HPW’s Inspiring Women series profiles remarkable Greek-American professional women whose stories of success inspire and encourage us to achieve our own career goals and aspirations.
FRAN FRAGOS TOWNSEND
EVP of Government, Legal and Business Affairs
MacAndrews and Forbes Incorporated
Fran Fragos Townsend is an Executive Vice President for Worldwide Government, Legal and Business Affairs at MacAndrews and Forbes Incorporated. She works across MacAndrew’s portfolio companies focusing on international, legal, compliance and business development issues. Prior to that she was a corporate partner with the law firm of Baker Botts, LLP. From 2004 to 2008, Ms. Townsend served as Assistant to President George W. Bush for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and chaired the Homeland Security Council. She also served as Deputy National Security Advisor for Combatting Terrorism from May 2003 to May 2004. Ms. Townsend spent 13 years at the U.S. Department of Justice under the administrations of President George H. W. Bush, President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush. She has received numerous awards for her public service accomplishments. Ms. Townsend is a Director on the board of three public companies (NYSE: FCX, NYSE: WU, NASDAQ: SGMS) where she serves on: compliance, compensation, governance and executive committees. She also serves on three private company boards where she chairs all three compensation committees and is the Chairwoman of one Board. Ms. Townsend is an on air senior national security analyst for CBS News and, before that, she was at CNN for seven years. She regularly appears on network and cable television as a foreign policy, counterterrorism, national and homeland security expert. Ms. Townsend also serves on several government advisory and nonprofit boards. Ms. Townsend is a trustee on the board of the New York City Police Foundation, Business Executives for National Security, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and the Atlantic Council. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission.
Recently, we had the pleasure of interviewing Fran Fragos Townsend for our Inspiring Professional Women’s series.
Fran began her story by stating that she came from a very humble family. Fran’s Mom was of Irish descent and her Dad was of Greek descent. She mentioned that both parents never finished High School due to the demands of the Great Depression. They emphasized the importance of education and it being the big differentiator. This was liberating toward creating a better life and a way to serve others. Fran was deeply encouraged by both of them to persevere, saying that she could become anyone she wanted to in her lifetime. As we now know, Fran certainly took her parents’ advice and cherished her family’s wisdom for encouraging her to grow and develop.
How would you describe your passion, Fran?
Fran began by saying that there is a common theme about being of service to others, which is the greatest gift you can give. In Fran’s earlier career she was a prosecutor and served as a voice for those victims who didn’t have a voice of their own. Fran believed in making the country safer and stronger. She “hoped and prayed that 9-11 would never happen again and worked to make sure of that.” Fran is a firm believer in “Service to Country and to Family”. Fran attended College and Law School. She graduated a year earlier on both occasions in order to save money. Fran holds a BA in Political Science, a BS in Psychology from the American University, and a JD from the University Of San Diego School Of Law.
What motivated you to move into your profession?
There were no lawyers in Fran’s family, but her Mom worked in an office and the firm had a lawyer. Fran had the opportunity to meet with him to discuss her career path. She also mentioned how she loved to watch Perry Mason on TV and how he had influenced her to persevere as a prosecutor for justice.
Who stands out the most in your mind as a mentor?
Fran reverted back to her family and how their humble beginnings, as well as others, offered different points of view toward building her confidence “to give her the stretch” in her assignments. Louis Freeh, was the FBI Agent and US Lawyer from 1975 to 1981 in the New York City field office and at the FBI HQ in Washington, DC in 1981. He became a tremendous mentor to Fran when she was in the DA’s office. Conde Rice was also a strong believer in and mentor to Fran in her first White House position. She served as Conde’s Deputy and a direct report to President, George W. Bush. They all believed in her enough not to be afraid of the next step. Fran wanted to stay on as Conde’s Deputy and recognized the importance of being successful, if they believed in her. They gave her the confidence to grow and flourish.
Tell me about a few of your most proud accomplishments?
We could discuss many, Fran said, but more importantly are the accomplishments and gifts her parents gave her: belief in herself, tenacity, and perseverance. Education was the “Holy Grail”. Her parents’ encouragement and Fran’s gratitude and perseverance to finish her college and graduate school a year earlier marked the forefront of her success. Her Dad passed away when Fran began her role at the White House as the Deputy of Homeland Security under George W. Bush, but she invited her Mom to visit. Her Mom was overwhelmed to open her eyes. She said, “Anything was possible”. Fran believes that this was the greatest gift that her parents gave to her. That anything was possible. In terms of professional accomplishments, Fran was in charge of the disruption of the liquid bomb where passengers were not allowed more than 3 ounces in carry-on luggage. This saved many lives. This was huge and gave her and her family great pride.
Was there anything you would have done differently?
There is nothing that Fran would have done differently. Fran said that there will always be times when you make mistakes. Fran always believed in treating everyone the same and speaking to them the same, whether they were emptying out the office trash, an Assistant, all the way up to the Chairman of the Board.
What is your leadership style?
Fran’s leadership style is collaborative. She leads with kindness and a sense of openness toward everyone. She is open to criticism, and she is not afraid to allow others to speak or lead. Fran has a strong sense of humility, and she always leads with a sense of service to others.
What advice would you give to professional Hellenic-American Women today in their careers?
Her parents gave her a strong sense of the importance of education, hard work, perseverance, and tenacity. “Do it because you love it.” “Believe in it.” If Fran didn’t know something, she said that she would work herself to death to learn how to do it.”
What impact has your Greek heritage had on your career and professional life?
“There has always been a sense of service to country and responsibility throughout Greek history, through the early times with the Athenians. John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence, George Tenet, the Head of the CIA and Fran were all standing together, when President George W. Bush looked at her and said, “All of you are Greek-Americans”. “This cannot be an accident, and you are all in Security”. Fran realized that this was a part of being Greek. Fran was also in charge of all of the security side of the Greek Olympics in Athens. This was her first trip to Athens, Greece. She raved about the warm reception, as she arrived and was invited to a Greek shipping office. Fran was treated like family. She said it was an extraordinary experience.
Are you involved with the Greek community?
Fran has been a guest speaker at two Greek events. One in Chicago for Greek-American Scholarships and the other at the Hellenic Women’s Society. We are pleased to say that Fran would love to speak at our HPW event sometime in the future. We will make sure to get her more involved in our Greek community as well.
Contributing writer, HPW Board Director, Frederica Bolgouras
Who has inspired you in your career? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org