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A Navy SEALs Guide To Transitioning From Military Service

Commander's Intent: Transitioning from the Role of Navy SEAL Commander to Consultant. A Success Story

 
James MarvinJames Marvin

James Marvin: "You can pack your parachute a thousand times, but at some point you're going to have to jump and trust that you're going to know what to do in the unlikely event you have a malfunction."

{mosimage} Welcome to a special Career Strategies channel podcast on TotalPicture Radio with Peter Clayton reporting. Joining us today is retired Navy SEAL, Commander James Marvin.

Among many assignments during his distinguished twenty year military career, James was the Executive Officer at the Naval Special Warfare command, located on the Island Kingdom of Bahrain. In November of 2004 Commander Marvin was transferred to the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island where he received a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies.

James retired from active duty in 2009, and now lives in Seattle, Washington, where he's formed a consulting practice, Federal Green Solutions. James is helping the Department of Defense reduce its dependence on oil and increase operational capability. I was introduced to James by executive career coach Beth Ross, who told me, "James really gets it. He did the transition from his military career exactly right."

James Marvin TotalPicture Radio Interview Transcript

Welcome to a special Career Transition channel podcast on TotalPicture Radio. This is Peter Clayton reporting.

Joining us today is retired Navy SEAL Commander James Marvin. Among many assignments during his distinguished 20 year military career, James was the executive officer at the Naval Special Warfare Command, located on the island kingdom of of Bahrain. In November of 2004 Commander Marvin was transferred to the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island where he received a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies the following year.

James retired from active duty in 2009 and now lives in Seattle where he is helping the Department of Defense reduce its dependence on oil and increase operational capabilities.

James, welcome to TotalPicture Radio.

James: Thank you, Peter. It's a pleasure to talk to you.

Peter: A pleasure to talk to you, as well. The timing of this interview is certainly opportune given the news of the past week. I have to ask you, James, what were your thoughts when you first heard the news regarding Osama Bin Laden and the Navy SEALS role in this really incredible operation?

James: Peter, I have to be honest with you, my first thought was man, those guys must really be fired up. My second thought was go 160th!

Seriously, I really started to think about all the people as a result, who would now focus on the positive attributes that our military forces, along with other government agencies represent and the significant lasting impact they're having around the world working hard every single day without a break, to keep America and the rest of the world safe.

Peter: As a follow up to that, James, can you share with us some insight into the preparation and training that goes into a mission such as this?

James: Certainly. Peter, it's difficult to really put it into words without sounding cliché, it's really a lot of hard work. It's a lot of hard work and dedication to get to the point where you can execute a mission like that.

What I will say is this - there is no "i" in the word 'team' and although credit goes where credit is due, in all likelihood, there were a lot of people that worked really, really hard for a really, really long time to put this whole operation together.

I think it was a tremendous example of a joint military intergovernment agency operation and it could not have gone better. It had to work because everybody pulled together to do their part.

It's actually a great question and it really supports nicely what we're probably going to talk about in principle moving forward during this interview - namely, you can't accomplish anything without working together as a team. If you're willing to work hard, if you're willing to focus, then you can accomplish what you set out to accomplish. And I guess the last thing is you can't quit. That's the SEAL motto and I'm sure it's the model of other special operations forces and military folks as well. Don't quit.

Peter: I think part of this is we have, as people who have not gone through the kinds of training and experience that you have in your military career, this image of the Rambo characters out there. And that's not the real world. That's not how this stuff really gets done.

James: No, absolutely not. It's about being professional, it's about doing your homework, and it's about practice, practice, practice. You know, you try and reduce the risk as much as you can but at the end of the day, you have to be willing to take a chance. It's a calculated chance, but you can't eliminate all of the ambiguity. What you try and do is narrow the risk to a point where you can manage the situation as it's changing on the ground and that's where you put your focus.

Peter: We're going to shift gears. I was introduced to James by a very good executive coach, Beth Ross, who has been on this program many times as 'The Guy Who Did It Right,' meaning transitioning from your military career to a very successful career in the private sector, which obviously is very difficult to do for a lot of people. I'm interested to know how did you go about preparing for your transition from the military to going back into the private sector?

