sector manufacturing company with no loss in equity and no loss to creditors to revolutionizing the Navy and Marine Corps as Secretary of the Navy under President Obama.

The longest serving Secretary of the Navy since World War I, Mabus has also served as Governor of Mississippi, Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Chairman and CEO of Foamex. Currently, he is an advisor to Google Ventures, an Executive Teaching Fellow at Harvard Business School and a Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School.  At Harvard, he speaks and teaches leadership and decision-making.  He is also on the board of a public company and is assisting several pre-IPO companies.

As Navy Secretary from 2009 to 2017, Mabus led America's Sailors and Marines in a time of two wars and oversaw an annual budget of over $170 billion and nearly 900,000 people.  If the Department of the Navy were a private company, it would be the second largest in the United States in employees, third largest in assets and fifth largest in budget authority.

Recognized by Glassdoor as one of the top 50 CEOs in the country, Mabus earned international attention for his efforts to rebuild the U.S. fleet; revolutionize energy procurement and consumption, including moving the Navy away from fossil fuels; promoting innovation in Navy personnel and business practices; and strengthening global partnerships by traveling over 1.3 million miles to meet with Sailors and Marines and leaders in over 152 separate countries and territories.

In his first seven years as Secretary, 86 ships were put under contract, more than double the number in the previous seven years, with a far more challenging budget environment. From 2001 to 2008, the fleet declined from 316 to 278 ships.  Mabus’ efforts assure that the fleet will again top 300 ships no later than 2019. Mabus reintroduced some basic business fundamentals, expanding competitive bidding, fixed-price contracts and multi-year procurements

Just five months into his term, Mabus established five aggressive goals to make the Navy and Marine Corps more energy efficient and to diversify its fuel supply.  The most ambitious of the goals requires that by 2020 more than half of naval energy afloat and ashore will come from non-fossil fuel source. The Department met that goal ashore in 2015 and is well positioned to meet it at sea no later than the deadline.

He launched a comprehensive approach to health, fitness, resilience, family, sexual assault and suicide prevention and alcohol and drug abuse through the 21st Century Sailor and Marine Program.  He followed that up with innovative personnel changes to make volunteer military service more attractive, including a career intermission program, merit promotions, flexible entry and industry tours and tripled paid maternity leave to eighteen weeks.

He opened submarine and riverine service to women and returned Naval ROTC to Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Princeton after an absence of forty years. He also advocated the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and opened all positions to women, while maintaining the highest combat effectiveness.

In June 2010, President Obama gave him the additional task of producing a long-term Gulf Coast restoration plan after the Deepwater Horizon spill.  Many of the recommendations in his report, “America’s Gulf Coast,” were adopted into law when Congress passed on a bipartisan vote and the President signed the “Restore Act.”

Prior to Navy, Mabus was chosen CEO of Foamex, a manufacturing company, to help lead it out of bankruptcy.  Less than nine months after his appointment, Foamex emerged from Chapter 11, paid every qualified creditor 100 cents on the dollar, plus interest, preserving all of equity and raising $150 million in new financing.

As the youngest governor of Mississippi in more than 150 years at the time of his election, he stressed education and job creation. He passed B.E.S.T. (Better Education for Success Tomorrow), one of the most comprehensive education reform programs in America; gave teachers the largest pay raise in the nation; was named one or Fortune Magazine’s top ten education governors; balanced every budget; and never raised taxes. Mississippi also had record growth in new jobs, investment, tourism and exports. In 2000, he was chosen in a poll of Mississippians as the Best Governor of the 20th Century.

During his tenure as Ambassador, a crisis with Iraq was successfully deterred, a terrorist attack was weathered, and contracts worth more than $16 billion were signed between Saudi Arabia and American companies. Also, Saudi Arabia officially abandoned the boycott of United States businesses that trade with Israel and more than $8 million of proposed expenditures for the American mission were cut.

Immediately preceding his term as Governor, Mabus was elected State Auditor of Mississippi, where he first established his reputation as a reformer and change agent.  As auditor, he erased a five-year audit backlog, got bond ratings restored, and participated in one of the nation’s largest public corruption operations with the FBI, recovering millions of dollars in misspent public funds. He was chosen as one of Esquire’s Top Forty Under Forty.

Mabus has been awarded the U.S. Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Award, the U.S. Army’s Distinguished Civilian Service Award (both while Ambassador), the Martin Luther King Social Responsibility Award from the King Center in Atlanta, the National Wildlife Federation Conservation Achievement Award, the King Abdul Aziz Award from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Mississippi Association of Educators’ Friend of Education Award, and is a member of the University of Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame. He is also an honorary Chief Petty Officer and an Honorary Frogman (SEAL).

Always active in his community, Mabus was a founder, following Hurricane Katrina, of the Help and Hope Foundation, working to meet the needs of children affected by the storm. He was also a member of the RAND Center for Mid-East Public Policy and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He was the Distinguished Lecturer on the Middle East at the University of Mississippi. An avid photographer, his photographs have raised tens of thousands of dollars for various Mississippi charities.

Mabus has appeared on many television programs, including “60 Minutes” and “Nightline.”  He also appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”, “The Colbert Report” and had cameos on the television shows “NCIS,” “NCIS New Orleans” and “The Last Ship” and the movie “Battleship.” During his life, he has traveled to more than 180 countries and territories on all seven continents, has stood on both poles, gone across the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and visited China before relations were normalized with the United States. He has skydived with the SEALs, flown in virtually every type of aircraft the Navy and Marine Corps operate and been aboard nearly every type of ship.

He is a fourth generation Mississippian who hold’s a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi, Summa Cum Laude, a master’s degree from the John Hopkins University, where he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a law degree, Magna Cum Laude, from Harvard. He also served in the U.S. Navy aboard the cruiser USS Little Rock.

Ray Mabus is married to Lynne Horecky Mabus and has three children: Elisabeth, born in 1990, Annie, born in 1992, and Kate born in 2001.