HVACR Business

APR 2017

Help hvacr contractors master the critical components of business management.

Issue link: http://digital.hvacrbusiness.com/i/810030

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Terry Tanker recently met with former U.S. Navy Captain Mike Abrashoff, who took control of the USS Benfold, one of the worst performing ships in the Pacific Fleet. After just 12 months, Abrashoff transformed the ship — using the same crew — and won the Navy's Spokane Trophy for best-performing ship in the Pacific Fleet. The two discussed leadership, motivation, organizational transformation, Abrashoff's best-selling book, "It's Your Ship" and his training academy, Aegis Performance Group. 26 HVACR BUSINESS APRIL 2017 www. hvacrbusiness .com 1. How did you enter the Navy? I played football in high school and was recruited by all three service academies. I chose Annapolis. 2. What were your options after graduating Annapolis? To become an aviator, a ship driver, a submariner or a marine — a select few can become Seals or go to med school, but those are rare. I wanted to be aboard a ship. So, based on your class rank you select an assignment. I graduated in the top 80 percent of my class [laughs]. As you can imagine, most everything was picked over when it was my time to select. I ended up on one of the rustiest old buckets in the Navy, along with some of the rustiest old officers. I found, however, that it wasn't difficult to shine when your competition isn't that great. 3. What ship was it? e Albert David, a Garcia class frigate. e captain was abusive and he used to yell at us until veins popped out of his neck and forehead. As a result, nobody wanted to drive the ship. I went to 12 years of Catholic school with nuns; so getting yelled at was nothing new. I'd volunteer for every ship handling assignment. I knew I was going to get yelled at and flame sprayed (spit on), but it's how I learned. Lo and behold, I got the CINCPACFLT (Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet) fleet ship handler of the year award as an Ensign. I was just 22 years old and the most junior guy to receive it. 4 . What did you learn from that experience? You can learn in almost any situation good or bad. Nobody wanted to be near the captain. I thought, "Well, I'm going to learn something." So I threw myself in there. And yeah, I got yelled at, but, you know, they can't take away your birthday and they can't make the day any longer — right? You can pick up traits from people you respect and admire, and you can watch others and say, "I'm never going to be that person." e Albert David was a learning experience for me on what not to do. 5. What was your next assignment? I went to the Philippines where I was an Admiral's aide. I was with him 18 months and spent nine of those at sea. I worked for an Admiral who had also been an Admiral's aide and was treated poorly. I'll never forget our first car ride together. He said, "Mike, I hated that job with a passion. I'm going to make sure what happened to me doesn't happen to you." He trained me and was a mentor. He was responsible for 84 ships. He taught me a ship reflects the personality of the commanding officer. On our first ship visit he told me, "You'll know within the first 45 seconds of walking on a ship whether it's going to be a good one or not. And it's going to be a direct reflection of the personality of the Captain." 6. How could he tell? e general appearance of the ship and sailors, or how we greeted on the quarterdeck. I was skeptical, but after we visited 10 ships, he was spot on. All the ships reflected the personality of the Captain — the person at the top had a huge impact and this is true of companies too. 7. How important are mentors? A mentor can help you learn and grow quickly, assuming you're receptive to what they're trying to teach you. I tried to learn something from every superior I worked for, and some were even willing to take me under their wing. e Admiral taught me there is incontrovertible proof that every unit, every organization reflects the personality of their captain or CEO. 8. Were you able to use that on your next assignment? Let's just say that information was now in my tool bag. My next ship, the USS Harry W. Hill, was one of the most technologically advanced ships in the Navy — a far cry from the Albert David. Unfortunately, I was ill prepared technically to be a department head on that ship and I was flailing. e Captain could have fired me for being incompetent, but he coached me until I had the technical skills I needed. I worked at it until I became the best, tactical action officer on the ship. 9. Do you have a leadership philosophy? Leadership is situational. ere are times when you have to be directional. As Captain, if I give the order to launch a missile I expect my crew to launch. I don't want them to raise their hand and say, "Captain, have you thought of this?" You prepare and create discipline before a crisis. If people aren't disciplined, when you really need them to dig deep, they won't be there for you. My leadership philosophy is a blend of things. I realize it's not about me and I can't order excellence sitting in the captain's chair. e only way to stay safe, either in the military or in the tough economic times, is to have an engaged workforce that takes as much ownership of the business as you do. You can't order that. You have to create it each and every day. 10. What did you have to change when you became captain of the USS Benfold? I needed to change the culture. I focused on giving my crew the opportunity to make decisions for the good of the ship. Micromanaging people is stifling. As the leader, there is no way you can do all of the jobs necessary to be effective. Giving people responsibility and holding them accountable are the biggest changes. 11. Can you give me an example? e ship held about 450,000 gallons of fuel and we tried never to get below 50 percent, just in case we were sent out on a mission. Ships refuel in port, but they also have to be able to refuel at sea, and that's dangerous. Ships have collided, people have gotten killed and it's a career-ending event if you have a mishap refueling at sea. Because of that, the ship was only refueled in port before I became Captain. I changed that and we only refueled at sea. You've got to learn your craft and I wanted every officer on that ship to know how to refuel from an oiler at sea. QUESTIONS >> with MIKE Abrashoff 20

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