The Aerospace Corporation’s Malissia R. Clinton

I Had to Take the CIA Polygraph Test Twice

The Aerospace Corporation’s Malissia R. Clinton | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Malissia R. Clinton is the senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary of the Aerospace Corporation. Previously, Clinton was the senior counsel for special projects at Northrop Grumman. In advance of the Zócalo event “Is There Still Merit in a Merit-Based System?,” Clinton shared stories in the green room about her green thumb, her namesake, and her time as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Q:

What’s the last show you loved?


A:

Maid on Netflix. It was phenomenal, and it was triggering for me on a few levels.


Q:

What’s your best leadership advice?


A:

I would say to be humble and be a good listener. It really is a privilege. You need to look at it that way. You're not entitled to it.


Q:

What’s your favorite thing to do in Manhattan Beach?


A:

I wouldn't call it a favorite—I would call it an anti-favorite: I run twice a week along the Strand. That gives me exposure to the beach and that gives me exercise, but I don’t like running. It’s really hard for me to do it, and therefore I get the most satisfaction from it. But I find that if I just stick with it, it actually becomes not so hard. And if I do it intermittently, it’s always painful. So I’ve just got this inverse relationship [to running], but it really, really, really makes me feel good when I'm done.


Q:

Who is the person, living or dead, who inspires you the most?


A:

My grandmother, who’s deceased. I was named after my grandmother, who was named after her grandmother. So I’m a third-generation Malissia. I just admire how she raised a family in the midst of Jim Crow and was so accomplished and so dignified. Much of her story I didn’t learn until after she passed because she didn’t wear it on her sleeve. She just did what needed to be done. And I admire that trait. And I think it’s frankly, in many ways, a lost art.


Q:

Do you have a favorite plant?


A:

I’m a plant fiend. I have plants everywhere. I just love plants so most of my rooms have plants in them. I’ve also got a COVID garden outside, and it’s been amazing to watch how you can just throw something in the ground, and it’ll sprout. But if you ask what’s most endearing, I’ve got three plants that my father gave me. He died this summer. And the fact that those are living, and they probably will live for many, many more years is something that I cherish.


Q:

You interned for the Central Intelligence Agency in college. What’s the most infamous story that came out of that?


A:

It’s because of ASU that I got that internship because I first interviewed on campus. [The CIA] had a minority undergraduate program. They were trying to diversify. And so they went out across the nation to all of these college campuses recruiting. I interviewed on campus, and then they flew me [to Washington, D.C.]. My most infamous story is that I had to take the poly[graph] test two times. So they flew me out, and it was cold—it was the dead of winter—and I took it. And then they flew me right on back, and I took it again. I’ve never been so innocent as I was at 18, so I have no idea to this day why they kept interviewing me. But in the end, I did get in.


Q:

What does meritocracy look like to you?


A:

I don’t know what real meritocracy is. But we’ll know we’ve achieved it when we have a diverse workforce across the spectrum, from not only the admin but all the way over to the CEO. And we have equal pay. When we’re doing that, it’s a meritocracy. If we prepped more of our citizens to be successful, they’d be successful. That’s how that works. Because they’re smart and capable.