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Aaron Warby: “The first step is to stop and breathe”

Take the time to properly access the crisis from all angles and get an understanding of where the first impacts will be felt and where the most devastating impact might be. I was once on a field medicine training course. We were presented with different wounds and health crisis that were common to the battlefield. One […]

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Take the time to properly access the crisis from all angles and get an understanding of where the first impacts will be felt and where the most devastating impact might be.

I was once on a field medicine training course. We were presented with different wounds and health crisis that were common to the battlefield. One of the most failed exercises was one that on the surface looked straightforward. The Marine actor on the ground was bleeding profusely from the leg. Most Marines responding to the situation did an admirable job of putting pressure on the wound and bandaging it up but were disappointed to learn that the Marine they were treating died anyway because they had failed to diagnose all of the problems and deal with the most critical first. In this case the Marine stopped breathing. The lifesaving steps in order of importance are: start the breathing, stop the bleeding and check for shock. Not going through the correct procedures for diagnosis cost the Marine their life. But at least they still had blood in their system when they died.


In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Captain Aaron Warby, a Retired U.S. Marine, who was born in 1974 and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1998. He currently owns Online Trading Academy in Arizona. Warby’s mission through Online Trading Academy is to educate individuals, professionals and business owners on how the financial systems really work by providing trusted financial education from industry insiders.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I was born in a small town in rural Utah. I am one of seven children and was raised by parents that pushed their children to be self-motivated and love to learn. My father filled many work roles and most of them in marketing. When I was 12 our family moved to the Chicago area where my father filled an executive-level position for a large company. Later he became an entrepreneur and we moved back west.

I enjoyed learning and started college classes at the local junior college during the summer after my sophomore year of high school. This really helped me get ahead of the typical school timeline and allowed me to serve an ecclesiastical mission for my church in the Boston area without falling behind my peers.

After returning from Boston I decided to enlist in the Marine Corps for a couple of years before completing my education. However, after only 18 months into my four-year enlistment, Marine Corps headquarters asked me to apply for a commissioning program. Soon after, I found myself back in college to complete my bachelor’s degree to qualify and become a commissioned officer in the Marine Corps.

I loved my time in the Corps, especially the camaraderie that I felt with the Marines that I worked with.

Later in my military career, a new form of military retirement was announced called the Blended Retirement System (BRS). This new program took much of the weight of military retirement off the shoulders of the taxpayer and replaced it with more of a 401(k) type401(k)-type defined contribution plan.

Though my degree was in business administration, I had fallen in love with economics from my entry-level business courses and had made economic issues an effort of study since leaving college. Because of this I knew the track record of 401(k) plans and considered the new BRS as inadequate for my Marines.

So, in 2013, just a year before I retired, I began teaching Marines the basics of investing and started encouraging them to take a more active role in their own financial future. Due to the discipline and coachability of the Marines, I found that most were doing well and on a good track for the future.

A couple of years after my retirement from the Marine Corps I was walking into Walmart and was greeted by a fellow Marine that had served in the Korean War. Doing the math, I knew that this gentleman must be in his 80s and I knew without asking that the most likely reason he was greeting me at Walmart was that he needed the extra money.

I was deeply insulted that the economy, the pension fund that he had, his retirement or some combination of the above had failed him and put him in such a position. I wanted to do something to help keep others from being in that position. Eighteen months later I bought the franchise rights to Online Trading Academy for Arizona.

And what are you doing today?

Today I train people to take control of their own financial future knowing that no one is more interested in your financial well-being more than yourself.

Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

I will contrast what I saw in 2008 with what I saw in March and April of this year during the pandemic. In 2008, 25 percent of our nation was out of work. I saw scared people. People moving in with relatives after losing their homes, retired individuals going back to work because they lost the retirement that they had felt so secure with.

This year we have seen some of the same but among my students, I saw confidence. Confidence that their wealth was better protected. Confidence that even if a job was lost, they understood that there was a way to make income from the markets. I saw people who were empowered and not as scared.

Because of the laws that govern this industry, I cannot give individual examples, but I am gratified that the work that I am doing is making a real difference to some people.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I enlisted and was given a high-level electronic repair specialty. Later, I was commissioned and served as a logistics officer. For three years I served as a liaison officer in Japan.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

When I was still young into the Marine Corps I was sent on what was called a West Pac where Marines are attached to a Navy ship, in my case the USS Tarawa, and sail out in the Pacific region. The trip is approximately 6 months and is meant to allow the military to have a forward presence in the world projecting power and acting as security. Though my specialty was electrical engineering at the time, as a Marine we are all basic riflemen, and should anything go wrong I was expected to pick up a rifle and do my duty to protect and serve. Though I had been told that this was a possibility, because of my given specialty that was understood to be more theoretical than real.

