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The Navy Understanding Industry Course graduating class this past January. Rear Adm. Althea Coetzee (center), Executive Director, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Acquisition and Procurement, served as Guest Speaker.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Navy Understanding Industry Course (NUIC) held at the University of Virginia, Darden Graduate School of Business in Charlottesville, Va. I, and 51 of my classmates, were treated to, and challenged, in an executive education experience like no other, and came away with a deeper understanding of the structure and strategy of our industry partners.
Having served in the acquisition community for a little more than a year, I have had the chance to interact and negotiate with several large defense contractors. Throughout these business dealings, my viewpoints have been shaped by a communal skepticism of such corporations. This is the bias that many in the Department of Defense (DoD) perpetuate, that defense acquisitions is us-against-them, that defense corporations put profit ahead the of the nation’s defense priorities.
This is the bias and simple perception that I walked into Darden with.
The goal of the course was made known by Elliott Branch, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, (DASN), Acquisition and Procurement. At our kick-off dinner the evening of January 6, he proclaimed, “We send you to DAU [Defense Acquisition University] to teach you skills; we send you to Darden to teach you judgment.” It was immediately clear that during the next 19 days, the perceptions I have in my interactions with industry would change.
The NUIC class makeup consisted of Navy Acquisition Contracting Officer (NACO), Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) and Business Financial Management (BFM) Interns, mostly active duty, from all over the country. These Acquisition professionals, drawing upon their experience working in major systems commands, such as Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), contributed and collaborated throughout the course. This reflects a pillar of Darden philosophy … that we as students will learn as much from each other as we will from the faculty.
A common murmur heard amongst DoD personnel concerning the value of training and schooling is, they often find it unrelated to their specific efforts. Not only does the NUIC draw strong, direct ties to our work as acquisition professionals, it goes well beyond. Through an exhaustive examination of the financial realities and cost drivers of Corporate America -- the concerns of various stakeholders, the markets in which they operate and the ties that bind them all -- we laid a foundation in business from which to make insightful decisions for the Navy for years to come.
The curriculum at Darden is wide-ranging and rigorous, with just a few of the topics listed here …
* Strategic Challenges in the Defense Industrial Base
* Cost Allocation Systems
* Managing and Assessing Risk
* Sourcing Strategy
* Negotiation Preparation and Tactics
* Leading Change
The courses are taught through the case method, essentially mandating that students step into the shoes of a manager, executive or owner of a real world or fictitious corporation. Typically, at a juncture that requires an important strategic decision be made, the student must tap into their knowledge base, think critically, and come to elucidate a decision on where to take the business.
Will executing a strategy now yield the greatest potential profit while mitigating the most risk? Can I more accurately capture my cost drivers by switching from product-based costing to activity-based costing? Does selling the business to a competitor create the most value for our shareholders, but still allow us to reach our social goals? These are only a few of the questions a Darden student will be challenged to answer.
All too often in the Defense Acquisition arena, we easily take an adversarial position with our industry partners. We assume that the continuum of value is linear, that what is good for the contractor is bad for the government, and vice-versa. The NUIC and Darden faculty strive to cleanse students of these misperceptions. Darden professor Marc Modica instilled a lasting take-away for all of us in the class during lectures on negotiations. He taught us that to form long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships with industry that will serve the Navy going forward, we must look for areas not just to claim value for ourselves but also to create value for all parties. Having compiled countless eye-opening moments throughout the course, I realized that I was walking out of Darden free of the biases I had previously held, and empowered to transcend the normal reluctance and collaborate with the defense industry.
Building mutually beneficial partnerships … This is our challenge as Defense Acquisition Professionals. This is also our purpose. It is through the Navy Understanding Industry Course and the talented faculty of the Darden School, that 52 men and women of the Department of the Navy have been empowered to think wider, and think deeper, as we must execute complex business decisions for our Armed Forces now, and in the future.
By Lt. j.g. Daniel Laursen
Navy Acquisition Contracting Officer (NACO) Intern
Naval Air Systems Command