“…When you’re in combat, there are no holidays or weekends. You need to bring your “A Game” every single day. If you slip up, it can cost your life or the lives of your fellow Marines. The Marines of 3/3 demonstrated extraordinary determination and persistence throughout the length of both deployments, which undoubtedly saved lives and helped the Battalion meet its objectives”
Inthis 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 Victor J. Lance. He is the founder and president of Lance Surety Bond Associates, Inc. He began his career as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving two combat tours. As president of Lance Surety, he now focuses on educating and assisting small businesses throughout the country with various license and bond requirements.
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”?
Myname is Vic Lance. I’m a former Marine Corps Officer, combat veteran of two wars, and currently own a nationwide surety bond agency based out of southeastern Pennsylvania.
Being a Marine sort of runs in the family for me. Both my father and grandfather were Marines, so I felt compelled to follow in their footsteps and serve our country. While the Marine Corps has always been a part of me, I never intended on making it my long-term profession. Back when I was a junior in high school was when I first started thinking that I would one day become an entrepreneur. My father owned his own landscaping business, and would take me around town with him on occasion to meet with some of his clients who were successful business owners themselves, from a variety of fields and industries. Hoping to expand my horizons, my dad wanted me to learn about different success stories and career paths, and these experiences really were invaluable for me. I enjoyed hearing their stories and receiving advice from people who had already walked the walk and succeeded at building businesses and achieved great success. I believe some of these discussions helped spark the entrepreneurial spirit in me that still exists to this day.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
After leaving the Marine Corps, I was ready to begin my entrepreneurial journey and start my own business. I was intrigued by the opportunity to build a business from scratch, and control my own destiny. I had a good amount of knowledge and some connections within the surety bond industry, and in the summer of 2010 launched Lance Surety Bond Associates, Inc. Our company provides surety bonds for new and established businesses, helping them meet various licensing and contract requirements around the country. I’ve spent the past decade guiding the company through many different challenges, and am proud to say it’s a successful, growing business.
One of the most enjoyable aspects about the work we do is getting to assist and work with entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes from every corner of the US. We have written bond policies for clients in all 50 states, and for hundreds of different industries. I’ve been able to connect with fellow entrepreneurs that I otherwise would not have encountered, and have been inspired by their stories and the courage it takes to bet on yourself and begin a start-up.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
After a year of Marine Corps officer training, I was assigned as a Logistics Officer to 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment (3/3) out of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Having never been to Hawaii, I was excited to move to paradise. Within two weeks of landing in Oahu, our Battalion received rapid deployment orders to Afghanistan in late 2004. A couple months later we landed into some of the most formidable terrain on the planet. For the next eight months, we conducted combat operations against the Taliban in the vicinity of the Tora Bora and Hindu Kush Mountains.
Just months after returning from Afghanistan, our Battalion had to turn around and deploy to Al Anbar, Iraq. Our 2006 deployment to western Iraq was different in many ways from our Afghan tour, not just terrain, but the enemy threat was significantly heightened. For much of the Iraq tour, I was in charge of re-creating a police force in the Haditha Triad, which was one of the most challenging and memorable experiences of my life. While our Battalion sadly suffered significant casualties, we left the region in a much better situation than when we had arrived.
After my combat tours with 3/3, I accepted a three-year assignment as the Marine Officer Instructor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. My day job was to teach and train future Naval Officers in Michigan’s NROTC Program, and at night I worked towards earning my MBA from the Ross School of Business.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
Without question, my most interesting experience was being tasked with re-creating the Haditha Police Force in 2006.
To better understand the circumstances, I should provide a little context. Since the start of the Iraq War, the city of Haditha had been a volatile, hotbed for insurgent activity. In 2004, Marines based out of that area had to temporarily leave to fight in the Battle of Fallujah, which created a vacuum for enemy fighters. In the absence of US troops, insurgent fighters took over the city, murdering countless Iraqis. While many fled the city, roughly two dozen police officers were publicly executed at the local soccer stadium to send a message that anyone who worked with Americans would meet a similar fate. For the next two years, not a single police officer served the lawless city of Haditha.
