Achieving Success in the Navy Supply Corps

Nov. 6, 2013 | By scnewsltr
     The Supply Corps Office of Personnel has initiated a new series of interviews, focusing on Supply Corps career management and what it takes to achieve success in the Navy Supply Corps.  This series starts with ‘Charting Your Career’.  Lt. Cmdr. Jay Ramsey, SC, USN, Supply Corps Career Counselor (SC CC), interviewed Supply Corps officer, Capt. Ken Epps, from the J4 Strategy & Readiness Office at the Pentagon.  Capt. Epps shared his personal career strategies coming up through the ranks … [caption id="attachment_1547" align="alignright" width="198"]
VIRIN: 131106-N-ZZ219-1547
Capt. Ken Epps      Lt. Cmdr. Ramsey -- Tell me about yourself (education, career, assignment history, etc.).      Capt. Epps -- I am a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps graduate of Vanderbilt University, and completed the Basic Qualification Course in March of 1991.  My assignments have ranged from two aircraft carriers and a guided missile cruiser, to ashore assignments at the Navy Supply Corps School, on the Navy and Joint Staffs, as well as in Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP).  I completed my Master of Business Administration at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, and attended Senior Service College at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.      Lt. Cmdr. Ramsey -- As a Junior Officer (JO), what drove your detailing strategy?      Capt. Epps -- I took a two-pronged approach to detailing; first, I wanted the most high-visibility, challenging assignments available to me; and second, I wanted to gain as much exposure and experience across a broad and diverse range of assignments.      As opposed to focusing narrowly on a specific technical niche, I wanted to be a well-rounded generalist, able to take on the widest possible range of future assignments as a senior officer.  This strategy resulted in my tours at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, DLA Headquarters, Naval Inventory Control Point Philadelphia, NAVSUP and the Joint Staff.  I had a strong interest in financial management and programming, and used this interest to learn our business through the lens of a Navy Working Capital Fund budget officer, a headquarters Comptroller, and as a Program Memorandum Objective (POM) “mechanic” in N80.  I also enjoyed my initial assignment on an aircraft carrier, so I made sure to complete enough aviation related tours to be assigned as an 05 CVN Supply Officer.      Lt. Cmdr. Ramsey -- Describe your most challenging assignment.  What takeaways would you like to share from that experience?      Capt. Epps -- There is a two-way tie for my most challenging assignment … small boy DH afloat, and POM Mechanic on the Navy Staff.  I was in the very first wave of lieutenants, along with Capt. Joan Oldmixon, to head to sea as a Supply officer on a CG.  This is normal today, but was a pretty big deal when we went out for the first time.  The expectations were high and at the same time, many thought we might fail.  Successfully completing this tour proved to me that it’s ok to try and punch above your pay grade, and if you do it successfully, it will embolden you to do it again and again.      Serving aboard USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) was a great confidence builder.  Serving as an action officer on the Navy Staff is unlike anything you’ll do in the Navy.  The stakes are high, the pressure is even higher and you typically have no bench to rely on.  This assignment taught me nothing replaces putting the time in to learn your craft, and that there are no shortcuts.  I also learned to be precise about every detail, because the analysis I completed frequently ended up on a Flag Officer’s desk within a matter of days, if not hours.  There was no room for error, so we all learned to know the facts, check then recheck our assumptions and summarize them in a way a senior officer or civilian can quickly comprehend what we said then do something productive with it.  This last skill set has carried me through much of my career.      Lt. Cmdr. Ramsey -- Tour quality is a common theme that we hear about in the Supply Corps.  Tell me what that means to you?      Capt. Epps -- Tour quality means taking a challenging assignment where you will learn a valuable skillset and can prove how good you are to the widest possible, most influential audience.  It’s one thing to be good; it’s better to be good around people who matter and can help you along in your career.      Lt. Cmdr. Ramsey -- Department Head (DH) tours are important assignments, what does that mean to you?      Capt. Epps -- Afloat DH tours are highly valued because they represent some of our toughest, most challenging assignments; they are also great character and confidence builders.  