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What the USS Ronald Reagan Taught Me About Business

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This summer, I spent three days aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, which is a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier. During the cruise, I observed a number of exercises, including flight operations and amazing ship maneuvers. Needless to say, it was a very exciting few days. What I didn’t expect, though, was how this experience would provide insight into my daily work.

On the surface, operating a nuclear-powered supercarrier and serving the needs of advisors do not correlate. However, I quickly realized there are many similarities between the operations I was observing and the day-to-day activities in my business. Allow me to offer some examples.

One of my first activities on the ship was to attend one of the captain’s briefings. In this meeting, the focus was reviewing the plan for weighing the anchor (which involved hoisting the anchor up from the sea floor) and navigating out of the Santa Barbara harbor. As you would expect, the goals were very clear: They didn’t want any surprises, everyone is accountable, no questions were unanswered and each person understood their specific roles.

The briefing reminded me of the best practices advisors should follow when implementing big technology changes like replacing their reporting system or introducing new imaging or workflow systems. These events are also “all hands on deck” activities. There was nothing assumed during the captain’s briefing, and advisors should aspire to such a high level of communication regarding activities that are critical to their firm.

I was on the bridge as we docked at Naval Base Coronado. The precision in the orders and the clarity of each decision made to safely dock this huge machine was truly impressive. One area that stood out to me on the bridge was that everywhere I looked, the Reagan had very sophisticated technology, but it is also prepared for the unlikely event that the technology failed. For example, there are several sailors who are responsible for plotting the ship’s coordinates on paper charts using a compass and pencils, exactly the way it was done many years ago.

Even with sophisticated technology, clear communication amongst the sailors on the bridge was critical. From following important orders regarding the ship’s speed and direction to identifying “contacts,” (which in this case means other boats in the harbor), the communication on the bridge was calm, succinct and controlled. While observing the ship’s exercises, I was reminded of just how important it is to have a detailed business resumption plan.

Observing flight operations was the highlight of my time on the Reagan. I had some idea of what to anticipate in observing this exercise, but it was more impressive in person than I imagined. First, I had no idea that the pilots were graded on every landing. Furthermore, the amount of activity on the flight deck as planes land, take off, refuel and undergo other critical services is incredible, and there were many people involved who are not on the flight deck. It is an unbelievable display of teamwork and communication across a variety of ranks and skill levels.

This is a great example of what can be achieved when everyone on the team is doing their part. You have established clear channels of communication and when the work is done, you grade the accomplishment. These are certainly best practices that all of us can apply to areas of our businesses, such as converting a prospect to a client, developing their financial plan and ultimately implementing the recommendations.

Spending just three days on the USS Ronald Reagan definitely made a lasting impression. It is amazing how much you can learn about your business by intently observing and learning from other professions.


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