Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Dialogue with The Apprentice: Kelly Perdew Shares His Thoughts on Leadership

Networking is indeed a marvelous thing!

On December 22, I posted an article on this Blog mentioning the fact that Apprentice winner, Kelly Perdew, was a member of the West Point Class of 1989. I also quoted from his Website. Shortly after posting this article, I became aware that Kelly Perdew and I were both members of the LinkedIn Network, separated by one common link. So, using that common link, I sent Kelly an e-mail within the LinkedIn Network. Within a few days, I received word that Kelly had accepted my contact within the Network and had invited me to e-mail him directly. Given the extraordinary demands on his time, I was pleasantly surprised that he had taken the time to respond to me so quickly.

Given the fact that many of the postings on this Blog have focused on issues of leadership, I thought I would ask Kelly if he would be willing to join in the dialogue begun here a few weeks ago. With Kelly’s permission, I share with you below some of our recent e-mail conversation.

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Over the New Year's holiday I was reflecting on my new Blog, which has focused this past month on issues of leadership. I was wondering if you would be willing to take a couple of minutes out of your very busy schedule to share a few thoughts or bullet points that I could share with my Blog readers (many of whom are senior executives) on how your USMA education and training prepared you for the leadership challenges of The Apprentice experience.

Thanks, and best wishes.


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Hello Al:

I'm excited to share with you the ways in which West Point and my time in the Army helped prepare me for business as well as the challenges associated with The Apprentice. I've actually been somewhat surprised by the focus on my military background by the general public/media. I thought it was well-understood and accepted that the military is a phenomenal training ground for business leaders!

At a macro level there are many fundamentals that are taught and practiced in the military that make a person well-suited for business leadership:

1. Integrity. This one is pretty obvious - lives are at stake in the military and any indiscretion can cause someone to pay the ultimate price. The honor code at West Point - "A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do" - is easily translatable into the military and into business. It is black and white. Practicing it day in and day out makes it second nature for military personnel.

2. Teamwork. With almost no exceptions, every unit in the military is made up of teams that work together to execute their missions. Over the last few years, the team approach to solving problems and managing businesses has become a standard for management training. For US soldiers it is a natural way to operate.

3. Duty Concept. As a leader, you owe it to your team to give 100% effort all of the time. And your team owes it to you. The best commercial slogan describing the duty concept was coined by a shoe manufacturer: "Just do it." It is pretty simple and embodies much of what makes soldiers great businesspeople. You just do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. You shouldn't have to be told to do something and this attitude is second nature to service men and women.

4. Creativity in a contained environment. Contrary to how we've been depicted in many Hollywood films, the US soldier is very creative. In fact, the US military is one of the most difficult forces to fight against because our doctrine calls for commanders to create their own solutions to problems. A commanding officer will give his or her unit very specific orders about WHAT needs to be accomplished in the mission, but not necessarily HOW to accomplish it. The "how" is left up to the subordinate commanders and their units. This open system breeds creativity which is highly applicable to any business environment.

5. Structured Operations. Structured planning for operations is a critical success factor for military activities as well as business activities. The breakdown of operating responsibilities into different units, chains of command, interdependencies of operating units, constrained resource allocation, and clear/concise written communications contribute to the success of both military and business operations.

6. Accountability. Take responsibility for your actions – whatever they are.

7. Understanding the enemy. A critical component of any successful military or business operation is a deep and constant understanding of your enemy/competition. How they fight, what their resources are, what they do in certain terrain, response protocols, weapon systems, etc... All have direct business parallels.

At a micro level there are thousands of translatable skills that most businesses would love for their leaders to possess:

1. Attention to detail. A must in the military and in business.

2. Time management. So much to do and so little time!

3. Ability to prioritize. A critical skill for any leader.

4. Fast decision-making. Being able to make a decision with 70% of the information.

5. Ability to lead and to be led. Taking orders is as important a skill as giving them.

6. Excellent verbal and written communication. Expert communicators in front of audiences of 1 to 1,000.

I put each of these to good use on the various tasks during the course of The Apprentice. There are many more military-honed skills that have business applications, but I wanted to focus on a few and let you know why I feel they are compelling. More of my thoughts on leadership, strategy, and other business concepts can be found in the forums on my website at


Kelly Perdew (USMA ’89)

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I am deeply grateful to Kelly for his generosity in sharing his time and his thoughts. I encourage you to check out his Website (see URL above) and to subscribe to his monthly newsletter.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Have a great day!


1 comment:

Robert Merrill said...

What an incredible post! Thank you, and thanks for demonstrating LinkedIn! I'll link this to my post on LinkedIn: http://point-n-click.blogspot.com/2005/01/resolution-keep-in-touch.html