James: Right. First, let me just say it was a joint effort. It was really a partnership between my wife and I; we worked it like a team. We started working it probably five years before we actually were at a point where we could conclude our federal service or retire.

To answer your question, we planned our transition like we would a military operation. We developed a plan and then we had a plan to implement the plan and then we implemented the plan. The planning was easy in retrospect; the doing was hard.

For planning, the first thing we did was really think through where we wanted to go, where we wanted to be, what was important to us. You really have to focus on the end state and get a clear picture of where you're headed before you get started because if you put a lot of work into a plan before you really think through where it is you want to go, in the end you're going to waste a lot of time and valuable resources and that's definitely not something that you can afford to do or that you want to do.

We also went through an analysis and a really detailed study of the situation. We looked at where we wanted to go, we looked at geography, for example; I wanted - I needed - to live by the ocean. We looked at demographics. For instance, my wife wanted to be in an area that had a thriving art community because she paints. We're adopting from China, so we wanted to find a community that had a prominent Asian representation. Lastly, we looked at what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go in terms of career.

We put all of that together and that helped us figure out where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do and then we went through the process of how to get there. Then we kind of had to step off the cliff, if you will. There came a day where we had to put the For Sale sign on the house in Virginia Beach, Virginia and get in the minivan and drive across the country, site unseen. There goes that part about the risk.

You can pack your parachute a thousand times but sooner or later, you're going to have to jump and trust that you know what to do in the unlikely event that you have a malfunction.

Peter: That's a great metaphor. We had talked a couple of weeks ago and you had mentioned to me that you met with a number of very prominent business leaders in this preparation that you were doing in transitioning into the private sector. How did you go about arranging these interviews and deciding whom it was you wanted to speak with?

James: The easy answer is I just wrote a letter. I tell you, the power of a handwritten letter cannot be overemphasized. I think there is just a connection that you make that you can't make any other way.

The truth of the matter is, is that it really forces you to do the calculus about why you want to contact somebody. You're just not contacting someone so that you could brag about the fact that you contacted somebody. I mean you really want to reach out to someone who represents the type of individual that you really want to become. At least that's what I did.

You create this homework assignment that really makes you think through the details of what specific pieces of information you're looking for. And then all of that kind of translates into a handwritten piece of communication that tries to convey that.

Try to keep it short; people are busy and time is valuable. So you do a one page letter. I'll tell you the interesting thing that whenever I had to go meet with somebody as a result of writing a letter, they all had the letter. I thought that was interesting. And you know, not everybody answered. I wrote a lot of letters that nobody responded to.

Peter: Who are some of the people that you ultimately ended up meeting with?

James: Just for the sake of their confidentiality, I really don't know that it's appropriate to tell them by name, but I will tell you that here in the Pacific Northwest, they represent individuals, CEOs of companies that are $300-400 million companies and they're really at the top of their game. They are rock stars. They get their job done by working hard and taking care of people. Probably the thing that I realized most about all of them - and they're all different, but they have some things in common - and that is that they're great listeners. They certainly have a sense of self, they understand what their style is and they don't try and do something that's not kind of within the scope of how they operate, and they realize that everything matters. Those are some definite key takeaways. There is no magic solution. It was clear that they all understood that if you wanted to get something done, you had to plan it and then you had to do it - roll your sleeves up and get it done.

Peter: James, can you tell us a little bit more about what you learned from some of these individuals and what you were able, then, to use as your plan for this very major transition that you were making?

James: Yes, absolutely, Peter. Seeing is doing, and for me the biggest thing was to be able to kind of watch how they carried themselves and what they said, and how they spoke. When you get an opportunity to speak with somebody whose job it is to run a $300 million company, you really get a true sense of what it takes to be successful; you really get to find out what's important to them and what matters; and at the end of the day, for me, it was a good exercise in humility.