When we arrived in early 2006, our primary mission was to build and strengthen the Iraqi Security Forces (Police and Army), as this was essential for the country moving forward. With no locals willing to step up and join a police force due to the insurgent fear and intimidation campaign, we were getting nowhere on that front. Our Battalion ran multiple recruiting drives throughout the region over a three month period, and not a single Iraqi showed up, as locals viewed working with us as a death sentence. Our Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Norm Cooling (now a retired Brigadier General), decided that if we were to accomplish our mission, we would have to think outside the box and come up with a new strategy. Perhaps we could find some of the former police who fled the region back in 2004, and convince them to come back to Haditha to help retake the city by building a new force.
I began the Iraq tour as a Logistics Officer, but a few months later was tasked to be the officer in charge of the Police Transition Team, responsible for executing this new strategy. I remember being sort of shocked that they chose me, a young lieutenant, for such a mission-critical task. But knowing that our Battalion leadership thought I was the right person for the job gave me confidence and a sense of responsibility to get it done.
My mission was to find the former Haditha Police Chief, wherever he might be, and bring him back to establish a new police department. If we were looking for a reason why this could fail, they were around every corner. But our Battalion leadership instilled in me a mindset that failure was not an option. No matter the obstacle, we had no choice but to overcome and succeed. After working closely with various intelligence agencies, traveling hundreds of miles on multiple missions to northern Iraq, we eventually found the former Police Chief, and with his commitment, eventually recruited over 500 men to serve as police in Haditha. This mission was extremely difficult, dangerous, and nearly failed on multiple occasions. I learned during this experience that if you’re determined enough to succeed, and refuse to quit, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. On the flip side, I was able to witness how impactful trusting and believing in your subordinates can be in their development.
**On a side note, some of our Battalion’s accomplishments, as well as my work towards creating the Haditha Police, were recently featured in the book “Warriors of Anbar” by Ed Darack (released Nov 2019).
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.
While I did not serve with his unit, when you ask about heroism, Corporal Jason Dunham immediately comes to mind. In April 2004, while deployed to Iraq, he jumped on an enemy hand grenade to protect his fellow Marines. He died just days later as a result of his significant injuries, and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. This 22 year old Marine had his whole life ahead of him, but was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect his fellow Marines. Jason Dunham’s actions epitomize true heroism.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
In our society, the word “hero” gets loosely used all the time, particularly when referring to athletes. A hero can mean many things to different people. In the military, particularly when discussing combat, a hero is often someone that is willing to risk their own life for others. There is no greater sacrifice one can make than to put their life on the line for others.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
The US Marine Corps is world-renowned for its leadership development. Many best selling books have been written about how to apply Marine leadership principles into the business world. The Wharton School of Business actually has a program that partners with the Marine Corps, drawing on its famed leadership training.
I’m extremely humbled by many of the leaders I had the privilege of serving with, from all different ranks and backgrounds. Marines preach “leadership by example”, and this seemingly simple concept has been the foundation of what I strive to be as a leader. Without question, my experiences while serving with so many inspiring Marines prepared me not only to succeed in business, but to strive for greatness in other aspects of life. No college or university in the world can match the hands-on leadership experiences you gain from serving in the Corps.
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?
There are many people who have impacted my life, but aside from my parents, there is one person who stands out as having perhaps the greatest impact on my leadership development: My Battalion Commander during both combat tours, Brigadier General Norm Cooling (USMC, Retired). As a member of his staff for three years, I was able to witness firsthand how he expertly led over 1,000 Marines into two different combat theaters… from the Hindu Kush Mountains in Afghanistan to the scorching deserts of Al Anbar, Iraq. In combat, there is no room for complacency or careless errors, as it can cost lives. General Cooling fully grasped this concept, and consistently led by example, demanding all subordinate leaders do the same at all times. In General Cooling’s Battalion, if you were given a mission, it was going to be accomplished at the highest level. No excuses. If you run into obstacles, or adversity, you simply found a way to improvise, adapt, and overcome. His leadership has impacted me to this day, as often when I encounter a dilemma and might feel tempted to give up, I remember what I learned from him.
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’d define a crisis as a very stressful situation that can create challenges that are unusually difficult to overcome. A crisis can come in many shapes or forms, whether it be a personal crisis and individual experiences ranging all the way to the sort of global pandemic we’re suffering from here in 2020.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
Business owners need to regularly identify their weaknesses or critical vulnerabilities. Consider what sort of changing circumstances, internal or external, could adversely impact their business. For instance, if a key employee decides to leave the company, will you be able to fill the void? If your website goes down over the weekend or holiday, do you have the necessary support to quickly get it back up? What if your office loses power for an extended period of time? Do you have a plan to continue serving clients?