Halfway through the tour, we were sailing in the Gulf of Oman near the hot spots in the middle east. Many of our ground-pounding specialty Marines had been offloaded in Saudi Arabia for exercises. It was at this time when a terrorist group detonated explosives beside the hull of the USS Cole while it sat in a bay off the coast of Yemen. My ship was the closest US force to the incident and so we steamed over and were first on-site.

There was a fear among the brass that because the explosives had not quite sunk the Cole, that the terrorists would be back to finish the job. As most of the ground units were off the ship at the time, I was handed a rifle and told to go and stand guard at the bow of the ship and ensure that nothing got near enough to our ship or the USS Cole to threaten it.

Like any good Marine, when I received my weapon, I immediately did a check of the condition and rounds. I was confused to see that I had not received any rounds. Conveniently, my captain was close at hand and so I asked him about the rounds. Gritting his teeth, he told me that the admiral aboard our ship had been given temporary command of the situation and fearing that the Marines would shoot some innocent fishing boat, he had not authorized any bullets to be issued.

I was dumbfounded. Marines are trained hard. Marines are disciplined and it was insulting to think that this admiral had so little faith in the USMC that he couldn’t trust us to be armed and fulfill our assigned orders. It was a dirty little secret that everyone hoped would stay a secret but the forces guarding the USS Cole were not battle effective until the USS Cole left the area.

The Marines did their job, as useless as we all felt carrying around empty rifles. But, for those that were part of the operation there developed a deep distrust of the capabilities of the Naval leadership.

Later, during my officer training at Quantico Virginia, my mind would consider the USS Cole experience and aftermath. I saw that trust is a two-way road. The moment we learned that the Admiral didn’t trust us, we stopped trusting him. This is true in civilian life as well. People typically work better when they feel that they have the trust and confidence of their superiors. Conversely, the best way to ensure low-grade work and a dissatisfied staff is to micromanage their work.

We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience?

Lieutenant General John Kelly relayed this story and it resonated in every Marines heart. It was a story the affected me deeply and one that I will never forget.It starts like this:When I was the commander of all U.S. and Iraqi forces, on April 22, 2008, two Marine infantry battalions, 1/9 “The Walking Dead,” and 2/8, were switching out in Ramadi. One battalion was in the closing days of its deployment, the other just starting its seven-month combat tour. Two Marines, Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, 22 and 20 respectively, one from each battalion, were assuming the watch at the entrance gate of an outpost that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines. The same ramshackle building was also home to 100 Iraqi police, our allies in the fight against terrorists in Ramadi — known at the time as the most dangerous city on earth and owned by al-Qaeda. Yale was a dirt-poor mixed-race kid from Virginia, with a wife, a mother and a sister, who all lived with him and he supported. He did this on a yearly salary of less than 23,000 dollars. Haerter, on the other hand, was a middle-class white kid from Long Island. They were from two completely different worlds. Had they not joined the Marines, they would never have met each other, or understood that multiple Americas exist simultaneously, depending on one’s race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, education level, economic status, or where you might have been born. But they were Marines, combat Marines, forged in the same crucible, and because of this bond they were brothers as close — or closer — than if they were born of the same woman. The mission orders they received from their sergeant squad leader, I’m sure, went something like this: “OK, take charge of this post and let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass. You clear?” I’m also sure Yale and Haerter rolled their eyes and said, in unison, something like, “Yes, sergeant,” with just enough attitude that made the point, without saying the words, “No kidding, sweetheart. We know what we’re doing.” They then relieved two other Marines on watch and took up their post at the entry control point of Joint Security Station Nasser, in the Sophia section of Ramadi, al Anbar, Iraq. A few minutes later, a large blue truck turned down the alleyway — perhaps 60 to 70 yards in length — and sped its way through the serpentine concrete Jersey walls. Read on here.

Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

In my mind, heroes are forged of purpose, love, and a willingness to take personal responsibility. Because of the training that these Marines went through they had gained a very defined purpose of protecting all. They had learned to love those that they fought with and were willing to sacrifice for them as they knew that their fellow Marines would sacrifice for them. They took personal responsibility for the safety of others while standing at that post. This is not something that most would understand as we have a great dearth of personal responsibility in the United States today by the general population. But you don’t walk away from Marine Corps training without it.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is?

To me, a hero is anyone who takes personal responsibility for the welfare of others with the distinct possibility that personal sacrifices might be necessary.

Can you explain?

