(Photo: Bill Bernstein)
(Photo Bill Bernstein)

Barbara Barrett

Read our interview with the woman Trump plans to nominate to be Secretary of the Air Force.

Barbara Barrett, CEO of Montana’s Triple Creek Ranch luxury resort, wears a cowboy hat but also many other hats: former U.S. ambassador to Finland, attorney, graduate school president, pilot, horsewoman, adventurer and astronaut.
Brought up on a farm in Pennsylvania, Barrett learned as a teenager to saddle, feed and shoe horses. She left the farm for college in Arizona, earned her law degree and clerked at Greyhound Corporation. An executive of two Fortune 500 companies before she turned 30, she has had seats on 10 corporate boards, including those of Raytheon and Piper Aircraft. Through the years, Barrett has also served on at least 50 not-for-profit boards, including those of the Hershey Trust and the Mayo Clinic. She has been president and CEO of the American Management Association, president of the International Women’s Forum and a senior advisor to the U.S. at the United Nations; she also taught leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School; and was deputy administrator of the FAA, vice chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board and founding chairperson of Arizona’s Valley Bank.
Barrett has climbed Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiked New Zealand’s Milford Track and the Grand Canyon (rim to rim) and cycled around Finland and Arizona, but her most passionate avocation is horseback riding. She gets a chance to do some of that at Triple Creek Ranch, which she purchased in 1993 with her husband Craig, a former chairman and CEO of Intel.
We slowed Barrett down enough during a New York City business trip to conduct this interview.
What’s the best advice your father ever gave you?
In my generation, girls had three choices: teacher, secretary or nurse. When I was four I said I wanted to be a nurse and my dad said, “Why not a doctor?” That was my breakaway moment, and since then, I’ve always asked myself, “Why not this or this?”
Who was your mentor?
Sandra Day O’Connor. I was interning at the [Arizona] state legislature and from her I learned you’ve got to be good, have talent, and you have to have something extra. She had a law degree, and I thought my way of getting there was with a law degree.
How did you meet your husband?
I’d just finished a board meeting in Phoenix on July 20, 1979, and took a hike up Squaw Peak [now called Piestewa Peak]. I was sitting up at the top, watching the sunset, when a male hiker arrived. We ended up hiking down together and had the inevitable conversation about what do you do. He said that he was a manager in a small electronics firm so I figured he must be the night clerk at a Radio Shack. He turned out to be the general manager of Intel Corporation and later became Intel’s chairman and CEO. He’s always been understated.
You were flying an airplane when a more typical onboard role for women was to be flight attendants. How did that happen?
When I was a kid, Dad took me on a short flight in a four-seater and I loved it. As a Christmas gift one year, I purchased pilot training for my husband, who didn’t use it. So I did, doing the training with Lufthansa in Arizona.
Do you fly now?
I don’t fly often enough to fly anybody, so I fly only with an instructor pilot.
How do you travel?
Sometimes charter, sometimes air taxi and often corporate.
Why do you fly privately?
Time is important to me. I don’t have the luxury of taking the slow way of getting there, and travel in commercial aircraft is not a luxury by any stretch of the imagination. I might need to be at a board meeting in Tucson and then dinner in Las Vegas, and the only way to get there is by private jet. I can get more work done, so it’s more productive.
When you fly privately, what company do you choose?
We have used [fractional providers] NetJets and Flight Options a lot over the years. Today we mostly charter.
What was it like to serve asambassador to Finland?
The privilege of serving the president, the privilege of serving America in a foreign country and being a personification of this nation for me was a significant responsibility. I’ve done a lot of work in public diplomacy in America, and I made a special effort to be strong on communications with the people of Finland, not just the government.
You biked 900 kilometers around Finland. Would you consider yourself an adventurer?
Each year, I try to do one exertive vacation, something that will either make me get in shape, stay in shape, or I’m going to hurt.
I understand that you are an accidental astronaut. How did that happen?
I think I am less probable an astronaut than just about any one of those other seven billion people walking the face of the Earth. Space Adventures, the company that does the space tourism programs, had an unexpected short-lead-time seat available. I’d worked with the CEO, who asked if I would be willing to be the backup. That’s like a lightning strike; that’s beyond extraordinary.
