Achieving Success in the Navy Supply Corps … Authentic Leadership from the Schoolhouse

Capt. Kristin Fabry, Commanding Officer, NSCS

Capt. Kristin Fabry, Commanding Officer, NSCS

The Supply Corps Office of Personnel has initiated a series of interviews focusing on Supply Corps (SC) career management and what it takes to achieve success in Supply Corps careers. Our ninth article in this series is “Authentic Leadership from the Schoolhouse.”

SC CC: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Capt. Fabry: Let’s see … where do I start? I grew up in a Navy family. My dad is a retired Supply Corps officer, so I moved around onaverage every two years throughout my entire life. Don’t do the math, but I think that is more than 22 moves. The Navy has always been in my blood. I knew the importance of service and having enjoyed the Navy folks that I met as a kid inspired me to become a Supply Corps officer. I was just so impressed with the Supply Corps officers that I met at my dad’s various ships and work functions while growing up. As for myself, I served in four ships. My first ship was a combat logistics force ship, USS San Diego (AFS 6), which we don’t have anymore. It was a great ship, and we made three deployments to the Mediterranean in that ship. I also served in a precommissioning unit, Arleigh Burke class destroyer, USS Decatur (DDG 73), built in Bath, Maine. Finally, I served in two aircraft carriers, the first was USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), where I was fortunate enough to be there for the longest carrier deployment, at that time, since the Vietnam War. We were part of the ‘Shock and Awe’ and also had a successful presidential visit. I was Supply Officer (SUPPO) most recently in USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). This was also an amazing tour. We kicked off the Centennial of Naval Aviation on our flight deck in 2011. We even had some excitement rescuing a commercial cargo ship and an Iranian fishing vessel from pirates during our deployment to 5th and 7th Fleet. My shore duties included being a Navy Acquisition Contracting Officer intern, serving at Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, as well as Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Fleet Logistics Center Puget Sound. I did my joint work at United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM). I then did a tour at NAVSUP headquarters, just prior to taking command here at the Navy Supply Corps School. Another big piece of my career I feel has been important is continuing education. As you can see, education has been sprinkled throughout my career, starting at the Naval Academy, next Harvard Business School, and then Naval War College (NWC). I also had the opportunity to participate in the Wharton Executive Training Program, a Penn State Supply Chain certificate program while at USTRANSCOM, and Darden Executive MBA

Program while a NACO Intern. I think that continuing to inject new ideas and strategic thought throughout our naval careers is an important part of the leadership continuum.

SC CC: It sounds like education has played a big role in your career. Which of these education opportunities would you say has paid the biggest dividends to you and Navy?

Capt. Fabry: Over an entire naval career, you need to take time at various points to step back, reflect, put aside the daily work, so you can think strategically, and get exposed to new ideas of thought and immerse yourself in academic rigor. NWC was hugely valuable for me in preparing to go to USTRANSCOM and do that Joint work. I highly encourage everyone to take the opportunity to serve in a Joint billet. I loved the strategic studies and the national security piece of the NWC. Also, at Harvard Business School prior to that, I was able to attend classes alongside future chief executives of companies and have been able to keep in touch with those folks over the years. I’m able to see the ways they think through problems and apply corporate learning and business concepts to things that we do in the Navy and be able to leverage those tools. Most recently, attending Wharton in the past year was a critical stepping stone too, because now as Captains, we are like the Chief of Supply Corps’ senior VPs, if you will. As we fill these roles, it’s very important we are up-to-date and thinking big, and are exposed to these new ideas of thought at that senior level, as well. This will allow us to come back as better leaders and better business managers to our respective commands.

SC CC: As the Commanding Officer of the Navy Supply Corps School, what are your greatest challenges?

Capt. Fabry: I think it would be the roof! (Editor’s note: This interview was postponed when one-third of the roof of the schoolhouse was damaged due to heavy snowfall and winds). I think we have a good interim solution right now. By the time you publish this, hopefully, we’ll be in good stead, but for today the roof is definitely the hot item on my plate!

