#112: The essence of leadership is helping others with Bob Ellithorpe
April 14, 2021 • 1:01:05
Aaron Spatz, Host, America’s Entrepreneur
Bob Ellithorpe, CEO, Tribus Aerospace Corporation
You’re listening to America’s Entrepreneur, the podcast designed to educate, entertain, and inspire you in your personal and professional journey. I’m your host, Aaron Spatz. And on the podcast, I interview entrepreneurs, industry experts and other high-achievers that detailed their personal and professional journeys in business. My goal is to glean their experiences into actionable insights that you can apply to your own journey. If you’re new to the show, we’ve spoken with successful entrepreneurs, Grammy Award-winning artists, bestselling authors, chief executives, and other fascinating minds with unique experiences. We’ve covered topics such as how to achieve breakthrough in business, growing startups, effective leadership techniques, and much more. If you strive for continual self-improvement and enjoy fascinating and insightful conversation, hit the subscribe button. You’ll love it here at America’s Entrepreneur.
I’m super excited to have Bob Ellithorpe on the program. He comes to us from a Marine Corps background and his most recent assignment has taken him to Tribus Aerospace Corporation, where he serves as its president and CEO. Bob, I just want to thank you, sir. Thank you so much for being a part of the program today.
It’s good, it’s a pleasure. Aaron, thanks for asking me. I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Yeah. It’s always a good time. We never know where it goes and that’s what makes these conversations so fun. Because I come into it with a rough outline of kind of where we’re going to go, but there’s so much wisdom behind a lot of the things that you’ve seen and a lot of things that you’ve experienced. And so it’s my job and it’s my pledge to the audience to try to grab some of these stories and these lessons learned. There’s things that may come second nature to you that may not come second nature to everybody else. So let’s try to grab those. So let’s go back to where it all started. Help me understand what inspired you to join the military and what caused you to sign up.
Sure. There’s probably two parts of that answer, Aaron. The first is family tradition. Father, uncle, great uncle, Marine, World War II. But most of my family served in the Air Force, but our family history goes back to American Civil War, American revolution. So I think there’s a big family history there in terms of serving the country and serving under arms. The second – I figured you’d ask the question so I brought my book,
This is the book that changed my life. So Aaron, I was not interested in school when I was growing up. Not a great student. Loved football, loved recess, but school was not for me. Not a reader. And when I was 11 years old, my grandmother gave me a William Manchester’s book, Goodbye, Darkness. And if you’ve ever read it, it’s just an amazing story. A memoir of a Marine rifleman of World War II. And I read that book when I was 11 years old. And from that day forward, I knew I wanted to serve in the Marine Corps. And to tell you a quick family story. My dad was trying to convince me to join the Air Force, not the Marine Corps, up until the day he commissioned me. And finally I said, “Dad, so many people in our family have been in the Air Force. Somebody has got to do this right. So I’m going to join the Marine Corps.” And of course that starts to family feud.
Absolutely. Well done and well played because there’s always this inner service rivalry. And I love hearing all the different zingers that everybody gives each other. But that’s really impactful. So you as an 11-year old young man reading this book.
This book. I mean, if anybody out there has not read anything by William Manchester, one, I highly recommend it. If you haven’t gone through Goodbye, Darkness, it is well worth your time. It’s an insightful journey through World War II through the eyes of a frontline Marine. It’s just a riveting story. And in my case, it changed my life.
Man, that’s amazing. Well, I’ve found it on Amazon, so I’ll have it linked up. I’ll have it linked up in the show notes. So if you’re watching or listening to this, just look in the description below, you’ll see a link, so you can go grab that. So, I mean, that’s incredible. So tell me about then – so you went the commission officer route and you served 13 years. And so give us a little bit of a sense of what you were privileged to be able to do.
Well, you know, not enough is the short answer. Not enough. The privilege that was all mine to your point, it was an honor to be counted among some great Americans who wore the uniform and serve the country. And so short answer, not enough. I served in the 2nd Marine Division and 1st Marine Division, Golf 26, Weapons 28, Charlie 11, deployed to the Mediterranean twice then to Norway for a NATO deployment once. I went to the Arabian Gulf once. So in that timeframe, four different deployments. And as you know, being a Marine, we always think about how many deployments. I also did some duty at Quantico where I was an instructor at the Basic School. That was just a fantastic learning experience. When you’re a teacher, you learn as well. When you’re an instructor, you learn as well. So that was a great opportunity. And I also served at the Headquarters Marine Corps and PP&O for a couple of years. For a guy who wasn’t a good student as I admitted early in the podcast, the Marine Corps actually sent me off to do a fellowship at Harvard for a year. So that was also a very eventful year and a lot of learning went on there.
That’s incredible. And back to the Basic School, I mean, I still talk about my experience at the Basic School. It was such an impactful and such a rigorous, but just really awesome basic officer training. And I credit a lot of the culture of the service to that school because there’s a lot that goes on there. So that’s pretty cool getting to see both sides of that and then getting a chance to study at Harvard while you’re on active duty, which is awesome. So you had all these different experiences. You’re able to go on these different deployments and have various levels of responsibility. So take me through the decision then when you decided to separate and what that looked like for you as you started to eyeball your exit and to what was next for you.
Yeah, that’s a really good question, Aaron, and maybe we’ll spend some time on this because as a veteran podcast, there might be other active members out there who are thinking about that transition and what’s next for them. In my case, it was a pink slip. The military version of a pink slip. I was medically retired after an injury. And this all gets put together in a story. When I was in high school, knowing I wanted to be in the Marine Corps, I played football and stay physically fit. But I also raced motorcycles. And I had a pretty bad injury. If you know anybody who races motorcycles, it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when and how bad you’re going to hurt. So I hurt my knee pretty bad.
