Master Builder

Katie Strylowski

This isn’t where your average fine arts major ends up—sitting for an interview in Washington, explaining the critical need for succession planning in government agencies. It surely wasn’t where Randall Lohman expected to find himself more than two decades ago when, with a new master’s degree in fine arts, he launched Sculptured Furnishings. 

“I was making functional art—cool built-ins in high-end houses in the San Antonio area,” he says. He loved the work, but there was a heavy cost. 

“It got to be so demanding on my body. I mean my hands ached, my back ached. It was just work constantly.” With a new wife and twin babies, he had to find something less physically punishing. His father noted that military bases have arts and crafts centers, “so I shotgunned applications to every Air Force Base and got hired by one in Illinois,” he says. 

As director of the arts center at Chanute Air Force Base, later closed under the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, Lohman taught photography, pottery, painting and drawing. “I loved going to work every day,” he says. It didn’t last. Within months he was promoted—twice—and found himself running the entire recreation program with about 150 employees reporting to him. 

“All I did was personnel work,” he says. It turned out he had a knack for it. Twentysome years later, in a career that has spanned assignments at multiple agencies with responsibility for every facet of human resources, Lohman now leads the Office of Personnel Management’s workforce and succession planning branch where he helps agencies analyze staffing needs and develop plans to fulfill them. 

Unlike the private sector, where employers can hire and fire and promote at will, agencies must abide laws designed to ensure all qualified employees have a shot at promotion, and in some cases, give preference to certain groups. Managers can’t just groom promising employees for advancement as their corporate peers might.  

“What I hear almost every time I go out and start talking to folks is they don’t have the expertise to analyze key leadership positions and then evaluate the workforce to build the pipeline and close the gaps,” he says. “It’s like growing trees. It’s not fast work.”

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