“It’s the same thing in business: everybody counts, everyone’s skill sets matter. We are one team with one goal.” – Charlie Mark
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 Charlie Mark.
A native of New York City, Charlie graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering. He is a retired Navy Captain — former Commanding Officer, and P-3C Pilot. Now, Mark manages the USAF and Space Force business accounts for Intel, where he has opened new lines of communication with the DoD Customer base. Charlie joined Intel in August 2017 to support the introduction of the Saffron Artificial Intelligence product line to the USAF.
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 New York City to a young woman and a Merchant Sailor. Unable to financially care for me, I ended up in the NYC Foundling Hospital, run by the Sisters of Charity. Luckily, as an infant, I was quickly adopted and became part of a wonderful blue-collar family. My adopted father was a Gunners Mate Sailor during WWII on the Frigate the USS Conway. He graduated from the Naval Academy with the class of 1949.
Growing up in Long Island I played lacrosse, making first team All Metropolitan League during all four years of high school. As a highly recruited midfielder, I decided to attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, RI. The Navy regulations I was required to follow were a shock to a high school lacrosse star. After Prep School, where I worked hard, I received an appointment to attend the Naval Academy.
I graduated from the Naval Academy in 79. While at the Academy, I selected Naval Air as my career path because airplanes made sense. The thrill of landing 135,000 pounds of metal, while protecting my country, as I was building uncompromising crew integrity, appealed to me.
Being part of a cohesive and loyal team brought me back to my NY roots.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
Today I’m the Account Executive with Intel, handling client relationships with both the U.S. Air Force and the Space Force. As a former Navy pilot, I still feel a strong commitment to serve my country. Intel allows me to do this, just in a different role and different uniform.
One way is in the support Intel provides to the National Air Space Intelligence Center at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH. Intel processing technology allows geospatial analysts to evaluate foreign threats against our country. Intel silicon acceleration and processing speed aids these amazing experts in finding the ‘needle in the haystack’ inside mountains of petabytes of satellite data.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
During my time in the Navy, I was a P-3C Orion Pilot and a Commander (CVN-69 NR Battlegroup). I was on a command ship, teaching sailors how to use new Wartime Joint Force planning software tools.
After 33 years, I retired as a Navy Captain, commanding officer and pilot.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
As a senior instructor pilot, I often had to supervise check rides for pilots. On one flight we were flying an overnight event from the U.S. to London. There are two beds, or ‘racks’, in the tail of the aircraft. After takeoff, I went to take my two hours of sleep rotation in the back of the plane.
If you’ve been flying for a long time, you can feel when the airplane is doing something weird. Weird or unusual circumstances while flying means that I needed to find out what was going on immediately. When I reached the dark, red-lit cockpit, I realized that everyone on the flight crew was asleep; including the pilot and co-pilot. The airplane was in a slight autopilot creep in a calm 500 feet per minute descent. We were over Greenland, in uncontrolled radar airspace supposedly at 33,000 feel AGL. I woke up at 17,000 feet. If I hadn’t woken up, we would have crashed into the Atlantic. God was watching over us.
This was a learning experience for the whole crew — I was able to re-instill in this group of pilots that you must respect the airplane. Your number of takeoffs, thousands of hours, and landings means nothing if you become lazy or careless. You have a duty to your crew, and the airmen you bring on board your airplane. You must respect them, care for them, and sacrifice for them.
We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
During the first Gulf War, two Sailors were sent to fly over Iraq. They took off from the aircraft carrier, but the catapult was weak — we call this a “cold cat shot.” The plane went into the water, killing the pilot instantly. The navigator was able to get out of the plane, even as it violently flipped over while sinking in the Mediterranean Sea. He dove back into the dark sea numerous times to find and help his pilot, without luck.
That Naval Flight Officer went on to oversee CENTCOM Force Protection for the entire Northern Arabian Gulf during the first war with Iraq. Today he’s a senior-level executive with the National Security Agency in charge of data protection technology for the USA. His only agenda is to give back and serve his country.