Went off to college. I got my application in to be commissioned in the Marine Corps, denied my first application saying, “You’ve got this knee injury. You’ve got screws in your knee, et cetera. We think we’re going to deny your commission.” So I got the screws removed, went back to the ROTC office, applied again the second time, denied second application. Range of motion, too short. So I went through two and a half years of physical therapy. I had a great MOI (Marine Officer Instructor) at Texas A&M and a Marine captain. And he wouldn’t give up and I wouldn’t give up. So we made a third application. But this time, we did the PFT, the endurance course, the obstacle course, a forced march. We did the old PRT (Physical Readiness Test). We documented all this, range of motion, screws removed. Third application, Marine Corps says you’re in. So I was able to get my commission and start my service.
Long story short, 13 and a half years later, the knee finally wore out. And I had to be medically retired. I couldn’t go back to the infantry. And so my decision was really forced by medical conditions. But it was, as you can imagine, a significant emotional event. You no doubt went through that transition yourself. And we, my wife and I, had to figure out what are we going to do next. Everything I’ve done since I was 11 was to prepare for the Marine Corps. My schooling at Texas A&M and my assignments were for a career in the Marine Corps. And that just was gone, vaporized. So I had to go to that mental challenge we all go through when we separate. What do you do next? What are you good at? What is someone going to pay you to do or earn a living? How do you care for your family? That was all going through our mind during that transition period.
Wow. I mean, and you’re articulating this so powerfully because I know that that resonates with a ton of people. Whether or not they were forced out because of medical reasons or they decided just to not continue with their service. Maybe they got out for four or eight years, or the case happened to me, or even all the way through retirement, right? I think the point we’re both making here is at some point you’re going to exit.
You’re going to exit.
You’re not gonna stay there until you’re 85 years old, right? But what you’re getting at, though, to the heart of it is this realization, and I relate to that story very much so in the sense of ever since I can remember being able to walk, I knew I was going to join the military. In what capacity, I wasn’t quite sure, but every decision I’d made up through my life was geared with the military in mind. But then you get to that point where – so like in your case, that exit, that end is coming and it’s like a hard stop.
Yeah. What do you do?
What do you do next, right? And what’s funny, too, is if you’re to look at your background and everything that you’ve done, the assumption would be that, “Oh, this guy was on the air wing side of the Marine Corps.” So you’re coming from ground combat element and jumping into a whole bunch of other things. And so what was that like? I mean, yes, incredibly emotional experience. And I cannot imagine for you having the 13 years in at that point how emotional of a stop that was. What process did you go through and how did you navigate? And it was probably a few years, I’m guessing here, but what was that journey like for you as you were processing what it is that you wanted to do next and what your future held?
Really good question. This is a story I tell quite often when I’m talking to veterans who have just transitioned out or military, active duty who are still in uniform but in that transition period and are now starting to think about and prepare for. So I actually talk about this quite a bit. I received some great advice from a retired Marine colonel who was at the time working at the Retired Officers Association (TROA) as it was known then. And as part of the medical retirement process, you get set up with different events to help you write a resume or how to do interviews and so forth. One of the events was to go to the Retired Officers Association and meet with someone to give you some advice on this transition. So I sat out with Colonel Buzz Buce [12:07] and I still remember his name to this day. We met once and I’ll never forget it.
He said, “Bob, resume, pretty straightforward, interview, pretty straight forward. Here’s what you have to do for yourself. Get a blank piece of paper, draw three circles in a Venn diagram. In one circle, you will think about what you want to do. In the second circle, you’ll think about what you can do. In the third circle, you’re going to find out where someone will pay you to do something. And where those three circles interact, what you want to do, what you can do and what someone will pay you to do, that’s where you’re going to find your job, your career, your opportunity.” That simple illustration, Aaron, really made a change in my whole outlook on how I’m going to make this transition. What do I want to do? What can I do?
You know, I love to be a rock star but I can’t play a guitar. So that’s out. I’d love to do this, but no one’s going to pay me to do that. So how do I put all this together? What can I do? What do I want to do? And what will someone pay me to do? That’s simple model that Colonel Buce showed me had such an impact on this decision-making process. And from that point forward, I went through all the reflection, went through the outreach, the networking, looking for opportunities. And sure enough, I found a perfect position where that overlaid and I joined Bell Helicopter after I left the Marine Corps.
Wow. I mean, that’s a great visual. I’m going to either find a copy of that somewhere online or I will make it myself.
I’ll draw and send it to you. I was just talking to a Marine lieutenant colonel who’s on IOI duty. He’s about to get out and he called me and same conversation. Hey, get your piece of paper, draw three circles.
And then reflect and reflect and network.
Yeah, that’s powerful. So we’ll have that available for those that are watching, listening. Again, find the link in the description and you’ll see that there. So, Bob, I mean, what amazing impact and an amazing mentoring moments from somebody who has walked the ground years in front of you and can look back and say, “Hey, this worked for me. This has worked for many other people. This will work for you.” And sure enough, that’s exactly what I did for you.
Right. Aaron, and I like passing the story along because it makes that connection that you and I know as being Marines, you know, at one generation to the next. You think about the Marine Corps birthday and the cake ceremony, one generation to the next. You think about the old breed, the connection with Colonel Buce who was of a completely different generation than I was. He passed that to me. And if I can pass that along to the next generation and so forth, talk about impact on multiple generations that’ll help. It’s gonna help somebody.
For sure. Well, now it’s being captured digitally. So theoretically, it’ll never die. But so what was that experience like then? So you knew you’re getting out, you got out, you found a great opportunity with Bell Helicopter. So what was that like for you starting out early in, getting your feet wet and kind of getting adjusted? What was that like?
