Chancellor Mark Hagerott: Transforming NDUS with Military Precision

6 mins read
Mark Hagerott
Mark Hagerott

United States Naval Academy Veteran 

Chancellor of the North Dakota University System

Years of Service
Thirty Years

Branch Served
United States Navy & Naval Academy

Years of Business Operation
Chancellor of NDUS: 2015 – Present
Rhodes Scholar, White House Fellow

It’s a distinct honor to introduce Dr. Mark Hagerott, a man whose storied career spans military service, academia, and public leadership. As the current Chancellor of the North Dakota University System, Dr. Hagerott is no stranger to the challenges and rewards of steering educational institutions. Before his impactful role in North Dakota, he garnered rich experiences ranging from academic leadership roles at the United States Naval Academy to strategic planning for NATO Training Missions. A recognized thought leader in technology and education, Hagerott has written extensively on topics like unmanned systems and technical career paths. A Naval Academy veteran, he has also worn many hats in the U.S. Navy, including that of a certified naval nuclear engineer and ship commander.

His educational background is equally impressive, featuring a B.S. from the U.S. Naval Academy, an M.A. from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. Coming from a long line of North Dakota farmers and energy producers, Hagerott embodies a blend of homegrown values and global perspectives-making him a truly unique and compelling figure in higher education today. I recently had the privilege of sitting down for an in-depth Q&A with Dr. Mark Hagerott to discuss his time in service, what led him to a path of education and supporting others, how his perspective changed in service, his 20 tips regarding business preparedness, and much more.

Q& A with Mark Hagerott

Q: What was your path to the military? What led you to join and serve our country?

A: I grew up surrounded by a family devoted to the military and serving our country. My father was in the Navy; I remember looking at his cruise book way back in the day. Once he got out of the Navy, he became a defense contractor and we moved around to missile silos, as he did a lot of defense work. Furthermore, both of my grandfathers were in WWI and WWII. I remember spending a lot of time out on the farm with them growing up. I also had an uncle who was at Pearl Harbor, whose ship sunk out from underneath him.

I have a second cousin, who was a cattleman out of Mandan, who was the only one to survive out of his landing craft when he saw a Japanese fighter lining up on the landing craft and he could see the trajectory of the bullets. Within an instant, he threw up his rifle, and his pack, and just climbed out of the landing craft as it just wiped everybody out. The humorous side that he would share, however, is that he had a bullet go through his buttocks, but he did survive the rest of the war.

So, after hearing all of those various war stories including sinking ships and blown-up landing crafts during WWI and WWII, along with my father being a reservist in the Cuban missile crisis, I was still more than interested in the military. It was always kind of the family thing. Once I started reading about what the military could offer, short of wartime, of course, it was fascinating. I left via the Bismarck airport for the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD when I went into the military. 

Q: How long did you serve?

A: I served for 20 years over 5 ships as an operational commander, then I became an academic. I was still in uniform and was deployed to Afghanistan as an academic for another 10 years, but I was an administrator at that time. Still, I was in a dangerous war zone, but if you count all that, I was in uniform for 30 years.

Q: How did your perspective and outlook on life change from pre-service to post-service?

A: My main takeaway from service has been the importance of helping younger people. I started out confident, did well in school and sports, and thought success was about individual effort. However, over my time in service, I noticed that not everyone had the mentorship or stable backgrounds that I was lucky enough to have. That realization changed my focus; I understood that I could have a role in guiding these young individuals to make it through life safely, which is a big reason why I remain committed to my job and stay on the path that led me to where I am today.

I also see that well-funded Ivy League schools have extensive networks to support their graduates. But what about students from smaller towns who rely on the university system to prepare them for the future? This responsibility extends my commitment to making a difference in the lives of young people.

Q: What led you to an academic career path, and eventually, Chancellor of the North Dakota University System?

A: I did well in school academically as a Rhodes Scholar and Oxford graduate, which opened doors for me. I always liked reading and studying the world, and did pretty well with machines and technology, as part of the farm life was having to fix stuff, which was always intriguing to me. That interest led me to become a naval nuclear engineer, specializing in power generation and distribution. 