There is nothing like being a small boy Supply officer afloat, responsible for the care, feeding and combat logistics support of a warfighting vessel at sea.  This assignment typically represents the first time we get to really stretch our wings, both as a leader and as an expert in all things “Supply”.  There is nothing tougher than having the dot on your forehead as a Department Head afloat, with nothing standing between you and the Commanding Officer or Executive Officer.  A successful DH tour afloat builds the kind of confidence that will carry you through your entire career.  There is no tougher assignment.      Lt. Cmdr. Ramsey -- When you were a JO, did you have a mentor?  How should a JO approach a senior officer to seek career guidance and mentoring?  As a mentor, what advice do you typically share with perspective mentees?      Capt. Epps -- I have been fortunate to have many mentors throughout my career.  There are a couple of ways a JO can seek out mentors.  One, attend as many Supply Corps functions as he or she can.  These social events are an especially easy way to strike up a conversation with senior officers.  Often times, these casual meetings will evolve into a more formal, mentoring relationship.  I’ve also had success as a JO “cold calling” senior officers wherever I’m stationed.  As a rule, senior officers are busy, but will always find the time to mentor junior officers, whether or not they fall in their chain of command.  A senior officer has never turned me down, and now that I’m in a position to mentor other JOs, I relish the opportunity.  My peers feel likewise.  The advice I give my mentees is the same I give myself … take the toughest, most challenging, hi-visibility jobs offered to you, and get as much competition as possible.  The rest will take care of itself.      Lt. Cmdr. Ramsey -- If you had to do it all over again, what would you do different, if anything, in your SC career (i.e. pursue different line of operation, etc.)?      Capt. Epps -- I was fortunate to have good mentors very early in my career, and I received sound career guidance.  If I had to do it over again, I would not change a thing.      Lt. Cmdr. Ramsey -- As a senior officer, what are your thoughts regarding emotional intelligence?  How do you balance connecting with people versus driving towards mission accomplishment and success?      Capt. Epps -- One of life’s great revelations is understanding the relationship between cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence, and properly balancing the two translates to career success.  Typically, most people think brains trump all because that’s what we’re taught from 1st grade through post graduate school.  What I have observed, however, is that brains count but only up to a point; as Malcolm Gladwell observed in his “Outliers” – you only have to be smart enough.  Once you get higher up in any food chain, pure intellectual fire power matters less than your ability to one, be persuasive, and two, build relationships and coalitions.  In our business, people mean everything.  Being able to connect with them and convince them to row in the same direction will always lead to mission success.      Lt. Cmdr. Ramsey -- Work/life balance is important to the success of any executive.  What keeps you grounded?  What work/life balance advice can you share?      Capt. Epps -- This is a tough one.  No matter what line of work you’re in, it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to master your profession and reach the top.  There are no shortcuts, and there is no substitute for hard work.  That said, you have to keep things in perspective and know when to let go.  Working 10-12 hour days in a tough job is the norm.  The way I maintain balance, I refuse to bring homework, ever.  This also includes my blackberry.  I can’t always get away with the blackberry, but I try hard.  If I need to work the rare weekend, I will go into the office.  This way, work stays at “work” and home remains “home”.      Lt. Cmdr. Ramsey -- From your perspective, what is the “secret” to success?      Capt Epps -- The secret to success is easy; work hard, always treat people – regardless of their station – with dignity and respect, and look to fill a void in your organization, whether it’s one of leadership, talent or just plain sweat.  The right people will take notice eventually, and you will be well on your way.      Lt. Cmdr. Ramsey – Last, but certainly not the least, what does the Duke – UNC rivalry mean to you?      Capt Epps -- It means team Epps/Ott/Feliz/Lieng is always on standby to hit the courts against team Archer/Martin/Hotchkiss/Frey.  Any time.  Any place. Anywhere. Special thanks to Capt. Epps for sharing his valuable knowledge and experience for those starting their journey in their Navy career.