After leaving government employment, Hagel co-founded Vanguard Cellular, a mobile phone manufacturer that made him a multi-millionaire. While working with Vanguard, he served as president and chief executive officer of the United Service Organizations and the Private Sector Council, as deputy director and chief operating officer of the 1990 G7 Summit, and on the board of directors or advisory committee of the American Red Cross, the Eisenhower World Affairs Institute, Bread for the World, and the Ripon Society. He also served as Chairman of the Agent Orange Settlement Fund and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Although he was pressured by some to run for Governor of Virginia, where he had lived for 20 years, in 1992 Hagel moved back to Nebraska to become president of the McCarthy Group, an investment banking firm. He also served as a Chairman and was CEO of American Information Systems Inc. (AIS), a voting machine manufacturer.
In 1992, as President of investment group McCarthy & Co., Hagel assumed ownership and became Chairman of American Information Services (AIS), later known as Election Systems & Software, a manufacturer of computerized voting machines. On March 15, 1995, Hagel resigned from the board of AIS as he intended to run for office. Michael McCarthy, the parent company’s founder, was Hagel’s campaign treasurer. Until at least 2003, he retained between $1 million and $5 million in stock in Election Systems & Software's parent company, the McCarthy Group.