It was like starting over to say it simply. Starting over, Aaron. In the Marine Corps, you know about 9-line briefs and call for fire and SMEAC and all the acronyms and the tools we use. 9-line brief and walk in the lines and make sure your sectors of fire are aligned. We know all that. That’s our language. Pick yourself up and drop yourself down into a major organization, Bell Helicopter, known globally, very, very successful business, you’re in a new environment. You’re starting over. Now you bring with you your experiences, how to lead, how to make decisions, how to discipline, how to reward and recognize, how to coach, how to solve problems. You bring all that with you, but now it’s in a new environment. So I recognized that I was going to be in this new environment, and I wouldn’t understand the language like those who had started their careers and had been in the organization for a while, I made a decision to go back to school.
If you’re learning and you’re getting in a new environment, what better way than to partner with people who can help impart knowledge? So I went back to school. Ended up getting an MBA. Bell was fantastic. They had a tuition assistance program, so they paid half, my wife and I paid half. A natural fit. And I considered going to business school not so much about the content, but really about learning the language of business. What’s a debit and credit? What’s the balance sheet? What’s an income statement? What’s a RIF? What’s a furlough? What’s a 401(k)? All those terms and terminology, I just had to learn that. And so part of the business school was just learning the language of business. I didn’t realize at the time that the content would be so important also – accounting, finance, marketing, and so forth. And that degree really paid off. So part of it was just being willing to start over and learn, ask all the questions, go to school and recognize that you’re starting in a new environment.
Wow. Yeah. And I mean, you summed that up really well. Because you’re taking with you a lot of great experiences and just a lot of great knowledge out of the military, but then you’ve got to repackage it, redeliver it in a slightly different way on the civilian side. And then adding to that, I think, what really helps is in that education piece kind of helped, and probably with it being so fresh, like earlier on in your career, you were able to make those connections. So you’re almost able to use it as a translation device to take a lot of the lessons learned out of the military and just like, okay…
That’s exactly right.
This equals this in USMC speak, let me go ahead and apply it. Okay. I see where this applies here in this course. And then for you, it probably really gave you a lot of confidence if I’m going to guess.
It did, it did. Just having that. And you nailed it, Aaron. Translator. How do you translate what we know from the military experience to the civilian experience? How do we translate that? That’s a big part of the challenge for any of us who make that transition from uniform to civilian life. So just being able to have that translation experience to capability, but then to your point, it builds confidence. Oh, wow. I really do fit in here. I can make an impact. I can add value. I can help the organization. So that confidence then starts building.
And to be honest, I think that’s something that really plagues a lot of veterans when they’ve gotten out. There’s this confidence that we all experience and we have while we’re in service. And it’s weird, but like the confidence is like beat into you. And it’s really weird. It’s really weird way, right? But then you get out and you have virtually unlimited options and so it can be a little bit daunting, especially. And I feel like the longer you’re in, then that becomes even more daunting. Because you’re like, man, everyone’s speaking a different language. They’re moving at a different speed. They think different. Values are a little bit different in some places. And so how do I fit in? And then it can really attack the conference of veterans that are in business. And so for you, it seemed like that problem is solved through business school and through getting some experience. And probably – I mean, just looking at your background here, I mean, it looked like you had a lot of really good opportunities within that company. I mean, you did a lot of different things there.
I did. I was fortunate. When I made the transition from the Marine Corps into Bell, my first job: individual contributor, commercial marketing, and I did market research on the helicopter industry. That actually was a great starting point because I was forced in my daily job to learn about the industry. How are helicopters used? How are they purchased? How are they manufactured? How are they serviced? How are they maintained? Where the pilots come from? I mean, all that, with the pricing, the operating expenses. All that was part of my daily job. So it really gave me the opportunity to be immersed in the industry. Now all of that was on the commercial side of Bell. And if you know Bell, there are also a few military aircraft. There’s one up here over my right shoulder. One from Sikorsky too. We might get to that later.
But when I was at Bell, about two years in, I was finishing up the MBA, I had to establish a reputation as someone of integrity, character and decision-making and team player, the values, like you said, that were beat into you in the military, as you said, Aaron. I had an established reputation. I got a phone call one day. And you know on your phone, you got the little digital readout that has someone’s name. There’s a name on there. I didn’t recognize this name and I’d pick up the phone and answer the call. And I literally answered the call. And this voice on the other side introduces himself. And it says, “I’m the vice president for Government Programs. I’m up a in building one, headquarters. Can you come see me?” Sure. If someone from building one calls you, you go see them.
So off I went up to building one, I sat down with the VP of Government Programs and he said, “We need to build an organization that can manage one of our key programs, V-22 Osprey. We’re looking for some leadership.” And I said, “Well, I was in the Marine Corps infantry.” He says, “Yeah, that’s why I called you.” This guy was a Navy fighter pilot. So he was having some fun with me. He said, “You don’t know program management. We can teach you that. But you bring with you leadership, decision-making, team building, collaboration, problem solving, initiative. That’s what we need. So we would like you to be the V-22 program manager.” And I said, “Sure. Sounds good to me.”
Aaron, this goes back, and if I get choked up, you’ll know why, but I’ll try not to. You know, when you’re making that transition from the military in the civilian world, you look for those key moments where you might be able to land somewhere where you can make a big impact. I thought in the back of my mind when I joined Bell that maybe someday I can pay back the Marine Corps for all they did for me. Within two years of joining Bell, now I’m immersed in the V-22 program. And as you know, a huge impact on the Marine Corps today. So it was one of those twists of fate, or it was meant to be, I don’t know, not going to get philosophical, but that phone call changed my life. I was able to join the V-22 program, be surrounded by some unbelievably talented people, both at Bell at Boeing, at the government and NAVAIR, at all of our suppliers, and for four years, was in just a wonderful position, lucky enough, fortunate enough, honored enough to be the V-22 program manager.