Here I was coming from a successful career in the Navy and I thought I had a lot to offer but you realize where you stand is where you sit, and in the business community you're not in the military. There are a lot of the same principles, there are similarities in the functional construct of companies, big and small that are very similar to the military, but at the end of the day, they're completely different animals; one's business and one's military.

I think the takeaway is that the opportunities made me realize that again, all of these successful people really had a clear sense of what they were doing and that made me realize, again, that focus on end state and the long-term goal and that everything mattered when you were the boss and so, I think that's one of the transition points for folks that are coming from the military, is to re-look at that skill set, and it's not a one-for-one exchange; it's the ability to understand intent and then transition to accomplishing a specific goal. In order to get back to that position where you have a breath of knowledge in terms of how the organization works, that just takes time; it takes time to get to the point where you not only understand that everything matters, but you have a sense of what each of those components are.

Peter: That's a really interesting perspective. Continuing on that same thread, James, as you well know, many, many soldiers have a really, really difficult time transitioning from active duty back to civilian life, especially those who have been engaged in combat operations. What other advice can you share with them?

James: The first thing I would say is to remember that the business world is not the military. The example I like to use is if you take a CEO who's at the top of their game and very, very successful at what they do, and then drop them into a military position, you put them in a battalion level command or a brigade level operation, they're not going to be successful. They've got certain inherent skill sets but those cultural nuances just don't necessarily crosswalk.

I will tell you that the ability to interpret commanders' intent is probably the biggest asset. So for me, the way I would have a discussion with somebody in the military who is conducting a transitioning - and this is what worked for me; everyone's got to kind of find out what works for them - but it's not the one-for-one exchange, meaning if I was good at assembling certain electronics components, that's not going to necessarily put me over the edge against somebody in the private sector, who is a professional at assembling electronic components. From the military perspective, the ability to interpret commanders' intent is, I think, what sets them apart, and I would venture to guess that that is so valuable to employers because at the end of the day, when you can interpret what the organization needs and understand how you fit into achieving the long-term goals that's valuable. And that's what employers are looking for.

You kind of have to take a step back and realize that you have to approach the problem from a different perspective. That's how I did it. It wasn't a one for one tradeoff. Again, I wasn't going into looking for a job that was a security related job or something that necessarily one would think would be that type of job I would go and look for to directly translate the skill sets that I had as I completed a career in the Navy in the Naval Special Warfare community.

Peter: What you decided to transition to is really fascinating and as I mentioned in the introduction of this podcast, you are helping the DOD to reduce its dependence on oil and increase operational capability. So, give us some specifics, James; what exactly are you doing now?

James: I think the biggest thing that I do is I spend a lot of time with clients helping them translate the value that they have as a company in terms that make sense to the military and vice versa; I like to say that I am a phraselator.

Clausewitz, who was a great Prussion theorist in military operations, and somebody who is studied quite a bit by people in the profession of the military, and I'm sure others as well - but the point is that - and I'm paraphrasing - when I was at the Naval War College, I remember Clausewitz had basically stated the simple things in warfare are very effective but simple doesn't mean they're easy. It's not easy trying to connect to two different worlds, but that's where I find I can provide the most value and that's really where I spend lots of my time.

I also help companies by interpreting commanders' intent. I'm able to explain the companies what the military is looking for in terms of operational capability, how do you get operational reach on the battlefield, what does that mean. And at the same time I'm looking at technologies to see how they are applicable on the battlefield. I really work to vet companies, in the military, especially in the special operations community - the SEALs, the Green Berets. Reputation is everything, and you have to learn it every single day. You could be a rock star one day but if you blow the next day, that's it, it's over.

People in the military know that if that's where you're coming from and certainly in my case, that's part of your DNA - it's part of my DNA. And when I come with future potential solutions to military individuals, leaders, civilian, and uniform, they listen to me because they know I'm staking my reputation on it.

Peter: Fascinating. You recently had an OpEd article published titled The Great Green Fleet, which I found really interesting and I had no idea the stuff was going on, to be honest with you. It's like high bred battleships. I'd like for you to share with us some of the statistics and innovations that the Navy is adopting.

