Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fortune Magazine Article - Battle-Tested: From Soldier to Business Leader

A number of weeks ago I was interviewed by Brian O'Keefe, senior editor of Fortune Magazine for the article that is linked below. While I am not directly quoted in this article, his conclusions are very consistent with those that I have drawn over the past several years about the transferability to the business world of the skills our young military leaders are developing in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was gratified when the article first appeared that I heard from a number of individuals who all said the same basic thing: "Hey, there is this article in Fortune that is saying the same things you have been saying for years!"

I was able to put Mr. O'Keefe in contact with several individuals who are quoted in the article. See excerpts below for quotations from individuals I know, and the link at the bottom to access the full article, which is well worth reading:

"JMOs are heavily represented in elite management-development programs at other companies. A good example is PepsiCo (PEP, Fortune 500), where seven of the 25 coveted positions in its Leadership Development Program currently happen to be filled by junior officers. One of them is Donovan Campbell, a Princeton-educated former Marine who published a bestselling memoir last year called Joker One about his experience as a platoon leader in Iraq.

In 2008, Campbell was midway through his final year at Harvard Business School and had already accepted an offer from Pepsi when he was recalled from the reserves to deploy to Afghanistan. When he phoned his contact at Pepsi to explain, the company was more than supportive. Within a few hours the head of human resources had called to tell him that Pepsi planned to hire him early so he would earn the equivalent of a full salary while he was on active duty. He got an e-mail of support from CEO Indra Nooyi later that same day.

Now in his first assignment in the leadership program, Campbell is running a 167-person organization in a $100 million Frito-Lay sales zone in Dallas. He says that his job commanding a platoon has given him valuable perspective.

'Combat experience was very humbling, because mistakes happen,' says Campbell, who in Joker One details the anguish he experienced when several of his men were wounded and one was killed during his platoon's deployment to Ramadi in 2004. 'In school you're rewarded for not making mistakes. And then you get out and get a job, and a lot of times you get promoted because you make very few mistakes. And so what you do is you develop a mindset that mistakes are to be avoided at all costs. What you learn in the military is that it doesn't matter how hard you try or how good you are. One, you will make mistakes; and two, sometimes events or the enemy or a changing situation will mean that you do not succeed, and in fact you fail. And you become comfortable with the idea of, I do not have to have zero defects to be successful.'"

. . . .

"While officers such as Mumm and Campbell have leadership experience that their peers can rarely match, they are typically lacking in skills like financial modeling. So business school has become a popular way station on the road to the executive track. And the MBA programs are clamoring to have them.

Schools like MIT, New York University, and the University of Virginia have created special programs to market to junior officers. Harvard doesn't market specifically to veterans, but the current class of MBA students is about 3% ex-military. 'I would be happy to have that number go up,' says admissions director Deirdre Leopold.

And on a campus where ROTC hasn't been welcome since the turbulent days of Vietnam, vets get a warm reception. Maura Sullivan, a former Marine logistics officer who, like Campbell, went to HBS and is now in Pepsi's leadership program, was stunned when she first visited a class and the students stood and applauded for her. 'I had chills,' she says. 'That really drew me in to the school.'"

. . . .

"Still, the business world has been changing at a rapid clip too, and one has to wonder: Can a former officer who's used to issuing orders feel comfortable "leading" an eccentric computer programmer who does his best work at 3 a.m. while scarfing down Cheetos and may be more important to the company's bottom line than his boss?

There's no reason why not, argues Doug Raymond, 37, a former Army captain who is now the head of monetization for Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) in China. 'I don't think it's empirically true that it's difficult,' he says. But in his experience Silicon Valley is dubious about any sort of leadership paradigm and skeptical of structure. In his four years at Google, Raymond has never had any direct reports. To get people working on a project, he has to get them excited about an idea and lure them to meetings. 'Pretty soon they start asking for work, and all of a sudden you've got 35 people on it,' he says.

That environment may sound as un-military as possible, but Raymond says it's not really so different. 'I think the people who are doing interesting stuff in the military are very much entrepreneurial in mindset,' he says. 'And they don't look up for approval and permission to do stuff. They just are doing it, and then after a while, the chain of command recognizes that what they're doing has value, and they kind of put a veneer of respectability around it. And that's exactly how a tech company works.'"

Full Fortune Article - Battle Tested

1 comment:

Phil Dana said...

You know Amazon is getting after it! 80 this year, 150 next, and 300 in 2012.