Man, wow. What a way to go full circle. I mean, really. I mean, one minute, you’re in uniform, the next minute, you’re supporting a program that has a direct impact on people that you probably serve with.
Yes, absolutely. Yeah, it sure did. And at that time, the timing, 2000, 2001, the V-22 program had two fatal mishaps. That’s part of our history. We know that. We won’t go into that. But the program was in a stop mode, a pause mode, and it was restarted. I was lucky enough – wrong word, I was in the position to be in when the program was restarted. And for the next four years, we went from full stop to full-rate production. And then the aircraft was qualified for operations and it went into combat. To be part of that team to make a minor contribution during that timeframe was just the thrill of a lifetime. And what a chance to be able to get back to the Marine Corps who never gave up on that program, by the way. In all the dark days of the V-22, the Marine Corps never gave up. Congress never gave up. Thousands of employees at Bell, at Boeing, at NAVAIR, civilian employees, military personnel, all the suppliers didn’t give up and we made the program successful because of all those people day in and day out not giving up on the program. And now you can see it in its operation. It’s fantastic. What a capability.
It’s a powerful capability and it really is remarkable. As you’re saying that, I’m thinking, man, it’s a remarkable accomplishment that despite the mishaps and some of the bad press it had gotten early on, it was able to kind of revitalized itself, reintroduced itself and really get retooled. And I mean, it’s still in operation to this day. I mean, I had Osprey experience when I was at Camp Lejeune. I mean, you see those suckers flying everywhere and they’re very, very powerful capability. And so it’s really neat that you got to be a part of that, got to be a part of the reinsertion of that aircraft, right. So that’s awesome. Well, then, so take us through there. So you’re at Bell for practically 10 years and then you moved on to some other opportunities. Take us on a little bit of tour of some of the things that you’ve been able to touch and do.
I’ve been very fortunate, Aaron, that one opportunity led to another opportunity. And I was involved in a conversation years back with a group of senior business executives who had been brought together to mentor a group of employees. And that group of executives later in their career all had been wildly successful. And they all told a story about how they got from beginning to their current position. And not one of them went in a straight line. Every single one of them did some kind of zigzag. And I think what they were trying to teach the young folks who were in the room was don’t think you’re going to go from A to B to Z. It’s not going to happen. You are going to go from A to B to 1 to D to 7, you know, it’s not going to be a direct path. You’re going to have some fits and starts. You’re probably going to go backwards sometimes. So how do you take advantage of the opportunities when they’re in front of you? How do you prepare yourself so that you’re ready for an opportunity?
And I’ve been very fortunate, Aaron, that career since Bell, I’ve been able to go from one opportunity to the next and advance my career, albeit with different organizations in many cases. But each time, I felt like the position I was in and the experiences I had gained in the totality of my career, military and civilian, enabled me to take the next step and take on a risk to take on a bigger role. So I was able to move to L-3 to Sikorsky, another aircraft up here, to PCC, GKN and where I am now with Tribus Aerospace, and each time just go a little bit further in that career and take on a little bit more responsibility.
Man, yeah. And that’s incredibly encouraging because I think there’s a lot of us that – there’s two concepts and you’ve already answered one. There’s another concept that as you’re talking, it really made me think about this. But the first thing is understanding when we’re in the military, we have a great understanding of what the career path looks like. It’s practically mapped out for you. I mean, and our pay charts are mapped out for you.
It’s just steps, steps, steps.
Yeah. I mean, it’s just there’s steps. And then depending on what branch of the military you selected, depending on what community that you’re a part of, it’s a pretty linear-ish progression from point A to point B, C, D and so on. The point that you’re making here, and I think this is a bigger moment than I think we even may realize right now, but I think it’s so important for people to understand that the perceived success in the civilian world does not equate and does not follow the same path as it did in the military. And you’re making such a brilliant point with this topic because I think for a lot of us, and I’ll speak for myself, there’s times when you’re taking a step forward and then you may take maybe half a step backwards, or you move laterally, or you jump up really high over here, and then you got to jump down over here. And so there’s all these different moves. And so the point that you’re making here is the zigzag of a career is just going to happen and to not let that discourage you.
Don’t want to discourage, no. And Aaron, I think there’s some points we could really emphasize. One, and you just said it. Don’t get discouraged. Two, how do you prepare yourself to take on another role, whether it’s formal education or informal, working with a mentor or a coach or a colleague, taking on an extra assignment so you gonna to learn a different skill. What are you doing to prepare yourself for that next step? No one’s going to do that for you. I remember the first time I met with my monitor in the Marine Corps Manpower. First time I ever had a meeting with a manpower monitor and he said, “Here’s rule one. And it’s the only rule I’m going to give you. There is nobody sitting at headquarters at Marine Corps charting your career. That’s you. That’s your responsibility.” Well, guess what, it’s the same in the civilian world. There isn’t somebody in human resources saying, “Aaron’s going to do this, this and this, and then he’ll be successful.” That doesn’t happen. “Bob’s going to do that, that, and that he’ll be successful.” It’s up to us. So what are you’re doing to prepare yourself for that next opportunity? So you’re ready when it shows up. What does that saying about luck? Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet. If you hadn’t done the preparation, that opportunity goes whizzing by. So how do you prepare yourself?
