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Marines Know Business

Veterans Dan Carrison (USMCR 1965 to 1970) and Rod Walsh (USMC 1963 to 1966) took the principles of what it means to be a Marine from the barracks to the boardroom.

As cofounders of Semper Fi Consulting and coauthors of Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way, Carrison and Walsh are trying to instill values such as loyalty and partnership back into business.

Carrison, a 20-year sales exec who recently published a second book, Deadline!: How Premier Organizations Win the Race Against Time, talks with Monster about changing corporate culture -- the Marine Corps way.

Monster: We're living in an era of failed dotcoms, insider trading and corporate scandals. What do you think is lacking in some business leaders?

Dan Carrison: Loyalty and sense of duty. Semper fidelis means "always faithful." That is a touchy-feely motto for a blood-and-guts organization. It goes beyond the mission, the Marine Corps and your career. It's a sense of fidelity. We want our managers to be faithful to us and us to them. When that collapses, we have what we see with some organizations where the CEOs and managers were not faithful.

M: What sort of reactions do you get when you make presentations to corporate clients?

DC: They're curious as to what the Marine Corps would have to teach the business community. A lot of businesspeople are ambivalent or downright hostile to a military environment. They are pleased the Marine Corps is not what they thought.

Hollywood stereotypes Marines as robotic soldiers who get orders barked in their ears and then go do them. This is not true. Marines have the lights on. They don't go the extra mile because someone is screaming in their ear, but because they are inspired. Marines are encouraged to inquire and understand and become believers in the way things should be done. Marines are motivated by management and inspiration, not intimidation. That can be emulated in the business community. These methods work.

M: How did serving in the Marine Corps Reserves influence you as a businessman?

DC: I was in the business world and the Marine Corps. I could see how both organizations lead. Marine Corps officers lead from a forward position. In corporate America, managers lead from behind a desk and pushing. Having had [Marine] leaders that led by personal example, I wanted to do that in the corporate environment.

For me and tens of thousands of other nerds, the Marine Corps takes you in. They lay down the challenge: Do you have what it takes to be part of this organization? They take in people who feel they may not be up to it and cultivate leaders out of them. A lot of people join for the hope of transformation.

M: What do you hope companies take away from your seminars?

DC: We're trying to change corporate culture a little. If we have an audience of hands-on managers, we try to show them the virtues of being hands-off managers, and how that works so well in the world's most elite fighting organization. We want to influence managers to examine their style and make sure they're not pulling the rug out from under people hired to do jobs. If we have HR people, we try to show how important HR should be to the company. In the Marines, a tour of duty as a recruiter or a trainer -- the equivalent of HR -- is exalted.

With all of us vying for limited promotions, there's a tendency to play our cards close to the vest and not help our associates. Marines stumble over themselves to help each other. There's no separate unit identification, but a feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood. We're trying to change the thinking in corporate America -- everyone is out there on the front lines.

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