James: Go Navy! The Navy is certainly leading the charge and, quite frankly, all of the military services are working really hard to incorporate clean energy technologies into their operations both forward - so overseas, as well as from a facility's perspective because our dependence on oil is really a national security issue. It's really the first time since the Civil War that we're funding both sides of a conflict. The United States drives the market price of oil and therefore, there are some organizations and countries that then take that profit and funnel it to people who are targeting our service men and women.

The Navy, I think, is really taking a leadership role in helping incorporate renewable and alternative energies solutions. Roughly 2% of all the petroleum that's used by the United States is used by the United States government; 1% of that is used by the Department of Defense; 30% of that the Navy uses. You may not think that's a lot, but when you look at an organization the size of the Navy, roughly ballpark figure 150-175,000 people, first as the population of the United States, you realize oh my, that's a big, big consumption rate. And the Navy uses 75% of that for its operations, ships, airplanes, while it's afloat, and then 25% of that ashore. So the Navy is incorporating clean technologies solutions in their base facilities, retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient and it really spans the full spectrum. There are solar powered projects, there are wind powered projects, there are technologies that reduce the energy consumption because they're using advanced chip technologies, and then bio fuels is a big part of it forward because at the end of the day, you have to have a liquid fuel that has the power density to fly a jet and drive a ship, but in the case of the fleet, the ships - they're moving towards electric hybrids. When ships are at idle they're using battery power and that saves a lot of energy.

For example, the Maikin Island is a hybrid ship and when she's at idle and a Harrier jet is taking off of her deck, the Harrier is burning more energy than the ship is using for propulsion. So it's quite remarkable. The Navy is really doing a tremendous amount of work and Secretary Mabus is really leading the charge on behalf of the entire Department of Defense.

Go Navy!

Peter: From what I understand James, what you're doing is you're working with a lot of these companies that are developing these types of green technologies and then going back into the naval command and saying "All right, here is a company that's doing this" and you act basically as a translator, right?

James: Absolutely. And I'll tell anybody who's looking to pursue a career in "The Greenfield" that has something related to do with the military, there is a couple of things you certainly need to do.

One, you need to become an expert in the Federal Acquisition Regulation. It's about 2,000 pages, not including addendums and other special legislative pieces of work that really dictate what you can and cannot do. And it is absolutely essential that you start to learn what your left and your right limits are in terms of what you can do because the last thing that you want to do is put senior leaders in a position where they can't take advantage of solutions that you might be able to bring them. So you have to do your homework in that regard.

The second thing is that you really have to believe in what you're doing. It's about being sincere. Right now people are falling all over themselves trying to get on the green gravy train. And the military is fighting our nation's wars and they're also at the same time trying to fundamentally change the construct of how they consume energy. That's like trying to change a flat tire while you're still driving, and it doesn't help when there are people standing in line trying to throw their technology into their operations just for the sake of making a buck.

It really helps to be able to vet and point them in the right direction and become part of the process. It's a big process. It's a huge process and you have to have some patience, but it's something that is certainly doable.

Peter: Thank you very much for that perspective. James, give us a glimpse at a day in the life of James Marvin. How do you go about getting your consulting assignments and what are you currently working on?

James: I'll tell you, Peter, it's all about relationships and relationships take time to develop. So you really have to be strategic about which ones you want to commit to. You can't go at it without a sincere intent or people are going to see right through you. At the end of the day you're going to end up going no where and you're going to waste a lot of people's time and time is very valuable and you can't get it back.

This goes back to the letters I wrote to some of the prominent business leaders here in the Pacific Northwest and other places, and it really serves as the basis for how I operate with respect to Federal Green solutions.

I start my day by focusing on how I can continue to strengthen relationships and a lot of that is being a good listener and understanding what people's requirements are. I look at it as you're building a team that you would go to war with. Where you stand is where you sit. I grew up in the military, so I look at everything and I use those types of analogies. You don't really know who's going to do what in a crisis situation, so you really have to spend the time to get a good sense of what someone's character is and where they're coming from and what their goals and desires are.