The second another piece I think I’d try to emphasize in this, Aaron, is are you willing to take that step that represents opportunity, but guess what, there’s risk built in? Moving from the military to the civilian world, there’s risk. I know this. I know the military. I know the uniform. Now I’m going over here to be a civilian, I don’t know that. So there’s some risk there. Moving from Bell to a different company represents risk. Be willing to take that risk on because the two are combined. I got risk and I got reward. I’ve got opportunity, I’ve got failure.
So preparation, being willing to take on that risk, that step forward, or it might lead to a step backwards. And I think there’s one final point I’d emphasize, Aaron. You know that saying bloom where you’re planted? If you’re here now, make a difference here and now. Don’t always look for something else. Don’t wish for something else. Don’t regret it. Just I’m here, now, I can make a difference with this team, this product, this service, this company. Whether it’s profit or nonprofit, make a difference right now. That’ll do good thousand times over.
That’s solid, solid wisdom there. And I gotta make sure we capture this in note form. That way, people can go back and reflect on it later. Because I mean, it’s so, so important. I mean, because we’ve covered a number of topics. There’s confidence. There’s the opportunity versus the failure. And I think one thing, you may have talked about it already, but realizing too – for a lot of folks, they may be a little bit hesitant to take what’s a perceived risk, but you’re never gonna know unless you go try it. And here’s the thing, and this may sound – I don’t mean this to sound negative or pessimistic at all, but what I want to try to communicate is everything comes in seasons, right?
So if you’re enjoying success right now, enjoy the success. Because there are going to be headwinds, there’s going to be challenges, and then realize too, the challenges, it’s not going to be that way forever. And I think it’s important to remember that. So if you’re in the middle of a setback right now, and I know there’s industries that are booming right now through COVID and then as we’re trying to eye the exit of that, but then there’s been a lot of people that have really suffered through this too. And so to realize that nothing lasts forever. There’s opportunities to learn and reflect and grow. Even in an adverse situation, there’s opportunities to grow and learn. But obviously, enjoy the successes too. Enjoy when things are going really well/
I think you’re on several key topics there, Aaron. One is celebrate success. If you’ve got a win, then tell the team thank you. Wins don’t come because of the coach. There are some players, there are some trainers, there’s some assistant coaches. Teams win because of a team, not because of a coach. So if you’re in a management position equivalent to a coach and your team is successful, pause, stop, say thank you, celebrate success. That’s so important. Recognize the moment and feel good about it because that’ll give you confidence.
You made another great point and I’ll just emphasize it. When you’re in a dark space, it’s hard to see beyond, it’s hard to see outside the chaos or the crisis you’re in. When you think about what the world is going through now with this global pandemic and it’s had unbelievably negative impacts on so many industries, companies, but let’s never forget individuals, people who have lost their jobs. I’ve had to reduce my workforce. I’ve had to lay people off because the market conditions and the collapse of commercial aviation. Those are very, very difficult decisions and it seemed, how can I get out of this? How can we get out of this dark space? To your point, it’s going to happen. Let’s stick together. Let’s keep the business profitable. Let’s go out, be ready for the turnaround so that we can take advantage of it. Success doesn’t last forever. The bad times don’t last forever. You’re on to something really important. Just keep going, keep going.
No, no. This is what makes a show fun because there’s all these nuggets of wisdom that I love. I love to see your journey. I like to understand the different things that you’ve experienced. I mean, we’ve already covered a lot of different things, and I was going to ask you, and I want to ask you a little bit more about the aerospace industry. We’ll get maybe a little bit more industry-specific right now. And you’d mentioned some challenges, right? I mean, air travel ground to a halt there for a while, basically. And so how much of the business depends on commercial air travel versus cargo versus some of these other elements that make up aviation?
Yeah. So I’m going to go broad and I’ll get narrow. From a broad perspective, when we say aerospace, we generally mean aerospace and defense, and I think of it as five markets or five industries. So there’s defense, there’s commercial aviation (Boeing, Airbus), there’s general aviation (Cessna, Raytheon, et cetera). You’ve got space and you’ve got missiles. So think about those five markets and each of them has been affected differently by this pandemic. Defense is relatively strong. Space is actually growing. Missiles are actually growing. Commercial aerospace just cratered. There’s no other way to say it. When you look at the downturn and the number of people traveling, the number of aircraft parked – from the airlines perspective, parked aircraft, and then you got Boeing and Airbus with aircraft they can’t deliver, it’s been a historical crisis. That’s the only way to say it. And when you say something is historic, once in a generation, once in a century-type crisis. It’s had a devastating effect.
And again, I’ll now go to narrow. Individual people, who are great employees across the industry, lost their livelihoods because of this downturn. Now we’ve been fortunate that our state and federal governments have been able to put out some programs to help people weather the storm. That’s really important, where you get that that government support when people are in a situation like this, that helps them stay on their feet. So when the market turns around, they’re ready to go again and so forth.
So this has been a very, very challenging time for any of us who work in the industries that support commercial aviation. A lot of downturn. A lot of businesses have gone. A lot of people have lost their jobs. It will come back. To your point earlier, we have to see through this period and be ready to go on the other side of it. And there’ll be bright days ahead and we’re starting to see some of those initial signs now with people traveling again, with deliveries of the 737 MAX starting again. So we’re starting to see some positive signs that this is going to come back. It will take years to recover but it is coming back.
Wow. It’s encouraging to know that the recovery is starting. I mean, I remember when I was in Houston, I was there for part of a major oil boom. And then I actually left the industry right about the same time that it was really going through a major contraction. And again, it was very similar in terms of what the sentiment was, which is, I mean, this is going to take years to recover. And I mean, I don’t have enough fingers and toes in multiple times over to count the number of people I know personally that were affected adversely in that. And same thing with the aerospace industry. One, it being so broad and so wide reaching, but two, all the supporting efforts, all the all the different elements of business that support in any indirect way, those are impacted as well. So you may be a CPA firm, just an example, but you may be doing – the bulk of your business is supporting aerospace work. Well, that’s going to have some type of impact also.