But seriously, I inherited a great command here at the Navy Supply Corps School, and I’m truly honored to be the Commanding Officer. My goal and focus is to continue to make it better and to keep improving upon the schoolhouse and the products we produce, which are the future Supply Corps leaders of the Navy! I want to make sure we’re preparing them well, and making sure they are ready for the challenges that await them. These challenges will be different from those that my peers and I encountered. Yet, there are still some things that transcend time; those general tools of the trade: the business management skills, disbursing, retail operations, food service, supply management, and, of course, leadership. We also need to expand their minds to prepare them for what is ahead of them.

The Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group is located across the parking lot here in Newport, Rhode Island. I just met with them, and learned that “manpower” is their theme this year. They are looking at talent management for the 21st century. That weighs heavily on my mind: How do we build that foundation to prepare Supply Corps officers to go out and do great things? Secondly, I feel it’s important to get the Fleet Familiarization Tour (formerly known as the Salt Water trip) reinvigorated and funded. That’s one of my biggest focuses during my tenure. I do have a team down in Norfolk right now, and I’ve already started receiving positive feedback from the Type Commanders, and I’m really proud of that. We have 41 students in Norfolk embedded on ships and submarines. They have personnel qualification standards to accomplish, so they are going out and learning. It’s very immersive and not just a windshield tour. We want them learning in the classroom, doing things out there on the ships, and then having the ability to come back and reflect here in the classroom, so that their learning is multi-dimensional. They get to go out and experience the learning, so they have a greater perspective when they come back into the classroom. This is actually a model I took from Harvard Business School. When I went to my 10-year reunion, they were doing a field study program, where they were sending students out and immersing them, based on a new pedagogy of the “learn, do, reflect” model. I thought this was something we could really leverage and benefit from here at the schoolhouse. After the students learn what ship they are assigned to, they could go to a sister ship and have that learning experience there, and then come back and share what they saw and experienced with their classmates. This would serve to enrich what they learn in the classroom, and allow them to gain a better perspective before they are actually standing in front of their division for the first time. This is important since 71 percent of our students now have never been on a ship, and since the majority of our accessions are coming from Officer Candidate School.

SC CC: When you were a junior officer (JO), did you have a mentor? How should a JO approach a senior officer to seek career guidance/mentoring? As a mentor, what advice do you typically share with perspective mentees?

Capt. Fabry: Those are great questions! I did not have a formal mentor. However, the SUPPO that I had on my very first ship, Capt. Jeff Wagner, always looked out for all his younger Supply Corps officers that worked for him, and he looked out for me throughout my career. Interestingly, the day before I took command, we graduated Second Battalion. His son actually graduated from that BQC class. I was able to get a great picture with him and his son, Kyle, and I was extremely pleased that Jeff and his family were able to be there for my change of command. It wasn’t part of an official formal mentorship program; it was just your first boss always looking out for you. Throughout my career, I accumulated more mentors along the way. It was more natural mentorship rather than an assigned mentorship. My mentors were folks I worked with, met at the NWC, and met on selection boards when I was a recorder. These folks were there for me if ever I needed to get any career advice or just needed to bounce something off of them.

I like how the Career Counselor sends lists of ensigns and lieutenant junior grades to the senior leadership in various Fleet concentration areas to facilitate these mentorship opportunities. I would encourage any of our junior officers out there to keep an eye out for Supply Corps social events, and plug into those events. This is where you really get to meet people, and find others who may be doing jobs that you find interesting. I’d encourage them to reach out and make an office call or courtesy visit to any captains, commanders, or even lieutenant commanders in the local area. I always tell people that when they do come and talk to folks, be prepared, and have a sense of what their ultimate career and personal goals are before they have that meeting. This is because career advice is not cookie cutter and when people come to me for mentorship I don’t give a set formula. You can’t look at one person’s pathway to success and say that is the only way. You have to look at a collection of many people’s careers and biographies, seeing the trends and commonalities, and then identify your goals. What is your ultimate goal in the Navy? Do you want to make flag, or captain, or commander at sea? Do you want to just do 20 years? Or do you want to keep doors open and go as far as you possibly can? What is your family situation? You have to keep all of those things in mind when you are mentoring people and when you are being mentored. The mentee is the one who is going to have to live with that decision and only they can make the best decision for themselves given their situation. You can’t live on someone else’s dreams for you and you can’t try to follow someone else’s path, because they may have set their course a little differently, had unique family situations, or even had a different set of priorities in their life. Family balance is a challenging but very important piece of this. You can only be your best, be a great leader, and have a great career if you are able to make sure you can also take care of your family. If you aren’t able to take care of your family and have that work-life balance, then sometimes one or the other falls apart. You really need to make sure you are tending to both sides of that equation, and make sure you are keeping your family involved in those decisions and making sure that it’s a team effort.