Our experiences shape who we are and how we respond to challenges.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
A hero is someone who acts in accordance with their training and does what they have to do to protect those around them. In the above example, this navigator was simply doing his job — that’s what a hero does. They do what needs to be done, disregarding their own personal safety without hesitation. You act to save your people as you must. Loyalty matters.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
In my time with the Navy, I had hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people working under me. What I learned is how important it is to surround yourself with people who are not in your direct reporting chain of command. Listen, be present, respect opinions, be decisive, and never be hypocritical.
When I was a Captain, I held a big beach party for everyone in my command. I asked my Master Chief to invite everyone, including younger, extremely talented, enlisted men and women. Someone at the party asked me why I had invited one of the enlisted women who was there. I shared that she put the third bolt into my flight line quick engine change. A crucial job — she clearly deserved and earned the right to have a burger at this party with us.
It’s the same thing in business: everybody counts, everyone’s skill sets matter. We are one team with one goal. As the boss, it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would say the Navy lacrosse coach who saw me get in a fight while attending a lacrosse camp in New York State. He knew my tough background and still felt I could make it through the Naval Academy.
When I was heading to prep school before the Academy, I ran into the guy I had fought with at that camp on the Greyhound bus in Grand Central Terminal in NYC. He too was heading to the USNA Prep School. We got off the bus together as friends, and the coach met us with a smile, saying he thought we were going to be really good this year.
We went undefeated that year. Forty years later, I’m still friends with the guys I played with, including the guy I got in a fight with at camp. People can change, so give them a chance; they may surprise you.
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?
A crisis is the worst unexpected scenario that could possibly happen. The first thing you have to do is come together as a team — recognizing that sometimes 80% of a solution is the best that you’re going to get. In the event of a crisis, you want to gather as much input as possible, but you might need to make a tough decision to come through it.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
In the military you plan and train for the worst-case scenario, then you follow that plan. Many times, the best-laid plan goes away and you must adapt.
In business you need accurate forecasting — accurate plans on who is responsible, delegating, and/ or responding. I think one of the biggest challenges businesses face is the lack of delegation, as well as explicit requirements, goals, and objectives that can be measured.
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? What should they do next?
First- understand your environment and take in all of the facts. Understand where you are and assess the situation before making any decisions. Don’t feel like you have to respond right away. If you can, ‘sit on your hands’, take the time to get additional input.
Prioritize what must be done versus a nice to have. Assess your supplies and what you can do with what you have. Don’t overextend yourself, find a way to bring in everyone’s skills so you can delegate tasks.
In both the military and in the business world, there is often a large ecosystem around you — use it. Make sure your objectives and goals line up with either your commander or manager’s intent in order to properly execute.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
Leadership, loyalty, transparency, honesty, empathy, and respect.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Ronald Reagan. He didn’t have to go to Germany and stand there, telling Mikhail Gorbachev to take down the wall. He was a leader, went out on a limb, and took a position. What he did, he did for the good of mankind, which took guts.
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? Can you share that story with us?
When I was working at Ball Aerospace in Ohio, I was in the middle of helping handle NASIC chat room operations with Afghanistan and we were overly busy. On occasion, we were so busy we couldn’t always provide the best information to the Forward Operating Bases. Knowing that sometimes the information was inconclusive made it difficult to keep our team’s spirits up and their focus on doing their job.
As the managing director, I would walk around the facilities with index cards in my shirt pocket. I would take the time to talk to everyone, to write down what I heard people saying, attempting to show them that I heard their concerns and was present for them. I made sure they knew I cared about their input enough to write it down and follow up. My indirect message was — the boss cares about you.
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? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Have transparency; never mislead or play games with stories
- Wear your loyalty on your sleeve
- Be polite and professional
- Honor everyone’s comments
- Give immediate feedback — look people in the eye
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? You never know what your idea can trigger.
When we get over COVID-19, I would encourage companies to have regular, quarterly, in-person meetings. Face to face sessions are important because they provide teams with the ability to discuss and exchange information or feedback in person. Get feedback from everyone. Show them their input matters.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them
George W Bush — as a President he was humble. He cared about the people working around the White House, complimented the cooks and cleaning personnel, and physically wrote thank you letters. It wasn’t always about him; he spoke to his team. Caring for people matters, they can see it in your eyes.
The key to having a great team is to allow other people to take credit. What’s wonderful is that when you’re the boss, you don’t need to take the credit. If your team does great work, people will automatically know that you’re a good leader.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.