John Forte has been named president and chief executive officer of the Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation (VT-ARC), effective Dec. 1, 2020. In his role, Forte will guide strategic growth and development while maintaining the foundation of excellence and by working closely with Virginia Tech’s Office for Research and Innovation and reporting to the corporation’s board of directors.

“I look forward to working with John and the board to explore how we can collectively continue to strengthen the corporation’s portfolio and deepen its connections to Virginia Tech’s broader research enterprise,” said Dan Sui, who joined Virginia Tech in November as the vice president of research and innovation. Sui will also be joining the corporation’s board of directors.

Since July 2019, Don Maffei has served as VT-ARC’s interim president and chief executive officer when Sanjay Raman stepped down after being named dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

“Don has been an outstanding member of the VT-ARC team during his tenure as interim president. He brought decades of corporate finance and operations experience that have been a tremendous asset to the organization,” said G. Don Taylor, executive vice provost at Virginia Tech. “We sincerely appreciate his leadership during the period of transition.”

The Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation is a nonprofit research-and-development organization that leverages the university’s vibrant research ecosystem to offer tailored data analytics and technology solutions to a range of industry and government clients. Their robust technology portfolio encompasses research areas including cyber, autonomous systems, data science, wireless communications, and advanced manufacturing, with an eye towards applications that will serve national security. 

The corporation’s emphasis on translational and applied research, research commercialization, and technical services extends the university’s impact and provides a vital conduit for discovery and innovation to reach the national and global community.

“After an extensive national search, we are thrilled to hire John as his expertise and insight into critical national security and intelligence community problems and ability to provide and apply strategies will inform long-term planning for the center’s growth,” said Ray Smoot, who led the search, is a member of the board of directors, and vice president for administration and treasurer, emeritus at Virginia Tech.

Before joining the Virginia Tech community, Forte served as the senior technical advisor for communications and networking department of the U.S. Air Force, charged with creating forward leaning and innovative ecosystems across government, industry, and academia that enable the advancement of air and space force science and technology. As one of only five Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) science and technology executives responsible for advising the communications and networking needs of the warfighter and the Department of Defense, Forte was also responsible for advising the laboratory's commander, defining investments, building partnerships, and exploring warfighter capabilities.

Forte's areas of research focus include command and control systems, resilient networking, spectrum utilization and waveform development, autonomous link establishment and intelligent control, information dissemination, cybersecurity, and quantum technologies. 

“Given my research and development background and experience working national security issues, including homeland defense activities at the state and local level, I’m elated to take the helm of a forward-leaning applied research organization with a mission and focus on national security,” said Forte. “Together, we will build upon our current successes, seek compelling partnerships, and extend the vast research ecosystem that is Virginia Tech towards achieving a positive national and global impact.”

Prior to AFRL, Forte served nearly 10 years as a senior leader within the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) — the nation's largest University Affiliated Research Center. As the executive for the Homeland Protection Mission Area, Forte directed APL's efforts assisting government agencies with the development and implementation of technologies and solution approaches to protect the U.S. against a variety of asymmetric threats. He served as the mission area’s lead in assured national, nuclear, continuity and emergency response command, control and communications, as well as in understanding and mitigating cyber threats of national importance, to include threats to critical infrastructure and to senior leaders and first responders.

“John’s extensive work experience at the JHU Applied Physics lab provided him with the understanding of how a major university operates to pursue research and the expansion of knowledge in an educational environment that will enable him to translate this experience into expanding and deepening VT-ARC relationships and collaborations with Virginia Tech faculty,” said Dwight Shelton, who serves as chair of the VT-ARC’s board of directors, and is also a senior fellow for finance at Virginia Tech and vice president for finance and chief finance officer, emeritus. 

Shelton explained that the corporation has operated with positive operating results and cash flow in recent years and it is poised to grow its research programs and impact.

“With his governmental and university experience, John is the right person at the right time to lead VT-ARC’s growth plans and to expand and enhance the impact of Virginia Tech’s research programs,” Shelton said.

Also at Johns Hopkins, Forte also founded and served as the interim director of the Institute for Assured Autonomy, a center of excellence for the safety, trust and security of the convergence of the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics within real-world environments. In addition, he has served on various advisory boards, including the board of advisors to JHU’s Information Security Institute on aspects of cybersecurity education and research and the board of advisors for SC Cyber on matters of state and local cybersecurity within South Carolina.

Over the last two decades, Forte has served in numerous senior leadership positions within the public and private sectors. He served as the technical director for Morgan Franklin Corporation, the director of operations for CBI Connect, chief scientist for the White House Communications Agency, and lead communications engineer for the MITRE Corporation. Forte also served as a communications officer in the U.S. Army, assigned to multiple airborne and special operations units and deploying in support of operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq.

Forte earned a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from the University of Tulsa, a master’s in electrical engineering from George Washington University with a focus in communications and networks. He also completed executive programs at the Harvard Kennedy School on Cybersecurity: The Intersection of Policy and Technology; and on National and International Security. 

Members of the search committee: 

  • Chair: Raymond Smoot, Vice President for Administration and Treasurer Emeritus at Virginia Tech
  • John Dooley, Chief Executive Officer for the Virginia Tech Foundation
  • Laura Freeman, Director for the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology
  • Dewey Houck, Chief Data Analytics Officer (retired) for Boeing Defense and Technology’s Intelligent Systems Laboratory
  • Sally Morton, Dean for the College of Science at Virginia Tech
  • Dwight Shelton, Senior Fellow for Finance at Virginia Tech and Vice President for Finance and Chief Finance Officer Emeritus at Virginia Tech

Hope Johnson of Pyramind LLC was the search consultant and Scott Merrell of Hutchison PLLC served as corporate counsel.