SC CC: What does ethics mean to you, and would you care to share an example of an ethical challenge that you have faced?

Capt. Fabry: I think there are many definitions of ethics. I highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t already done so, to see the recent ethics brief developed by NAVSUP. It does a great job giving a definition and background of what ethics are and what they aren’t. The one thing I would keep in mind is how you conduct yourself when people aren’t watching. One example is when you are at sea there are many challenges that present themselves. You want to make sure you really scrutinize those husbanding agent bills as they come across your desks. You want to make sure that you, as the SUPPO, are the only point of contact with any of the husbanding agents, to avoid other ship’s company contracting things that are illegal or unauthorized. There has been a lot of effort recently to move those tasks ashore, to avoid putting that pressure on the SUPPO who is busily trying to get the ship prepared to get underway.

There are still temptations or ethical pitfalls, even working with vendors while underway. I saw this during my last deployment. We have many outstanding vendors who are willing to embark our ships while out to sea. They’re good for the crew, great for morale, and a percentage of that profit comes back to MWR, directly benefitting the crew. But you have to be careful because they are always trying to please you. As the SUPPO, this happened to me. I ordered something from one of the vendors and it was shipped to my home. My husband told me that it had arrived. I checked my credit card, and there was still no charge on it from the vendor. I hunted down a phone number for the applicable vendor, and they were friendly and helpful, explaining that it was covered and that it would not be charged. They explained that there was no reason to pay. I told them that I needed to be charged the agreed upon amount. You just always have to be on your toes and watch out for those occurrences. You may not intentionally try to get something for free, but there are potential pitfalls, and you always need to be on top of that. Regardless of whether anyone else knew, I would know, and it would never be my intent to get a discount that no one else would be getting, based solely on my position. This could happen to anyone, a Sales Officer, Services Officer, or any SUPPO, from ensign to commander. We always need to be above board and beyond reproach in every one of our transactions. We need to be professional at all times.

We continue, at the schoolhouse, to embed these sea stories in our curriculum, weaving them into the fabric of our instruction on a daily basis. We’ve brought back “Pressure Cookers” into our curriculum. This is where we develop scenarios to actually put the students into the hot seat. We have them face ethical real-life scenarios where they are the protagonist and can feel that pressure first-hand to see how the scenario would play out. This enables them to see some of the real-world issues they could face in the Fleet. We want to make sure our students are able to identify and able to respond appropriately when faced with ethical challenges or dilemmas.

SC CC: Of your assignments, which one (or two) stands out as being the most rewarding? Why?

Capt. Fabry: That’s a tough question! Each and every one of my assignments has been rewarding in different ways. A few stand out … My carrier SUPPO tour, of course, was rewarding from a pure leadership standpoint. There is nothing like that feeling of accomplishment you get from being out there with a team of Sailors, Chiefs, and junior officers, on the pointy end of the spear. I enjoyed working with other department heads, Squadron Commanding Officers, and having the opportunity to lead my team in support of an aircraft carrier on deployment; it was just amazing. USTRANSCOM was also a tour that I feel was greatly rewarding. It taught me about thinking big and how to look at issues from a strategic level. There was a wide variety of projects that we worked on while I was there, and I felt very empowered to do big things and make a difference on a grand scale. Being logisticians, we bring a skill set that USTRANSCOM and the Joint community overall highly value. I found working in the Joint world to be very rewarding. And, of course, being in command here at the Navy Supply Corps School – the best job in the Supply Corps – as it has provided me the opportunity to influence and build the foundation for the Supply Corps of the future. Here, we have the ability to shape and influence character development, leadership, ethics, integrity, and to ensure that the valued aspects of our culture live on with the next generations of Supply Corps officers.