They had a very short time frame to get two people trained. They had the primary astronaut and needed somebody who would be willing to train and support the primary. They thought I was fit enough, and they thought that as a pilot I’d have the basic aeronautical understanding. I wasn’t so sure I’d be fit enough or have the rocket-science aptitude to be an astronaut. Normally, it takes 20 years to be a part of that system. In my case, it was four and a half months, a very compressed calendar.
Why did you buy Triple Creek Ranch?
We thought about getting a second home, a retreat, someplace nestled among the mountains and either with enough land to explore or a place adjacent to a national forest or park. This was the perfect arrangement. We’d originally gone there as guests; we made an offer and bought the ranch. We made a lot of changes, taking down the smaller cabins, freshening and expanding the cabins we kept, and designing more upscale luxury cabins. We upgraded the food, the wine cellar and the landscaping and added Western art. We’ve tripled the size of the guest ranch, added an additional 26,000 acres of cattle ranch and nature preserve and added a couple hundred bison.
How do you manage the Ranch?
The general managers run the day-to-day operations. We have a staff of about 50 year-round.
In 1994 you were the first female Republican to run for governor of Arizona. Would you do it again?
I wouldn’t shy away from it. You never say never in politics.
You were the first civilian woman to land in an FA-18 Hornet on an aircraft carrier. How did that happen?
I was a civilian advisor to the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A law had been passed in 1948 that women could fly tankers and transports but not fighters or bombers or aircraft “engaged in combat.” We worked to get the law changed. There was a Navy admiral who had daughters [and was] not one to be told girls can’t do these things; he invited me to train and qualify to fly an F-18 Hornet. I had the privilege of landing on the Nimitz.
What was the fun part of serving as ambassador to Finland?
I bicycled across Finland, rounded up reindeer, dogsledded, downhill and cross-country skied, snowmobiled, helicoptered. They fly American-made F-18s and the Chief of Staff of their Air Force challenged me to a dogfight over northern Finland.
Who won?
Well, he got me once; I got him once. It was a diplomatic solution. We didn’t do a tie-breaker.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about aviation?
Aviation is commerce. The economy flies on the wings of aircraft.
You are on the board of the [nonprofit educational] Space Foundation. Where do we stand in space right now?
This may be the darkest hour in space for America. The government has pulled out cold turkey of manned space flight. We’re seeing an aggressive push by the Russians, China and the European Space Agency. Japan and Korea are active, and India has done some launches. Our regression in space exploration has provided opportunity for both American business and national competitors, globally.
What sparked your interest in economic opportunity for women?
Probably my heritage. When Mother was widowed, she was dependent upon getting make-work jobs, which inspired me. You don’t know what life is going to deal you and need to be able to produce something. I’ve been working with the U.S./Afghan Women’s Council in four key areas that dictate their future: education, health, economic empowerment and civics. We began with Afghan women and now we have a program, called 10,000 Women, to help women around the world. Over 60,000 women have gotten training on how to start a business or improve their business acumen.
What is your passion?
Education. My astronaut patch said, “Knowledge is the gateway.” We talk about potential energy and kinetic energy—that potential energy is lost when 50 percent of the population is not included. I am passionate about helping women develop their full potential.
What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership is nothing if there aren’t followers. Leadership is having vision and finding inspiring people to share the passion for that vision.

Fast Facts:
NAME: Barbara Barrett
BORN: December 26, 1950 (age 63)
POSITION: President & CEO, Triple Creek Ranch, a luxury resort in Montana, since 1993
PREVIOUS POSITIONS: Interim president, Thunderbird School of Global Management (2012); U.S. Ambassador to Finland (2008–09); senior advisor to the U.S., United Nations General Assembly (2006); president, International Women’s Forum (1999–2001): president and CEO, American Management Association (1997–98); founding chairman, Valley Bank of Arizona (1996–2003); deputy administrator, Federal Aviation Administration (1988–89); vice chairman and other positions, U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board (1982–85)
EDUCATION: B.A., M.B.A. and J.D. degrees from Arizona State University, and six
honorary degrees
PERSONAL: Lives in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Married 29 years to Craig Barrett, retired chairman and CEO of Intel.