Well, it is. And you think about the travel industry that’s connected with commercial aviation, hotels and restaurants that cater to business travelers, they’ve been devastated. So this is a very, very difficult crisis. And what I reflect on is how do we as leaders manage through a crisis? There is no playbook for this. This didn’t happen 10 years ago and there’s a bunch of veteran business leaders around who have worked through this. This is something new. Now, there was some parallel to some other crisis that are in our lifetime, but something of this magnitude really is something we’re working through without a playbook. So I think that really says that you need to be a strong leader. You’ve gotta be willing to make difficult decisions. You also have to be willing to listen, seek out advice. I can’t tell you the number of webcasts I was on as the COVID pandemic started just to listen and learn. What are other people doing? What questions are other people asking? How can we learn from each other as we build this roadmap to get through this crisis?
Yeah. And you’re making me think of about a few other things too. As leaders are required to step up, and again, I’m going to make some very broad generalizations, but I think you’ll understand where I’m heading with this. So it’s easy to be a success in a bull market, right? It’s easy to kind of cloak mistakes or to cloak weaknesses because you’re just going well. I mean, oil and gas industry was a great example of that. I mean, the stock market right now is a great example of that for that matter. It’s great. There’s always improvements that can be made. There’s always efficiencies that can be gained, so on and so forth. But where it gets really difficult, though, is in the decline or in the face of adversity where the challenges are popping up, then it’s like, okay, how are we going to make it? And that’s when I really feel leadership really has opportunity to step in and to provide a whole bunch of direction. And I think that’s really where the leadership muscle gets flexed – for lack of better terms – during that time.
So what was that like? I’m going back to my notes here. You’ve been a part of Tribus for just a few years now. So you come into it, I mean, what was that like? And I guess – I’m sorry, I’m rambling now because I was making a point, but I have a couple of questions I’m already thinking about, which was, you know, in your opinion, has this been one of the toughest challenges of your career? Is it the toughest challenge? Or is there something else really that rivals this?
Yeah. There are things that rival this. When I was at Bell, obviously, the V-22 program coming from full stop to full-rate production was a big challenge. And I was relatively young in my career. Didn’t have the gray hair at that time. So a lot to learn. That was certainly a challenge. I was at bell managing the ARH program and we had an aircraft mishap. No fatalities, thank God. The army test pilots of the aircraft were unbelievably skilled there. These guys were just wow. Well, what they did to save themselves and save some other people who are in the vicinity. But that was a challenge. And again, not using any company names or anything specific. But when you have to make a decision to downsize those are difficult decisions. When you have to make a decision to close a plant and move the work to a different location, a difficult decision. So those challenge leadership, to your point.
I think you mentioned flexing the leadership muscle. I think when we’re in management positions, whether it’s a supervisor or manager, director, VP, let’s set aside a title, when you are responsible for results that are produced by a team of people, you’re in a leadership role. And how do you execute that leadership role really is the question. And are you successful because – I’m gonna use your word – you’re in a bull market? Are you successful because you’re making an impact yourself? Are you successful because you brought the team together that prior to that was not working as one? Cohesiveness, that kind of thing. I mean, there’s so many things to think about here. And I don’t want to ramble either.
I think it gets down to are you making the decisions you need to make in the moment given the situation you’re in? There’s a great book called The Oz Principle. I love this book. And The Oz Principle talks about leaders and victims and it talks about drawing a line. And leaders operate above the line, victims, below the line. Leadership above the line: I see it, I own it, I will do it, I can, I will. Victims are below the line: Someone else’s fault, it’s not my job, I can’t, I won’t. There’s such a distinction there. What a powerful tool that this group of authors, I believe there’s four of them, who wrote the book, The Oz Principle. What a tool they’ve given us. A very strong visual.
If you’re a leader, you accept the circumstances you’re in, the team you have and you operate in the moment. And if the moment’s not good, you’re going to operate to change the outcome. You’re not going to just accept that it’s always going to be this way. You’re going to try to change the outcome. If you’re a victim, you don’t do that. So let’s stay up here above the line. Above the line leadership is where it’s at here. And that’s the leadership muscle you want to flex and stay above the line. I see it. I do it. I can. I will. I’m in the moment. I accept my circumstances. I’m going to go forward.
Wow. Well, let’s go ahead and get really real here then for a second. Because I mean, you’re hitting so much wisdom in the time that we’ve already had together. And I’m incredibly grateful for the points that we’ve been able to kind of develop between the two of us. It’s been really fun. So kind of what I think I hear you saying – and that book you mentioned, I’ll have that link up as well.
I’ll send you the title if you need, but it’s a great book. The Oz Principle.
Yeah. I found it. The Oz Principle. Craig Hickman –
Oh, you already found it.
Yeah. Tom Smith, Roger Connors. I try to stay nimble here, but making that distinction, I think, is huge. And so for a lot of folks, I mean, this is where leadership isn’t necessarily fun, right? It’s not fun to have to lay somebody off. It’s horrible.
It is not. It’s a horrible, horrible situation for both people.
Yeah. Right. Or even having to off-board somebody because of poor performance or having a difficulty with a vendor or with a business partner or whatever. There’s a ton of different examples. And so I think the point that I’m trying to get around to making here is it’s a lot easier – and I know it’s a relative term – to lead when things are going really well. There is an absolutely brilliance and strategy and vision that need to be applied to go from good to great – to steal title from another book – to be able to make that happen. But where the rubber really meets the road is when there’s adverse times, there’s chaos, there’s uncertainty, how do leaders step in and do that?
