Wednesday, December 22, 2004

West Point, Leadership and the Apprentice

Over the past several years, my executive search practice has evolved in a direction I could not have predicted. An increasing percentage of the executives I place in positions of leadership with client companies are graduates of one of our nation’s service academies. At last count, I have had the privilege of getting to know close to three hundred men and women who have completed their undergraduate education at West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy or the Coast Guard Academy. The more opportunities I have to see these business leaders in action, the more convinced I become of the efficacy of our service academies as incubators for business leaders of the highest caliber.

Certainly, this business incubation phenomenon is a by-product and not a primary objective of our nation’s military academies. They were established by Congress to prepare the men and women who would lead our troops in times of war and peace. And these schools accomplish this primary objective with an efficiency that may represent the best return on taxpayer dollars that I have seen at the Federal level. But the leadership principles that are the foundation of the core curricula at these four academies stand their graduates in good stead when they choose to complete their time of formal service to the nation and transition into the private sector or some other venue of government service.

Most of the time, the general public is oblivious to this phenomenon. A small percentage of our citizenry may have had the privilege of working side-by-side with a colleague who cut his teeth by leading as a junior military officer, but for the most part, this cadre of service academy alumni work their leadership magic in relative anonymity. All of that changed last week when Donald Trump turned to Kelly Perdew, United States Military Academy Class of ’89, and said: “You’re hired!”

I do not watch a lot of television these days (with the exception of the Red Sox!), but I did manage to catch a few of the episodes of The Apprentice II. Based on those few data points and my broader knowledge of the kind of training West Point cadets receive in the art and science of leadership, I was not at all surprised the Perdew emerged as the victor from among a slate of candidates culled from the best and the brightest.

My curiosity led me to explore in greater depth what Perdew’s background had been after leaving West Point. My research led me to his personal Website: I found posted on this Website the following quotation:

Definition of Success.

Broadly speaking, success is to know that you have done everything possible to maximize the opportunities for you and your loved ones. It means knowing you worked hard, you made good decisions based on the best information you could acquire, and you thought about how your decisions would impact the people closest to you, both immediately and in the future.

Success is a process more than anything else, and it boils down to giving 100% at all times – leaving nothing on the table or on the playing field.

It will be interesting to watch Mr. Perdew continue to develop under the direction of Donald Trump. One has to wonder what lessons in leadership "The Donald" is about to learn from the newest member of his team.


Paul McManus said...


I agree 1000% with your comments. I have had great success over the years in recruiting alumni from our military academies. I would further generalize this success to include the Naval flight school grads, former Navy SEALS and Marine Corp officers. The character, leadership, judgement and decision making abilities are unsurpassed.


GDA145 said...

Also couldn't agree more with you Al,
I mean when you think about it Graduates of West Point and other millitary academies might be BETTER suited for a career in the office than say a business school graduate. One of the many things i imagine millitary academies gives you is that strong sense of dicipline. That dicipline leads to excelent work ethics and a strong sense of what needs to be done. I also did not watch the whole season of the Apprentice II but from the beginning you could tell that he would be an influencial member of his business team. Imagine if everyone had the dicipline and DRIVE that all academy graduates have...