Building a Strong Foundation: Mary Ann Elliott
Mary Ann Elliott, retired chairman and CEO of Arrowhead Global Solutions and a former Coast Guard Foundation board member, is a quintessential American success story. Growing up poor in rural North Carolina and Virginia, she went from earning a GED and selling encyclopedias to support her young family to the cutting edge of military satellite technology.
In the early 1990s she founded a satellite communications firm, Arrowhead Global Solutions, which, over the next decade and a half, she grew to a multi-million-dollar operation that played a critical role in supporting American troops deployed overseas. Through her work with Arrowhead and other firms, Mary Ann has spent more than 30 years supporting America’s military, security, and intelligence communities.
Her work in the defense industry introduced Mary Ann to several retired Coast Guard members who connected her to the Coast Guard Foundation. In the late ‘90s, she became one of the Foundation’s first women board members and learned exactly how vital the Coast Guard is to our nation.
My mother had a saying, ‘to whom much is given, much is required.' To have been able to achieve and be blessed with the successes I have, I feel like it’s an obligation to give back to those in need and help others.
Mary Ann Elliott
“I was aghast at how little pay the enlisted men in the Coast Guard received and how poor their housing situation has been,” she said. “I really took heart and was proud of the work of the Foundation in terms of bettering the life of the young enlisted men and their families, everything from building playgrounds to whatever was needed. I heartily approved and still do.”
While Mary Ann is no longer a member of the Coast Guard Foundation board, she remains a robust supporter of the Foundation’s mission while keeping a close eye on its impact. “One thing I really focus on in terms of investing in companies or making donations is, do they have solid management,” she stressed.
“The Foundation keeps a very low overhead,” she noted. “With a big focus on junior enlisted, but also going on up the line when members of the Coast Guard are in need, the Foundation is there to help out.”
Earning a host of awards and recognition during her professional career, Mary Ann remains active in many organizations centered on the telecommunications and satellite industries. She also serves as head of her own family foundation. In that role Mary Ann is passing along her management-oriented philanthropic philosophy to her children and grandchildren.
“Each of my children get a percentage of the funds that are to be donated each year,” she explained. “And my children and my grandchildren have to select something and decide why this is a good charity and how much they want to allocate out of their total allocation. And then the following year, at our foundation meeting, they have to say how the people did, how they spent it, or share letters and acknowledgement.”