Making A Difference

Applying Business Principles to Military Problems

Donald Reidy (MBA 1990)

Donald Reidy (MBA 1990) is director of strategic planning and resource allocation for the Naval Special Warfare Command, in California. In this video, he talks about applying business management principles learned at HBS to his role in military operations.

“What I did after leaving HBS that really helped me make a difference [is], I was in the military active duty at the time. About two years after leaving Harvard, there was a super typhoon that hit Guam—Typhoon Omar—and at the time the leaders of my command were off the island. About 500 people were depending on me to organize them for protection against the storm. So that was probably the first critical application of what I learned here. I still remember the day, walking in that morning and there were several hundred people looking at me saying, ‘What do we do next?’ The island had been devastated, the power had been knocked out, the water was off—where do we go from there? That was when I started to reach back to what I learned not only in the classroom but more importantly what my classmates had taught me, what I’d learned from them.

“Currently I work for the Naval Special Warfare Command, which involves the Navy Seals and the other special operations forces and, believe it or not, these forces have a five-year business plan where they have to organize, train, and equip our folks and allocate resources. Given the fiscal environment, it’s [about] making tradeoffs. So [that’s] the ability to organize what capabilities are required; to be able to help people prioritize. I’m not an operator; I’m a business person, but [my job is] getting the Navy Seal leadership to decide what’s important—what they can trade off—and identifying risk and helping them manage risk on the business side, so when they actually go off to war and combat, they have the right capabilities for their success on the battlefield and in their operations.

“Some of the biggest challenges I face in the military is trying to apply business principles to what is a military type of problem set. But any large organization is [about] taking people, training, manning them, equipping them, and putting them in a position where they can be successful. So, really, it involves identifying where we need to go, not only for current operations—what’s happening this year—but more importantly what is happening two, four, eight, even 10 years out, and what we need to be.”

(Published February 2016)