Whether the hero is a Marine fighting for their country or a diligent mother sacrificing sleep and comfort day after day to ensure that her children feel secure and are well prepared for the world that they will one day face alone, the elements of that heroism is the same. There was love, personal sacrifice and an uncommon amount of personal responsibility for the well-being of another individual.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership?

Marines are trained to understand that the basis of every victory in any part of life is the result of the small daily routines that provide security and excellence to your unit or business. Therefore, just as in the service the job of the leader is to set forth the daily routines of excellence and inspect the processes that follow to ensure process excellence and overall success. As always, the job of every leader is to ensure mission accomplishment and troop welfare. I believe that any leader that follows these principles and communicates often and well will find that they have a thriving business.

I believe that leadership is leadership no matter the setting and the principles of leadership don’t change with times, seasons or settings. In short, good leaders transfer well. The Marine Corps is dedicated to making good leaders and the Corps is good at what it does.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way.

I am grateful to my father and mother for teaching me integrity and grit. Yes, they together were as tough as the Marines.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are?

Yes, I am grateful to Captain Matthew Feeley for teaching me that I was capable of more than my rank would tell me. Finally, I am grateful to Lieutenant Colonel Tate Buntz for pushing me to be better in business and in my personal life every single day.

Can you share a story?

I was once sent to a class while serving in a Navy command. In the class we were assigned to create a project that would solve a problem that our command had. I chose a problem that had not been discussed much but addressed some issues in past and upcoming budgets. Unbeknownst to me the commanding officer at the unit had started focusing on the same problem. He was approaching it in a pragmatic way but because of the man-hours that were being expended, he was getting push back from some of his department heads. During this, I had found a couple of back doors and employed some technology within the command that collected the required data and accomplished the tasks that he wanted done. At the end of the class, I presented the project. It impressed the class administrators and, in an attempt, to show highlight the validity of the class they arranged to have me show the project to my commanding officer. He was delighted that I had recognized the problem and devised a fast and efficient solution. After a few discussions and a couple of months there came a vacancy in one of his department head positions that would not be filled quickly. He passed by other senior officers and put me into the position. It was challenging not only in workload but because I was forced to deal with officers well above my pay grade as peers. Not having the weight of rank on my side, I was stretched to use what my sociology courses taught me to call soft power. It was one of the most difficult assignments that I have had. But, I have never grown more in such a short time.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?

I define a crisis as a situation that challenges the limits of one’s abilities and resources to the point of imminent failure.

Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?

Most crisis are common enough to have an inkling that such an instance might someday present itself. Having contingency plans are very important. Just as important is understanding that all crisis have similar effects. They strain resources. Having some redundant resources in place or easily available is always wise. The most vulnerable are young businesses that have not had time to build the capital required for justifying redundant resources or emergency funds and have not had time to qualify for extra credit resources. For these companies’ creativity and resourcefulness must make up the difference.

There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation?

The first thing that people should do in any crisis is stop and take some deep breaths. Too often we see a problem and react to it, expending resources on what turns out to be a symptom of the crisis rather than the cause or cure. Making sure that we are in the right frame of mind and have the information necessary to properly diagnose the crisis is key.

What should they do next?

The next step is to look at the problem and see it for what it is. Look at best- and worst-case scenarios. Ensure that you understand what the crisis is, its reach, the overall effect and which direction the first and worst problems are coming from.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?

The two best traits in crisis management is the ability to remain calm and the mental toughness to stay calm.

When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind?

My father.

Can you explain why you chose that person?

My father was unflappable in the face of crisis and had the most stoic attitude that I have ever met. He faced each crisis as just a problem knowing that there was certain to be a way through it and determined to find that way. He expected that life was full of problems and was never surprised when one popped up nor was he ever daunted in his faith that he would eventually get through it.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever?

Yes

Can you share that story with us?

Early in my Marine Corps career, I was selected for a position that forced me to start work late in the evening, long hours and in an out of the way place. It was considered the worst assignment in the unit. It was a dead-end because there was little recognition in the work, and the location and hours put those in the position out of sight from leaders that had the power to advance a career. I was put in the position by a senior ranking person who disagreed with my religious views.

Fortunately, I didn’t know that it was the worst assignment and that it was a dead-end place. I will credit my nativity for saving me because if I had known I would have had to display mental toughness. As it was, I simply decided it was another assignment. I put my head down and did what the Marine Corps had taught me to do. I worked the processes until they were the most efficient that I could design. I found new resources that had been ignored in the past and leveraged them.

Within a few months, the unit was humming along. The hourly demands had dropped, and the new productivity started showing up in the upper levels of the command leadership. Soon the commanding officer was aware of my work and promoted me to another position. Two years later I outranked the leader that had assigned me the position.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations?