And again, let’s just go really, really micro here for a minute. If someone’s faced with a reduction in workforce or someone’s faced with having to shut an element of a business down and they’re listening to this program right now, what advice do you have for those people that maybe they’ve never faced that before? This is the very first time. They’ve ever had to lay somebody off and they’re scared to do it. They’ll do it. There’s no doubt that they’ll actually have to do it. They’ll do it for sure. But, man, how do I do this in the most humane way possible and not make it so dang personal, even though it can be a very intensely personal experience?
Yeah. That’s a well-phrased question. So let me take it apart a little bit, Aaron, and probably talk about two different aspects of what you face when you’re a leader in a situation like this. The first aspect is the actual process you go through to make the decision. The second aspect is having a conversation with someone you’re gonna let go, whether it’s a layoff or it’s a termination for performance as you mentioned. It’s a personal conversation.
So let’s go through the decision-making process. What are the facts? Let’s go with facts, not gut or emotion. And again, I’m talking about the decision-making process. What are the facts? How do they add up? How do the numbers add up or not add up? How do we change the equation so we’re profitable? You would think about a business enterprise. You’re in it for a reason. If you’re a for-profit organization, you’ve got to be profitable. And if the numbers aren’t there, market collapsed, you’ve got to change the outcome. So what are the facts? Then based upon those facts, you’re going to go through a process. You’ve got to make some decisions. I’ve got to close down part of my factory, or I’ve got to sell some equipment, or I’ve got to lay off some people. I just can’t afford the labor. Those are all facts and that’s your decision-making process. So recognize the situation, look at the facts, do the analysis, do the calculated decision making. What decisions do I need to make so that the enterprise stays healthy and can be there when the recovery comes?
Now on the personal side. They’re related, but they are approached differently. I’ve got to have to sit down and talk to somebody and tell them that their job’s over or their livelihood is no longer going to be with our company. That’s a personal conversation. The first and foremost thing you have to think about is treat someone with dignity and respect. That is so important. The second thing is make no apologies. And this might be controversial for some people, but don’t apologize. The employee who’s getting let go didn’t do anything and you, as the business owner, didn’t do anything when you have this market crisis. So don’t apologize. Just deal with the facts. Here’s the situation, here’s how we’re going to handle it. But be empathetic. The person is losing their livelihood. Really try to be empathetic. I think that’s so important to understand what they’re going through. And then what can you do to help them through that? Here’s how you can sign up for unemployment. Can you do them some kind of transition and pay their healthcare benefits for a period of time while they’re in transition? Can you help them network to get another job? You made a point earlier, in this market today, some parts of the economy are growing great guns and others are collapsing. Can you help someone make a transition?
I think if you treat them with dignity and respect, just go through the facts, be empathetic and then try to offer advice or connections to things or sources or services that can help them in this transition period, I think those are some things that might help somebody who’s facing this for the first time.
Yeah, no, and again, thank you for going that deep with me. Because I just felt like we had a good moment there, a good opportunity to really kind of unpack that for a second. Because I think there’s a lot of people who are maybe – because there is going to be a rapid growth of certain industries. Some of them are already happening right now. So you’re going to have people that are new to management positions. Maybe they don’t have as much leadership experience. I trust that a lot of folks coming out of the military, going into business have a solid foundation of leadership. But it can be confusing, right? To our earlier discussion about translating that from military to civilian. I wouldn’t necessarily approach somebody on my team the same way that I would when I was in military service. It may look a little bit different, may sound a little bit different, but the heart behind it can be very similar.
And so I think it’s important to kind of take note of the way that you phrase all that. Because I think it was very impactful and I appreciate you doing that. So I like to change gears real quick with you too. So take me through one of your proudest moments, one of the biggest highlights of your career, one of the biggest accomplishments that you’ve had. Because again, I think it’s important for people to highlight success. Where have you seen success and what do you attribute that to?
Oh, wow. There’s a lot to pick from. I’m trying to think.
That’s awesome. That’s a great problem to have.
It is. If I go back to the Marine Corps, returning from deployment and seeing Marines and sailors from your unit hug their family members, that’s an accomplishment, bringing people home. And so let’s never forget the basics. Getting a Marine through a deployment as part of your organization, your team, and seeing them reunite with their family. I remember when we got back from our Gulf deployment, there were about 124 new babies on the dock in San Diego. My daughter was one of them. And so when you see families reunited, that’s an accomplishment. It doesn’t seem like you would think of that as an accomplishment, but I think if you’ve been there, you understand what that means.
A ton of pride.
Those are proud moments, Aaron. I think other proud moments are around seeing people who are on your team succeed. Promotions, getting a degree, getting a new job even if it’s outside your business. I remember one time I had an employee come to me and say, “I’m going to leave the company because I have a new opportunity somewhere else.” And I’d say, “Congratulations. I hate to lose you, but this is great. That means you’re going to something that’s going to help you and your family and your career.” So celebrate success for the people who worked for you or on your team. Those are proud accomplishments.
And so what you’re hearing me say, Aaron, is I don’t think there’s one individual event. I think there’s types of accomplishments that I have great stock and a great memories of. I’ll never forget standing on the ramp in Amarillo, Texas at the Bell Helicopter flight operations center when the V-22 aircraft broke ground. You could see light under the wheels for the first time. And then the return to flight part of the program. I remember waking up and reading a newspaper story about a V-22 aircraft in combat the first time – first combat mission, first combat deployment – being successful. And I just read that and you get a tear in your eye or the hair in the back of your neck stands up. There was a thousands of people that contributed to that event. Great accomplishment. Those are the things I think about when someone says, “What are you most proud of?” And I think you’ll probably hear a theme in my answer. It’s about people. That’s where the accomplishments really, really make an impact.
