: What do you attribute your success to?
: I received a lot of support from my family, both when I was growing up and even to this day. In my first 10 years we moved around a lot since my Dad was in the Navy. Following his retirement we lived in my father’s hometown -- a small country town which made us closer to our extended family -- which meant hundreds of people. It is a huge boost to have so many people rooting for you. Likewise, from about the fourth grade on, it seemed I always had a job -- from delivering papers, home construction, gas station and industrial construction. I believe that strong work ethic stayed with me since. Family and work were important to me.
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Vice Adm. Brown speaks with the Secretary of Defense.
Later, my uncle talked to me about going to the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Since I had a fair amount of money in my pocket from working, I always had a car and therefore freedom. VMI re-established my baseline. That baseline -- or greater discipline -- helped me immensely as I entered the Navy and has helped me every day since. Overall, the VMI experience allowed me to forge enduring friendships and connect with key leaders to this day -- and definitely had a profound impact on me.
Lastly, I would say not only my family, but also friends and leaders believed in me more than I did myself sometimes. I owe them everything. In particular, my wife never complained and always supported me. She made it reasonably trouble-free for me to concentrate on my job. To recap, a supportive family, strong work ethic, discipline and key influencers (VMI, mentors) enabled my success.
: What was your most challenging assignment?
: First, every job has been challenging. I even had a tough time getting through Supply Corps School -- and I was studying hard! Friends helped me through.
I always thought serving at the Navy’s inventory control point(s) was about as challenging as it can get if you are in the supply chain logistics business. I would have loved to go back there for a third assignment. Being the operations officer as a junior O-6 at Naval Inventory Control Point (NAVICP) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was not only challenging, it was rewarding. I will always be appreciative of Capt. Carl Bright and Rear Adm. Mike Finley for giving me that opportunity. At NAVICP I learned about the readiness advantages of a working capital fund and its impact on successful supply chain management. One of the biggest challenges was getting the NAVAIR program managers to understand the advantages of working within the organic supply system instead of assuming the organic system was the enemy. As we move forward, I worry about assuming programs like the F-35 can operate independent of the organic industrial base and go-to-war capability. The bottom line is that every job is challenging if you passionately care about the mission.
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Vice Adm. William A. Brown greets members of the Jordan Outreach Delegation during a visit to U.S. Transportation Command.
: What is the hardest thing you have ever had to do as a Supply Corps officer?
: For me, it was hard to put my personal feelings or professional judgment aside when command decisions don’t go my way. Whether it is was a 20 percent cut to a budget when you know it is going to directly hurt fleet readiness -- or organizational changes or policies -- it was hard to learn how not to take it personally. That said, there has to be balance between strongly held opinion and supporting leadership. So -- don’t take things personally -- but take your personal contribution to heart, while recognizing important moments when we do things that are best for the enterprise, not you personally.
: What in your career are you most proud of?
: I’m proud of our Navy. Our Navy’s contribution to the Joint mission -- worldwide -- is more than it ever has been. And our Supply team of Sailors, officers, and civilians are better across the board too. The standards for world-class logisticians are higher today. Processes and equipment are better. Our weapons systems which target the enemy have put a premium on precision accuracy and efficiency. Likewise, as logisticians we have done the same thing and we need to keep it up.
It was a big honor to be on the ground floor of the formation of the Naval Aviation Enterprise and see the positive impact on the rest of the Navy. It was also exciting to see operational commanders embrace “cost-wise readiness” vice readiness at any cost. It was and is powerful stuff. We literally saved hundreds of millions of dollars through transparency and change in the way we operated, thereby driving out inefficiencies -- and we knew more about our readiness posture than ever before. A win/win.
I can’t help but tell one story about my dad, the wooden deck aviator. He asked me once what I was working on. I told him I was reducing the number of aircraft cannibalizations -- that “canns” were hurting fleet readiness. My dad said, “Don’t do that. That’s how we keep the planes up.” You see, his guys were heroes because of cannibalizations. I explained to my dad, “cost-wise readiness” and he eventually accepted there might be a some overarching goodness in reducing cannibalizations. His comments reflected just how long a journey we were on in changing culture. It’s the journey, not the accomplishment, you will remember most.
: How do you think what you’ve learned over your career will help you after you have left the Supply Corps?
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: Here are some things I think are important … help people. Tough problems can be overcome with the right focus. It is not only vital to have a strategy, but also a plan and people who have buy-in that will execute it. Be a good listener; listen to your customer before you talk. Be a good example as a change agent. If your business is not world-class, you will have to fight for business harder. Always improve and challenge where you are weakest. Once a decision is made, execute with exactness and speed. And again, help people.
: What one piece of advice would you give to today’s Supply Corps officer?
: My dad always said, “Listen to advice, take what you need and throw the rest away.” I always tell folks to take the toughest job on the detailer’s list. Don’t necessarily target a geographic location or a particular unit, unless that is where the most challenging job is. It gets harder as your children start high school. So taking the hard jobs is particularly important early on. But I think it applies at every level.
Never peak. I used to think the best job ever would be a carrier supply officer. Well, I was mostly right – but -- goals are met and then you have to re-think and move past your old goal. There are four quarters in a football game. Whatever your aim might be, just accept the principle that you will move on to the next mission and find renewed purpose. The principle of “always do your best,” applies here.
: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
: Officers entering the Navy today will fill the leadership positions in the year 2050. I can’t predict what the next thirty-five years will bring, but if we are going to maintain our position as a sea power nation we need to pay attention to our young officers and enlisted. We need to ensure we have the right developmental path for them, from hard/fulfilling jobs to joint professional military education. I believe our nation will still need a strong cadre of naval logisticians in the year 2050. Our Supply Corps can deliver on that.
In terms of our operations today, we have never seen more emerging challenges -- as our funding is dropping. Historically, we have had down turns in demand for our forces and budgets before. But this time the demand does not appear to be less. New missions have emerged and we are being asked to operate anywhere in the world -- no other country can do what we can.
Our ability to fight through uncertainty will be required. I know the Navy Supply Corps team will continue to support the Navy and the Joint force at every turn.