Military Leadership in Action: A Q&A with CEO Jerry Ashcroft
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I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with military-experienced executive Jerry Ashcroft who was recently selected to be the Chief Executive Officer of an iconic oil and gas industry brand. Mr. Ashcroft was a decorated Major in the United States Marine Corps. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the United States Naval Academy and his MBA from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.
I was eager to ask Mr. Ashcroft questions about how his military experiences informed his business career. My first question was centered on finding out what the biggest leadership lessons were that he learned from the Naval Academy and as a Marine that he applied to running a business. Mr. Ashcroft replied, “Discipline and servant leadership”.
When I heard his answer, “discipline” made sense; that sounds very much like a Marine leadership characteristic. However, when we look beyond Marine Corps stereotypes, so is “servant leadership”. Servant leaders build trusting team environments that bring out their players’ best potential.
Next, I asked how those lessons compared or contrasted with the lessons of business school. “I feel my experience in business school was built on those lessons and allowed me to focus on being a team member in a business setting,” explained Mr. Ashcroft. “It was also a great way to sharpen my skills in a civilian environment.”
In my experience, business school and military leadership are a proven combination for successful corporate leadership.
I moved on to delve into what education or experience helped Mr. Ashcroft the most while leading his company through challenging times in the energy sector. He replied, “I believe my military experience helps me prioritize what is really important. Having a clear direction usually provides a calming influence for the team. From my observations, I also think it helps you to work well under pressure and keep a level head when others may become flustered.”
A key discussion point centered on whether military-experienced leaders are good fits for energy companies. “I think they are a good fit for all companies,” said Mr. Ashcroft. “Those that are used to self-sacrifice and putting others first deliver global wins across an organization.”
On a more personal note, I asked if he believed his military background had anything to do with his becoming a leader in an energy company. Mr. Ashcroft replied, “Yes, it gave me leadership experience in my twenties versus most having to wait until their forties”.
In this response, Mr. Ashcroft has arrived at a reoccurring theme I regularly see with Leadership Development Programs or LDPs. When a company has a need for middle management leadership positions (to build bench strength against projected retirements; to help institute culture change; to staff up for growth, etc.), many times an LDP program is the answer.
And Bradley-Morris has the second piece of that answer in the form of (relatively) young and motivated Junior Military Officers (JMOs). These job seekers have leadership experience that is leveraged to fast track into the specific business via the LDP.
Finally, I asked Mr. Ashcroft what he would most want to share with other CEOs about hiring military. “The most important resource is your human resource and the military has done a great job teaching how to lead and care for that resource,” he said.
Bobby Whitehouse, a U.S. Navy veteran and Client Partner at military recruiting firm Bradley-Morris, Inc. (BMI), has more than 15 years of experience helping employers hire military for their civilian jobs. Image courtesy Jerry Ashcroft.
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