Well, and I’ll brag on you because you won’t brag on yourself, which is just a testament to the kind of guy that you are and the leader that you are. But what I see in you is just somebody who really do care about people. You care about the entities and the businesses that you lead because without those, nobody has a paycheck. So let’s be real about that too, right? But being proud of the overall team and celebrating the people that make all those things possible, made them happen.
And I think one of the things that you said that I really want to harp on here for a second because I think this challenges some – I’ll just say it, some loser-minded thinking, to be completely honest, is when we focus in on people that are leaving a company and we get butt hurt about it and take it personal, I think it’s important to realize like, wait, if you really do count yourself as a leader, sure, maybe there are some lessons learned. Maybe let’s review. Like what factors did contribute to that person to pursuing an opportunity that we couldn’t give them? Is that a miss on our part? Is there something we could have done better? But then also to your point, I think you’re playing big ball, you’re playing big picture because you’re caring for the individual and like, “Hey, look, if this other organization is able to provide you an opportunity that we couldn’t, and it’s a great deal for you and your family, man, I am so dang happy for you.
I’m stoked. I’m stoked. Go for it. And if it doesn’t work, come back. Or be successful and learn some things and then come back.
Right. And that’s a winner’s mentality right there. You’re playing in a – and I think this is probably a buzz word of the last year or two, but this abundance mindset rather than a scarcity mindset. So having an abundance mindset of like, hey, there’s enough here for everybody. There’s something here for everybody. We will be just fine. So I think it’s a solid, solid, solid couple of points.
Aaron, as you were talking, I was thinking of an experience I had. I had a senior manager working for me in one of my assignments. And he was older than me. He was actually a Vietnam veteran, had been a grunt then a helicopter pilot, later got his PhD in aerospace engineering. Was my chief engineer in one of my program assignments. And he came in one day, slammed my door, you know, closed-door conversation. He was red in the face. He threw his books down. I thought, okay, he’s upset about something, pay attention. And I listened to him for a moment. He was so mad because one of his young engineers had just been reassigned to another part of the business and he got a promotion. And he said, “Bob, this is like the 10th guy in a year who’s been taken out of my organization and placed somewhere else. And I’m so sick and tired of training these guys and watching them….” and you know where he’s going. He’s mad that his people are leaving. And I started laughing at him. He’s red in the face. He’s stomping, he’s screaming spittle. And I’m a laughing at him, which really pissed him off.
I bet. I bet it did.
And he goes, “Why are you laughing?” I said, “Because you’re getting the greatest compliment that any leader could ever get.” I said, “Think about it. When you were in the infantry, when you were in the helicopter squadron, what was the greatest accomplishment for a leader? To see a young soldier – he was in the army – promoted. That means you as a leader help that grunt or that soldier with his career. The same thing’s happening now.” I said, “You are a leadership engine.”
Now there’s a book, in fact, that’s over there on my shelf. But if you want to have another book in the reference. The Leadership Engine, fantastic story about how organizations can contribute to the future by building up and creating leadership engines that create leaders. Well, that’s what this guy was. And he calmed down, he took a breath and he realized, “Yeah, you’re right.” I said, “Yeah, it’s the greatest compliment this organization can give you. Every time one of your employees gets a promotion, it’s a symbol of the organization recognizing your contribution. And guess what, there’s 10 more guys or gals right behind this one who want to come work for you because they know they’re going to get the benefit of your expertise, your leadership, your coaching, your mentoring.” So I love The Leadership Engine story. And so you want your people to succeed. You want them to get promoted.
Yeah. And to your point too, because there’s a huge distinction I want to make sure that I make here. There’s a difference of people fleeing a leader because that leader is horrible, and I would argue not a leader, versus people that are clamoring to work for somebody, but sure enough, give it a year or two later and they’re gone and they’re getting promoted. They’re getting promoted out of that role. And that’s a huge, huge testament to whoever that happens to be. And so I think it’s funny. So did he ever calm down? Did the veins subside out of his neck?
The temperature went down, the vein subsided, he picked his books up. He took a deep breath, open the door, went back to work.
That’s amazing. That’s amazing. Oh, that’s awesome. Well, Bob, I’ve had so much fun with you. We’re already at time, but I’ll make sure that I have every one of these books that you’ve mentioned in the show notes for those that are listening and watching. And Bob, what’s the best way that people can get in touch with you? How can people follow what you’re up to and what you’re doing?
I don’t know if anybody would want to do that, but you can find me on LinkedIn. So that’s probably the best place, Aaron. I’ve got a profile out there on LinkedIn so that’s a place to connect.
Right. Here, I’ll throw this up here on the screen. You all can find that. As you can tell, you’d be very well-served to connect with somebody like Bob. Bob is a stellar, stellar leader and very, very humble about the way he goes about it. But Bob, I really appreciate your time.
Absolutely, Aaron. It’s been a pleasure.
It’s been a fun, fun conversation. And thank you for just imparting a lot of wisdom and allowing me to draw some of these experiences out of you for the betterment, for the benefit of the greater audience. It has been a true, true pleasure. Thank you.
It’s been my pleasure. Thank you. And I appreciate the honor of being on your podcast. This is something – after I’ve watched episode one, I thought, man, maybe someday Aaron will ask me, and I’ll get lucky enough. So I’m glad you called. This has been fun.
Oh, the pleasure’s all mine, sir. Thank you.
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