SC CC: If you could go back to the BQC, knowing what you know now, would you make any changes to the career decisions you made? If so, what would you do differently?

Capt. Fabry: I don’t think I would make any changes. Each job that I’ve had has built upon the previous one. The people whom I’ve worked with at each of those jobs have shaped who I am today, both as a person and as a leader. Sure there were roads that were not traveled and jobs that I didn’t have the opportunity to take that maybe I would have liked to try. But, you can only pack so many tours in a career. Sometimes there are interests you may have and you wonder what it would have been like if you would have taken that other job, but, I have absolutely no regrets. I encourage officers to take a wide variety of tours, as that diversity of thought is valued and taking different jobs in different areas makes for a well-rounded Supply Corps officer.

SC CC: What advice would you give to an officer who is hesitant to take a certain billet because they’ve heard that the job isn’t a “good” job or a “career enhancing” billet?

Capt. Fabry: You have to look at what that officer has already done, as well as what their goals are and where they are headed. You have to look to see if that person will have competition, and have they had competition in prior tours? Do they have any subspecialty codes, or will they have the ability to get a subspecialty code there? Does this job expose them to something they haven’t done before? Specifically, out of the Navy Supply Corps School, there are really no bad jobs. You may think you are going to the place or ship you really wanted. However, in the end, if you don’t get what you think you wanted, you may still end up with an amazing leadership team that you wouldn’t have gotten in another location, or an experience you wouldn’t have had in what you thought to be the ideal ship or platform. I think you really have to come in with an open mind, and work hard wherever you go. That sustained superior performance and learning everything you need to know about that job will help you build that base as you move forward. From that perspective, the job is what you make of it. I’d caution people to ensure they stay away from doing the same type of job at the expense of an experience that they may need prior to a selection board. If there’s something missing from their record, and the billet they are considering won’t help to fill that gap, that’s the only time I’d caution them from taking that billet. Overall, though, the jobs are really what you make of them.

SC CC: What characteristics do you most value in those who work with you?

Capt. Fabry: I value honesty, integrity, and critical thinking. What I mean by that is I want them to really have an understanding of the secondary and tertiary effects of their actions. I want them to be able to think two or three steps ahead of whatever the questions at hand or discussions at hand are. I want them to anticipate follow-on questions. I want them to come prepared and be able to think about things from all angles and all aspects. I appreciate officers who are forward leaning, energetic, and authentic. I want my team to come with energy!

SC CC: Who or what motivates you (military or non-military)?

Capt. Fabry: I’m motivated by the opportunity to make a difference each and every day. None of us know how many days we have left on this earth, but my intent is to use each one to the fullest. This applies in both my personal life and in my naval career.

SC CC: What is the “secret sauce” to success in the Supply Corps?

Capt. Fabry: There are several ingredients in the secret sauce from my perspective! The base of the sauce would be sustained superior performance. That would be coupled with a great attitude and a strong ethical foundation. As a Supply Corps officer, we are always going to be part of a larger team, something larger than yourself, but remember that what you bring to the table is important. It’s important that you are part of the team and that you understand the mission of the team, whatever team you are on or whatever command you are serving in. You need to understand your role in planning for success. Also, you need to make the choice to be a great leader. You need to inspire and empower those around you. It helps to be a people person, but be authentic about it. It’s all about your leadership and your relationship building. Be who you are and build relationships with your peers, the line officers you work with, and the greater supply network. Make sure that you are not only a great manager, possessing the business skills and accountability that’s expected of you, but also choose to be a great leader. Choose to inspire and empower those with whom you work.

*Special thanks to Capt. Fabry for sharing her time, perspective, and experience.*