Hendon talks service, entrepreneurship and goals for DVS
BY BENJAMIN FANG
Only in its third year as a city agency, the Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS) has a new leader at the helm who boasts a background in both military service and entrepreneurship. James Hendon was officially appointed as DVS commissioner by Mayor Bill de Blasio on November 1. He succeeded retired brigadier general Lorree Sutton, who had served as the agency’s founding commissioner since 2016.
Hendon said he’s excited to be in his new role, which has raised his “A game” when it comes to doing right by the 210,000 veterans who call New York City home. “It really pushes you to your next level, to be around good people,” he said. “Everyone is on the same sheet of music trying to do great things for this community.”
Serving in the U.S. Army
The Miami native first decided to join the armed forces when he was in high school. Hendon said his mother took him to see “Crimson Tide,” a 1995 submarine film starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman. Washington’s character was depicted attending a service academy in the movie, which put the idea in Hendon’s mind. It appealed to his desire to give back.
“I think deep down, I always wanted to serve, always wanted to help people and do right,” he said. “And contribute to other folks being able to succeed and have life, liberty and happiness.”
Hendon served in the U.S. Army for seven years as an active duty infantry officer. He was deployed as a mortar platoon leader and a battalion public affairs officer to Iraq in 2005. He later worked as an admissions officer for West Point, where he graduated in 2002, from 2006 to 2007. He then served as the senior advisor to the Afghan Border Police in Afghanistan until 2009.
Active duty to the business world
After leaving active duty, Hendon went to graduate school at the Harvard Kennedy School and Columbia Business School. He remains in the U.S. Army reserve today. “I like being available if they need me,” he said.
After graduating, Hendon worked as an associate in Real Estate Investment Banking Group at Deutsche Bank. But the job “didn’t take,” he said, because he couldn’t see the direct benefit and impact it had on people.
“It was just starting to grate at me,” he said.
Around that time, one of Hendon’s friends from school was starting a new company, boosted by funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations do energy retrofits. Hendon became the first hire at the company BlocPower, and worked as the chief operating officer for the next three years.
“I loved helping the smaller groups. That is America, these small businesses and nonprofits and houses of worship,” he said. “I feel like that’s where our community is.”
After BlocPower began to “make a pivot,” Hendon took a class on entrepreneurship at New York University and set up his own company. He founded Energy Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), which had a similar function: helping small businesses finance and perform energy retrofits.
Those retrofits included actions to improve the organization or company’s heating, cooling, lighting and installation systems to reduce energy consumption and their carbon footprint. Learning from diversity While he was BlocPower and later with EEDC, Hendon joined the Queens Chamber of Commerce.