Now granted, you half balance your resources so that you can spend time doing that but what I have found is that networking is not standing on the corner and handing out business cards hoping that you can close a deal; you have to look long-term - at least that's how I'm doing it. There were times and there have been times when I was wondering if this is really the right thing to do. I had to really float because I was watching people standing on the corner, so to speak, passing out business cards and they are getting deals but that's not the way I wanted to do business. Eventually what I found out was there are people out there, there are clients out there, who want consultants that really care about their issues and are willing to commit to creating a relationship and it just kind of worked itself out. I have received a number of assignments, some were short duration, some of them continued as a result.

Peter: Do you do lot of traveling in your current work? I mean you spend a lot of time in like Washington DC or...

James: I do. You have to go where things are happening in terms of policy and if you want to reach out to senior decision makers you have to go where they're working in. And of course the heartbeat of the military is in Washington DC, the Pentagon and there are other offices. So yeah, I have to travel and a lot of that travel I do on my own.

If you're looking for someone to create that opportunity for you, I would say that it's very difficult to make it happen, at least in my case; I've done it the other way around. You kind of have to be able to trust that your instinct is right and you've got to walk off the cliff and take a chance and what I have found is that the rewards will come your way.

Peter: James, thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today. To wrap up, is there anything that you could perhaps share with our military veterans out there who are struggling to try to get back into the job market; to give them some inspiration.

James: Yeah. The first thing that I would say is if I can do it anyone can do it. The second thing I would say is get a career coach. Call Beth Ross. That was probably one of the best things I ever did. You don't know what you don't know.

There's this natural tendency to surround yourself with people that are kind of going to think the way you think or tell you what you think you want to hear and there's just nothing better than to get a disassociated third party to kind of provide a perspective.

A lot of times not hearing something is as good as hearing something because it tells you that you're on track, and in many cases you're going to follow the path that's going to work for you. There's no formula to this, so to speak. You have to do things that will work for you. What works for me may not work for somebody else. But being able to have a discussion with someone and have them provide some kind of an objective feedback, at least for me, was very valuable. So I purposely picked somebody that, quite frankly, was as different from me as I could find. Here I came from a 20 year career in the special operations community in the Navy. I wanted someone that had nothing to do with the military. I picked a woman because I wanted that different perspective. People look at the world differently.

My advice would be get a coach if you can, talk to somebody and really get a clear sense of what you want to do and then focus on those inherent skills that you have in the military that are kind of above that translational skills set that you might have learned.

Now I understand that there are certain requirements that people have and so sometimes you just don't have the resources to kind of do this. But if you start planning well ahead of time then you can create the buffer you need so that you can take the time to do what you need to do. But it's just a long process. There's no easy answer.

The good news is that if you stick to your perspective on where you want to go and how you want to get there you don't have to kind of remember how to do it. It's just natural. When you connect, it's a lasting connection. And so you're always taking a step forward. So you may not go as quickly as you want in terms of progress but you're never going to find yourself in a position where you're taking two steps forwards and one step back.

So in the end, you're going to get where you want to go fast.

Peter: Again James, thank you so much for speaking with us today on TotalPicture Radio. I've really enjoyed our conversation today.

James: Thank you, Peter. I appreciate the opportunity.

James Marvin is a retired US Navy Commander and he is the founder of Federal Green Solutions, the Seattle consulting firm focused on reducing the Defense Department's dependence on oil.

We welcome your comments on our interview with James. Please join our Facebook group TotalPicture Radio to voice your thoughts and opinions. You'll find his interview in the Career Transitions channel of TotalPicture Radio. That's TotalPicture.com. While there, please sign up for our newsletter and remember, you can subscribe to TPR on iTunes. Just do a keyword search for TotalPicture Radio.

Join me on Twitter @peterclayton.

Thanks for tuning into TotalPicture Radio; the voice of career and leadership acceleration. Our interviews can link your company with your clients, prospects, employees and passive candidates.