  1. The first step is to stop and breathe. A calm person makes good and rational decisions. Very few instances are helped by decisions made by panicky people. There are very few instances in business where not reacting in the first few seconds or even the first 24 hours will cost lives or make the situation too much worse. Bad decisions will always make the situation worse.

In Marine Corps training it was sometimes fun for the more seasoned officers to get the new officers out in exercises and lead them into ambushes. It was a mark of a new officer to assume that the problem was the bullets that first started ripping through his lines. So, concentrating the resources forward the officer would begin to fight only to find out that this was a mere distraction and the real assault was sneaking up on his side. The battle was lost not because of skill, or firepower but because of incorrect orientation. When we panic, we often get caught in the headlights and concentrate on the enormity of the problem and the symptoms but fail to immediately see what the real issue is.

2. Take the time to properly access the crisis from all angles and get an understanding of where the first impacts will be felt and where the most devastating impact might be.

I was once on a field medicine training course. We were presented with different wounds and health crisis that were common to the battlefield. One of the most failed exercises was one that on the surface looked straightforward. The Marine actor on the ground was bleeding profusely from the leg. Most Marines responding to the situation did an admirable job of putting pressure on the wound and bandaging it up but were disappointed to learn that the Marine they were treating died anyway because they had failed to diagnose all of the problems and deal with the most critical first. In this case the Marine stopped breathing. The lifesaving steps in order of importance are: start the breathing, stop the bleeding and check for shock. Not going through the correct procedures for diagnosis cost the Marine their life. But at least they still had blood in their system when they died.

3. Inventory all assets, capabilities and vulnerabilities. And be creative when listing assets remembering that the best assets any company has is often their team.

I sat in a classroom where a tough-looking Marine talked about street fights. The class was mixed martial arts in the battlefield and we were being trained by an expert martial artist who happened to have grown up on the streets of Philadelphia. He told us that on the streets it was rarely size or strength that determined the outcome but weapons of opportunity. It is the broken glass bottle that one of the fighters finds or the board with a nail in it. It is no secret that the business with the most assets and the slowest burn rate has the best chance at outlasting competitors in a crisis so it is vital to find and leverage every asset you’ve got when you find yourself in that bare-knuckle fight.

4. Use OODA loop because in a crisis that problem often morphs. OODA loop is an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act and then loop, or start the OODA process over. It is vital to always have the precious resources that one has constantly oriented to the most important problems.

In my current business, the biggest and most serious problem is almost always the same. To stay alive, we need as many qualified prospects sitting in our orientation class as possible. So, the problem is multifaceted. Do I work on the number of people in the class or ensuring the quality of the class? If the numbers start falling off is it a function of too little marketing or marketing quality and placement. If I find that my class is full of people that don’t really have the time or means to join our education system is it because I am marketing to the wrong group in the advertisements or is it another issue. All businesses have similar issues. There is typically one big problem with several factors involved in the desired outcome and for me the issues making my processes less efficient tend to move around a month to month. If I simply picked an issue like the number of people in my classes and pressed on that, then I would likely wind up with lots of people in the room but none that are likely to continue from their initial orientation.

5. My final thought is that a stoicism beats dreams and positive attitudes in crisis 10 times out of 10.

A famous study into those that survived the longest in the prisons of Vietnam during and after the war showed that it wasn’t the ones that were constantly looking on the bright side that walked out. After too many disappointments they would become despondent and end up dying. It was those that simply accepted the situation as something that they were going to get through that made it. Deciding early that it will be painful but will also pass is vital to success.

OK. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I am split between starting a movement that will bring self-responsibility to the people of our nation or a movement that would grow an independent party that would challenge the current binary political system that is so broken right now.

On the one hand, if every person in the country was determined to take responsibility for themselves, I believe that most problems we face would be fixed including social issues and economic issues.

This is a lofty goal as it would require the participation of the fathers and mothers of the country and world.

On the other hand, for a long time now we have been living with a law-making body that is so intent on hating the opposing political party and making them look bad that our congress can’t get anything done. This is putting all the power into the executive branch and allowing the judicial branch to legislate from the bench.

Until the powers behind the political parties are put in check, there is no power in the people.

It seems that the fastest way to check that power would be to have a strong third party rise up that are not controlled by central party leaders. This has many obstacles the biggest of which is funding. It still seems to be true that the best financially backed politicians get into office.

You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Bob Parsons. He was a Marine and a self-made man. I think that we would understand each other and have similar thoughts and I could learn a lot from his experiences in business.

He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

How can our readers follow you online?

I can be found LinkedIn, Aaron Warby.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.

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