My last role was as the deputy secretary of defense’s front office. While I was on a promising career track, I realized that the lifestyle was tough on my family. When children have to attend five different schools, it isn’t easy for anyone involved. So at that point, I realized that, for my family, we probably needed to stabilize a little bit.

Opportunities arose to return to academic settings like Annapolis and the war college because many veterans are retiring, leaving these large gaps in military education. They invited me to teach, allowing me to balance family stability with preparing the next generation of military leaders. It wasn’t great seeing civilians who didn’t know much about the military trying to teach young people about the military, so guilt can be underrated as a motivator.

Q: What does being a Veteran symbolize to you?

A: Part of our role as veterans is to remind people that the world is a dangerous place. My time in Afghanistan showed me that many of us were safe primarily because the U.S. was backing us. In contrast, Afghan civilians often had no protection unless they had financial resources. In my opinion, places like the United States, Canada, and Britain are among the few where you can sleep soundly, expecting to wake up safely. 

Given the importance of veterans in maintaining this security, it’s crucial to support them in education and employment. Many veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq are struggling to find jobs, and it’s imperative that society takes care of them. We’ve recently hired a new chief of staff who’s the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs, so we’re considering expanding our efforts to assist veterans.

Q: Do you have a call to action that we could include for readers?

A: We’re living in a historic time. All you need to do is look at the news and see what’s going on in Washington DC, Israel, Ukraine, or all this stuff about AI that the younger people need to be intellectually engaged with. Physically, there are so many epidemics of depression, sadness, obesity, and plenty of crises going on in our own backyard that I never thought I’d see in the United States, crises—both mental and physical. Our security is still pretty good.

If you’re someone who grew up in a privileged environment with a well-off family, we really need everybody to help the other part of our country continue to adapt and do better instead of retreating to gated communities. We need to help take care of our fellow Americans and innovate, including military service, but also just being involved in our communities. There are so many people alone at home now, binge-watching television and not joining human organizations. It’s critical to devote a good part of your time to your human community where you are and help people as we travel through this changing world.

Mark Hagerott’s 20 Tips for Entrepreneurs

  1. Develop a Clear Mission and Vision
    Define purpose and long-term goals.
  2. Establish a Chain of Command
    Clearly define roles and responsibilities within your organization.
  3. Utilize Technology
    Leverage technology and data analysis.
  4. Maintain Security
    Invest in physical and cybersecurity measures to protect your assets, data, and intellectual property.
  5. Conduct Regular Training
    Employee training and development enhances skills and adaptability.
  6. Plan, Plan, Plan
    Conduct planning exercises to prepare for potential situations.
  7. Create Contingency Plans
    Develop plans for various scenarios, including crises and disruptions.
  8. Emphasize Teamwork
    Foster a strong sense of teamwork and camaraderie among employees.
  9. Implement Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
    Develop and enforce SOPs to ensure consistency and efficiency.
  10. Emphasize Process Improvement
    Encourage your people to look for ways to do things better.
  11. Assess Risks
    Regularly assess potential risks and develop strategies to mitigate them.
  12. Diversify Supply Chain
    Avoid reliance on a single supplier or source for critical materials.
  13. Achieve Financial Resilience
    Maintain a strong financial position with reserves.
  14. Establish Communication Protocols
    Establish clear communication protocols.
  15. Move to the Sound of the Guns
    Be flexible and adaptable in response to changing conditions and emerging trends.
  16. Know Your Adversaries
    Stay informed about trends and competitor activities.
  17. Develop Leadership
    Identify and nurture leadership to ensure a strong succession plan.
  18. Manage Resources
    Allocate resources strategically to prioritize critical functions and initiatives.
  19. Focus on Results
    Maintain a customer-centric approach to drive business growth.
  20. Conduct After-Action Reviews
    After events or projects, conduct reviews to assess performance, identify lessons learned, and make necessary improvements.