The Great Green Fleet
By James Marvin

Cruising the Pacific Ocean, somewhere off the coast of California, is the U.S. Navy's answer to the Prius, an amphibious assault ship the size of a small aircraft carrier with an energy-saving hybrid power train.

Off the capes of Virginia, a modern Navy swift boat cuts a wake at more than 50 miles per hour on fuel made from algae and petroleum. High over Maryland's Patuxent River, a Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet breaks the sound barrier, its twin engines burning a 50-50 blend of aviation fuel and the oil of crushed camelina seeds.

The largest blue water navy in the history of the world is going green. It's not just for the sake of our environment. Reducing our reliance on oil will make our forces safer and enhance the Navy's core mission to win wars, deter aggression and keep America secure.

The necessity of those goals has been underscored in recent weeks as fresh unrest in the Middle East has driven oil prices to the $100-a-barrel range. Nearly four decades after President Richard Nixon asked the country to break its dependence on foreign oil, our economy and our security are still held hostage to global supply and price spikes we can't control.

"Simply put, we as a military rely too much on fossil fuels," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus explained in a speech this year. "It's about making us better warfighters. It's also about ensuring the safety and the lives of our sailors and Marines."

In my 20 years on active duty as a Navy SEAL, I saw the costs, risks and sacrifices our forces undertake each day because of our dependence on petroleum-based fuels.

In the leadup to the war in Iraq, for example, a lot of really smart people worked hard preparing to support combat operations. U.S. and coalition forces put an enormous amount of time and resources into making sure nothing bad happened to oil platforms and pipelines in the Northern Arabian Gulf.

Even before the war in Iraq, I saw how the Navy and the rest of the military make sure access to the global commons remains free and open. I watched vessels transiting from the Middle East through the Singapore and Malacca Straits. The message was clear: Keeping those vessels moving was vital to U.S. security.

Then came the tragic events of 9/11. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are the first time since the Civil War that we are funding both sides of the battle. Terrorist and insurgent groups receive financial support from oil-rich countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. The money buys weapons and provides training for our enemies. Money spent at the gas pump here at home is funding foes who kill our servicemen and women overseas.

I know the price our military pays for oil and, as Mabus makes clear, we have to bring it down. He's set an ambitious goal. By 2020, Navy ships at sea will get just half their power from oil, down from about 75 percent today.

Nuclear power will play a role. Aircraft carriers and submarines are powered by nuclear reactors, making up about a quarter of the fuel for our fleet at sea.

The Navy is also investing in hybrid ships, like the USS Makin Island. It's the first Navy amphibious assault ship to replace steam boilers with gas turbines and the first non-nuclear surface ship to be equipped with the electric motors and generators needed to switch to all-electric power. That option, especially effective at low speeds, is projected to save more than $250 million in fuel costs over the expected life of the ship.

Alternative fuels are going to replace some oil as well. At Naval Station Norfolk, a riverine command boat is using fuel made from algae, a promising source of alternative energy. At the Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Md., the "Green Hornet" is flying faster than the speed of sound on fuel made partly from camelina seeds.

Next year, electric motors and generators will be added to the USS Truxtun, turning one of the largest and most powerful destroyers ever into a fuel-efficient high seas hybrid. That will advance the Navy's goal of fronting a Green Strike Group that can operate without having to burn a drop of oil by sometime in 2016.

The result will be a complete, battle-ready aircraft carrier strike group that is far less vulnerable to the price and supply shocks of oil or tethered to the need to refuel at sea every few days.

This sea change in the Navy's approach to energy consumption will help cut costs and allow scarce resources to be applied toward training and readiness - not fuel bills. That's a sound investment that increases our defense capabilities, extends our range of operations, makes our military men and women safer and pays for itself in energy savings.

What's good for the Navy is good for the nation overall. We can create jobs that stay in the U.S., make our country more secure and safeguard our health and environment by moving to cleaner, more sustainable sources of power and fuel that help break our dependence on oil.

James Marvin, a retired U.S. Navy commander, is founder of Federal Green Solutions, a Seattle consulting firm focused on reducing the Defense Department's dependence on oil. His military service included tours in Norfolk.

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.

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