Training With Industry and the Civilian Institutions Experience: An Interview with Cmdr. Derek Hotchkiss, SC, USN

BY LT. JACOB MCMURTREY, SC, USN
SUPPLY CORPS CAREER COUNSELOR
SUPPLY CORPS OFFICE OF PERSONNEL

CMDR. Derek Hotchkiss, SC, USNSC CC: Tell us a little bit about yourself (education, career, assignment history, etc.)?

Cmdr. Hotchkiss: I graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1999 with every intent of doing my five years and getting out. I was fortunate to have wonderful mentors, and it wasn’t long before my career intentions changed. I’ve been fortunate to serve with the Blue Angels, on board the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) as a department head, and recently on board the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) as a principal assistant. I’ve served in a variety of shore positions to include Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington; Naval Security Group Activity, Fort Meade, Maryland and at Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Weapon Systems Support (WSS) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My postgraduate degree is from Duke, the Fuqua School of Business, as part of the 810 program. Prior to my current assignment, I was at the Starbucks Coffee Company in Seattle, Washington as a Training With Industry (TWI) fellow. I currently work as a branch chief on the Joint Staff, J4 for Capt. Duke Heinz and Director for Logistics, Joint Staff J4, Vice Adm. Brown.

SC CC: This month’s news articles center around training and education. Can you tell us your impression on the current post graduate opportunities available to Supply Corps officers and your personal experiences within the Supply Corps training pipeline?

Cmdr. Hotchkiss: I believe the Supply Corps offers unparalleled access and opportunity to some of our country’s best learning institutions. The Naval Postgraduate School is a world class institution that is recognized across the globe and our civilian institutions (CIVINS) programs, both 810 and 811, provide access to earn a degree from a top Master of Business administration program. Our Supply Corps community is unique in the value it puts on higher education and I believe it is a driving factor behind why we pioneer new thoughts and ideas across the Navy and Department of Defense.

SC CC: Would you say that the training you received at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business amply prepared you for your follow-on tours?

Cmdr. Hotchkiss: My experience at Duke, while certainly unique, gave me the tools to look at our business through a different lens, but perhaps equally as important, it afforded me an opportunity to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds. The hard skills I learned were beneficial; however, the experience I gained from working with my civilian counterparts was invaluable. In my follow-on job at NAVSUP WSS Philadelphia, I found this to be critical to my success as I was able to earn credibility with my government service civilian counterparts. The Supply Corps’ recipe for success is spot on…Post-graduate opportunities are presented at strategic points in a career and follow-on jobs leverage the knowledge and skills gained to succeed at the next level.

SC CC: Your TWI experience with Starbucks sounds like an exceptional training opportunity. Working within the company, did you see parallels in how Starbucks runs their business compared with how business is managed in the Navy and specifically across the Supply Corps?

Cmdr. Hotchkiss: Starbucks is not a coffee company, it’s a people company. Studies have shown that the reason people have a loyalty to Starbucks isn’t because of a vanilla latte, but rather because of the relationship customers have with their barista. Starbucks ethos is “Performance Driven through the Lens of Humanity.” One could argue that the foundational success of our Supply Corps is due to the relationships we have fostered within our own community, our Navy and with the Joint warfighter. Similar to Starbucks, the Supply Corps is a people business and our success and brand is built on relationships and ability to develop, mentor and retain our human capital.

SC CC: What was the most challenging aspect of working with Starbucks?

Cmdr. Hotchkiss: The most challenging aspect of working for Starbucks was that I had to check my uniform at the door – I didn’t wear a silver leaf on my collar to signify my level of responsibility. I was a newbie, unable to leverage relationships or past business experiences. While Starbucks employees were genuinely interested in my choice to serve as a professional Navy officer, I wasn’t just a symbol of the company’s commitment to the armed forces, I was part of the bottom line. I had to start from square one, earn credibility and a professional reputation in a short time within a completely different business. Starbucks leadership made no assumptions as to my ability to perform. Over the course of my yearlong fellowship, I earned the confidence of senior leaders and eventually became a contributor.

SC CC: The ExxonMobil TWI fellowship seems to have a natural connection with naval operations given the amount of fuel expended at our fleet and shore installations. What would you say is the most advantageous aspect of teaming up with Starbucks?

Cmdr. Hotchkiss: Starbucks is a world class supply chain company that happens to serve over 14,000 retail sites across the U.S. and nearly 30,000 world-wide. Every store is a “snowflake,” unique in location, footprint and customer; the end product has to be auditable, uncompromised and predictably on-time. Nimbleness and adaptability is the key to success…There is no one-size fits all model. This is VERY similar to our own business and the challenges are largely the same. The lessons I learned from understanding Starbucks supply chain armed me with a unique insight into how an innovative company meets and adapts to the demands of a demanding audience. Our adversary is smarter, plugged in and more interconnected than ever before. It’s imperative that our Supply Corps is on the pointy end of innovation in order to meet the future demands the warfighter. Opportunities to partner with a company like Starbucks gives great access and insight into best practices that can easily be translated to our own business; however, there is also an intangible piece. The unique experience and exposure in an ultra-innovative environment opens a critical thinking aperture not otherwise afforded in conventional Navy jobs. As a result of my own experience, I view problems and strategic formulation differently.

SC CC: Your current position at the Joint Staff J4 in Washington, D.C. is a long way from Starbucks or Duke University. What would you say are the most valuable takeaways from these training programs that you currently utilize?

Cmdr. Hotchkiss: There are three takeaways that have helped me mature as an officer as a result of my experiences at Duke and Starbucks. (1) My appreciation and need for diversity in an institution, (2) The lens through which I view success and failure has grown more clear…Failure is necessary in order to innovate and adapt, and (3) Mentorship is not just a Navy thing, it’s a life thing. I put more emphasis and dedicate more time today than ever before on mentorship due to my own experiences at Duke and Starbucks.

SC CC: For future officers thinking about trying to apply to the CIVINS program and for officers interested in TWI, do you think selection for one, or a combination of the two programs puts officers at a disadvantage due to the extended period outside Navy lifelines?

Cmdr. Hotchkiss: The key to succeeding while serving in any position outside Navy lifelines is to remain relevant and plugged in. Maintain and nurture those Navy relationships while away. While at Starbucks, I was active in the Supply Corps Association and hosted numerous Supply Corps and Navy events at the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle. I viewed myself as an ambassador for the Supply Corps, for Duke and for Starbucks. In doing so, I found that the transition back to mainstream Navy was seamless.

SC CC: Based off of your experiences what do you think the Supply Corps can get better at as a whole?

Cmdr. Hotchkiss: Frankly, I think the Supply Corps has largely got it right. The things we don’t have right are widely known and leadership has communicated a vision to improve. We are a transparent organization, which has a lot to do with why the community is trusted both internally within our own ranks, and externally with our line counterparts. The Supply Corps leads the Navy in diversity initiatives, cutting edge of innovation, and mentoring. I also feel we detail and network better than any other community in the Navy while offering pioneering programs like TWI, that have been adopted by other communities. Most importantly, we show empathy…It’s a force multiplier and the backbone of our culture.

SC CC: What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

Cmdr. Hotchkiss: My boss at Starbucks once told me, “culture trumps strategy, every time”. Understanding this helped me internalize the improbable and unexplainable (ex. 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team win over Russia) and helped me shape my own approach to leadership.

*Special thanks to Cmdr. Hotchkiss for sharing his time, perspective, and experience.*

July/August 2016