Unites States Navy

Lessons in Leadership I Learned as a Naval Officer

Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

It has been exactly two months since John McCain was laid to rest at the Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis. Like countless others who watched the memorial service held at the Washington National Cathedral the day before his burial, I was moved by the tributes to the extraordinary life of this true American hero, warrior, and statesman. Many of the leadership traits that helped define Senator McCain’s character were first learned while he was a midshipman at the U. S. Naval Academy and then put to the test as an officer honorably serving his country under some of the most difficult conditions imaginable.

Today also is only four days before the midterm elections in the United States. Senator McCain believed that voting was every citizen’s right and duty. If he were alive today, I’m sure the senator would encourage all Americans to go to the polls next week and cast their votes for the best available leaders, perhaps even putting aside party affiliation if an opposition candidate clearly was better qualified and more committed to uniting our country.

This all prompted me to reflect on what skills define a good leader—in the military, government, business, or any other walk of life. In doing so, I excerpted from an interview I recently did with Professor Mike Useem from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania on the subject of why some former military officers go on to have successful business careers. Since I added some additional content to the answers given in that interview, what follows is an updated version of some of my own learnings about leadership from the time I spent as an officer in the United States Navy.

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Wharton University of Pennsylvania

Joseph Wharton Lifetime Achievement Award Acceptance Speech

Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

The annual Joseph Wharton Awards Dinner was hosted by the Wharton Club of New York on October 11, 2018. The 2018 awards went to the following alumni of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania: Award for Young Leadership to Kunal Bahl, ENG’06, W’06, Co-founder and CEO, Snapdeal; Award for Social Leadership to Anne Welsh McNulty, W’79, President, McNulty Foundation; Award for Leadership to Jonathan Gray, C’92, W’93, President & COO, Blackstone.

In addition, I received the 2018 Joseph Wharton Lifetime Achievement Award; following are the remarks I made upon being presented the award by the 2017 recipient, James S. Riepe, W’65, WG’67, HON’10, Retired Vice Chairman, T. Rowe Price Group, Inc.

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The Power of an Honest Apology

Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

Wise leaders understand that if a serious mistake occurs on their watch, an honest apology is in order—whether or not the leader is the one who personally made the mistake. Not only can an honest apology go a long way in mitigating the impact of any miscalculation, miscommunication, or outright blunder, a leader’s reputation can be enhanced if he or she owns up to failure and then takes appropriate corrective action.

Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that none of us expect any head of state or CEO to be infallible, and we know that every government and organization will err from time to time, honest apologies still tend to be the exception rather than the rule. I offer seven important characteristics that in my view collectively define an honest apology, coupled with a few historical dos and don’ts—mostly, but not exclusively, from the world of business. (more…)

My Word Is My Bond—Or Is It

My Word Is My Bond—Or Is It?

Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

After watching a recap of the week’s news, I asked myself how many of our political leaders really believe in the longstanding pledge, “my word is my bond.”

These powerful words rarely have been taken lightly since their biblical origin. Merchant traders dating back to the late-1500s knew that their words were in fact their bonds, constituting legally binding agreements. Commodity and stock traders in the pits of the CBOT and NYSE clearly understood this ironclad concept, and the London Stock Exchange has used the Latin equivalent, dictum meum pactum, as its motto since 1801.

More recently, the five words have been shorted in the lyrics of rap and hip-hop artists to “word is bond”—forcefully underscoring the importance of speaking the truth and standing by what you say. (more…)

Truth and Leadership

Truth and Leadership

Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

After watching the nightly news last week, I shook my head and wondered about the meaning of truth: what is it, how can it be manipulated or twisted, does it really count for much today, who are the people that really define it, and is it worth fighting for? And, by the way, what role do leaders have in speaking the truth—the unvarnished, unedited truth?

Since we were very young children, we were told that it is wrong, really wrong to tell a lie. It was one of the golden rules we learned in school and while attending our church, synagogue, mosque, or just praying in the wonderment of nature. We saw this play out on our neighborhood playgrounds and playing fields where anyone who didn’t tell the truth paid the price. We learned about the virtues of truthfulness when we studied U.S. presidents like Abraham Lincoln, or when we read the words Thomas Jefferson wrote in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self evident …” We watched Pinocchio’s nose grow longer and longer when he lied. When we were young, we came to accept the fact that telling the truth was a prerequisite for becoming a leader—because how could people believe in a leader who lies? So, what happened to us as we grew older? (more…)

Fifteen Keys to Research and Development Success

Fifteen Keys to Research and Development Success

Arthur D. Collins, Jr., NUvention Medical Keynote Lecture, Northwestern University, March 9, 2016

When my friend Pete McNerney asked me to be the speaker at a recent Northwestern University NUvention event in Chicago, I gladly accepted. The luncheon was attended by about 60 students representing the schools of business, law, engineering, and medicine, together with faculty and representatives of a number of businesses and friends of Northwestern University. “What Are the Keys for Successful Research & Development (R&D) and Innovation in the Medical Technology Industry” was the topic Pete gave me.

In preparation, I grabbed a handful of index cards and decided to jot down some of the lessons learned during the more than three decades I spent at Abbott Laboratories and Medtronic, as well as a four-year stint at Booz, Allen & Hamilton early in my career. I also added a few observations from my current role as a director on the corporate boards of Alcoa, Boeing, Cargill, and US Bancorp. As I remembered one “do” and “don’t” after another, I started to run out of index cards. I finally decided to cap the list at 15.

What follows is a reasonable representation of what I said, with a few additional thoughts that came to mind after the fact. (more…)