Friday, February 17, 2006

10 Leaders Share Their Views On Leadership – Part I: “Duty” by Bill Reagan

Chapter One of “Take Command” by Kelly Perdew discusses “Duty: Do What You Are Supposed To Do, When You’re Supposed to Do It.” Kelly closes the chapter with this quotation:

“You know what to do 99 percent of the time. When an employee asks me a question, I look him in the eye and ask, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ Almost every time he can make the decision on his own. So stop waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Be active and do the right thing. This applies to both your work and your personal life. ‘Just do it!” (Page 27)

Of all the people I know, no one exemplifies the motto “Just Do It” better than my friend, Bill Reagan. I am honored that Bill has agreed to lead off this ten-part series inspired by Kelly Perdew’s book. Bill is a naval aviator who moved on to an inspiring career in business as an inventor, entrepreneur, corporate leader, mentor, thought leader and networker extraordinaire! Bill invented the technology behind LoJack, the company that he founded and led through its first stages of growth and success. It is fitting than Bill’s current business card lists him as “Consulting Philosopher”! I am pleased to offer Bill’s wise and philosophical thoughts on Duty.

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DUTY by Bill Reagan

My run of the mill daily dictionaries around the house have several definitions of the word “Duty”. My unabridged dictionary has fifty-seven lines defining “Duty”. I chose to eschew them all.

The first time I contemplated the concept of “duty”, I never defined it as a word or an abstract concept. As a freshman at the University of Notre Dame in 1953 one day I walked through the entrance to the east end of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Above the door are inscribed the words: “God - Country - Notre Dame.” Affixed to the walls on either side of the door are the names of the men from Notre Dame who paid the ultimate sacrifice in World War I. The ceiling of the vestibule, inside of the War Memorial entrance contains the coats of arms of American Divisions that fought in the First World War.

The non-defining of the word was certainly not a noetic conclusion of a logical thinking process. It is not the word “duty” which is all-important. Nor is it an implication of the value, the attitude and the actions it requires that gives the meaning and concept of “duty” its value.

While my dear friend, Doctor Al Chase, has asked me to please convey how my military career could help show how my “duty” in the military might be translated to become a transferable asset in the business world, I find it most difficult to dissect and directly link the various passages of my life smoothly together.

Al said: “Don’t be embarrassed to talk about your experience which yields an example of duty”. I know examples are a terrible way to define something. However, I am not bright enough to compete with all the dictionary definitions. Therefore, examples will have to do.

Duty in the military is quickly and boldly comprehensible and clear when those we loved and cared for gave the ultimate sacrifice. My beloved roommate in advanced training at Corpus Christi, John Sullivan, was covering for his squadron CO - who was under the hood in the cockpit practicing simulated instrument flying. John was in his aircraft, acting as the eyes for his skipper over the Mediterranean. At Sully’s funeral service, his boss said: “Bill, he just didn’t respond after I popped the hood. He was in a flat glide heading back to the carrier and slowly descending toward the water. I slid over and kept calling him on the radio. He wasn’t answering and seemed frozen in the cockpit.”

I asked: “Did you give him a tip on his wing sir?” He said: “I did…and a good one too.” Mrs. Sullivan (John’s mother) was standing near us, looked at me and said: “What do you think Bill?” I said, “Mrs. Sullivan, I wasn’t there. The Commander was. I suspect that Sully either had a heart attack or succumbed to vapors in the cockpit. I’m almost sure he never suffered.” The skipper said: “I agree with Bill, Mrs. Sullivan.”

My second example will be enough. By pure chance, I met my best friend in flight training, Tony Caswick, at Blackbush Military Airport outside of London. We spent a couple of days together and were scheduled to take off at the same time on day three. It was early in the morning and we got permission from the Brits to do a formation takeoff. We flew out over the Irish Sea and passed over the British aircraft carrier “HMS Ark Royal”. About ten minutes after we greeted our Brit friends, we received a call that one of their scouting aircraft had spotted the snorkel of a Russian submarine. They requested us to take over. “You or me?” I asked Tony. “Well, it’s southwest and I’m heading back to Florida. Where are you going, Brunswick?” “Nope,” I said. “Newfoundland. Argentia.” Okay. “I’ll take it then. Later Bill.” Tony and his crew perished in pursuit of that Russian submarine.

I spent my last year and a half on the staff of the First Naval District in Boston in charge of recruiting and leadership for the Naval Reserve. I flew out of the Naval Air Station in South Weymouth but truly missed the camaraderie of my squadron.

My transition into civilian life was most fortuitous. I was offered a job as director of marketing for Massa Corporation in Hingham, MA. Massa was a primary manufacturer and developer of underwater transducers and listening devices used in anti-submarine warfare. (The business I had been in for most of my naval career) So, there I was working almost full time in Washington with my alma mater – The United States Navy. But now I was a civilian and very comfortable with my new surroundings.

While at Massa Corporation, I became a member of the National Security Industrial Association. The President of the New England Group was a retired Naval Officer who ran the Marine Division of the Avco Corporation’s Research and Advanced Development Group. His name was Brisco Chipman. He was the first officer in his Naval Academy class to be selected as Admiral. He asked me to leave Massa and replace his #1, Tom Paris who was moving to Washington. Tom was also a Naval Academy grad. I accepted his offer on November 22, 1963 - the day President Kennedy was shot.

So my transition from the United States Navy to the civilian life was pretty much seamless. Brisco Chipman died suddenly and I ended up reporting to Doug Kenna, Avco’s Executive Vice President. Doug and I became friends. Doug also had a military background. He went to the University of Mississippi for one year and transferred (with the help of Senator Stennis from Mississippi) to the United States Military Academy. At West Point, Doug was President of his class, Regimental commander, All-American football player, quarterback and halfback on the undefeated 1944 Army football team which won the national championship. He was also an All-American basketball player and captain of the Army tennis team. Doug and I both left Avco at the same time in 1967 and have kept our friendship for all these years.

In essence, I have been particularly blessed in a special way because I had the good fortune of being inspired by great and noble men who never were patronizing, always kind, never arrogant and always caring, honest and fair. While they never said these words, I now give you my definition of DUTY, which I learned from them: DUTY is the overwhelming moral requirement to do what you MUST do.”

Finally, once upon a time, near the end of my career at AVCO, I found myself on a plane seated beside an elderly woman who was living on her deceased husband’s life insurance and pension from AVCO Corporation. After I listened to much of her life history, she asked me for whom I worked. I answered simply “I work for you!”


This series will continue next week with . . . .

10 Leaders Share Their Views On Leadership – Part II: “Impeccability” by Drew Clarke

I encourage you to share this series with others you feel would benefit from the insights of these leaders.


1 comment:

jsavard said...


Simply OUTSTANDING ... Duty, in my humble opinion, also includes "Doing the Right Thing - NOT - What is Right for You."

Your thesis on DUTY is Spot On and, Simply OUTSTANDING!

Jim Savard

Go NAVY - Beat Notre Dame (Sometime before I go to stay with the BIG MAN in the Sky)