It’s important to train and plan for what could go wrong before you’re dealing with the stresses of an actual crisis. If you get caught flat-footed or unprepared, you’ll have a much more difficult time adjusting to change. Despite the fact that the world is constantly evolving around us, many contingency plans can apply to various challenges. For example, due to multiple inclement weather closures in the northeast, our company was forced to put together a plan so employees could be able to work from home with little notice. Fortunately for us, this preparation played a vital role in allowing us to seamlessly adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic, where our entire company was essentially forced to work remotely overnight.
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?
The first thing would be to assess the situation and potential threats posed. It may not be wise to begin taking action without having a clear understanding of the shape or extent of the threat.
Your next move should be to develop a plan of attack that properly addresses the threats to your organization. Any action plan will depend on how you perceive the threat that will impact you or your business. Whatever you decide to do, ensuring the welfare of your people must be a core component of any plan.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
Adaptability and perseverance are at the top of the list. Regardless of what sort of crisis may arise, people that overcome challenges are often those who can quickly make necessary adjustments and change course on the fly. When managing through a crisis with mid to long-term lingering effects, being able to maintain consistent effort and endurance throughout the duration will also play a vital role to one’s success. When dealing with an uphill battle, you cannot get easily discouraged or allow yourself to become burned out.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
The Marines I served with in 3/3 perfectly embody these traits, from Rifleman up to our Commanding Officer. Combat provides the ultimate in crisis management. Even the best battle plans will rarely go as planned, as the enemy always has a say in how things will take shape. If you’re unable to make necessary modifications, you will almost certainly fail. Our battalion was constantly having to make adjustments on the fly at all levels in order to properly adapt to the changing threat and landscape.
Additionally, when you’re in combat, there are no holidays or weekends. You need to bring your “A Game” every single day. If you slip up, it can cost your life or the lives of your fellow Marines. The Marines of 3/3 demonstrated extraordinary determination and persistence throughout the length of both deployments, which undoubtedly saved lives and helped the Battalion meet its objectives.
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?
While I don’t necessarily view this as a setback, I’d like to share my personal struggles during the first year of becoming an entrepreneur, as it wasn’t pretty. When I left the Marines back in May 2010, I had over 80,000 dollars in student debt and had just lost a substantial amount of money in order to sell my home in Michigan. I was a 29-year-old man, with much more debt than assets, who was temporarily living in my parents’ basement. Not exactly where I saw myself at that point in life. As humbling as my circumstances may have seemed, this was actually happening by design.
I had a plan. I was going to start my own business and work my tail off to make it a big success as quickly as possible. There was no plan B. If I wanted the life that I had dreamed of for myself, I needed to make it happen, so that’s exactly what I set out to do. I think it’s smart for the average person to have options and fallback plans in the event that a certain career doesn’t pan out. However, for an entrepreneur, I think having no backup plan can sharpen your focus and fuel your drive to succeed at all costs, given you have a business plan that is set up to succeed. The extra pressure I placed on myself to be a success brought out the very best in me, and was a catalyst for our company’s rapid growth.
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.
Protect Your People: In the military, this is called “troop welfare”, the most important responsibility of any leader. As a crisis arises, leaders must first assess the situation and its potential impact on the health and welfare of both the company and it’s workforce. If you aren’t focused first on safeguarding people, they may lose trust in you and your problems can multiply.
Embrace Change: Even times of crisis can be viewed as an opportunity to improve or evolve. If certain product lines or services are going to be more in demand, or less affected by a crisis, you must be able to quickly identify those opportunities and rapidly make adjustments to reinforce those areas. Conversely, if one of your offerings is negatively impacted to where demand falls, be prepared to shuffle your resources accordingly. Those who can quickly adapt to changing circumstances will be best positioned to thrive in these environments.
Focus on Efficiency/Leverage Technology: In the digital age, many businesses can easily adjust to having the entire staff work remotely. Many employees can even perform most of their job responsibilities from a smartphone or tablet. If your business is still stuck with outdated, cumbersome procedures, it may be a good idea to consider making an upgrade. To some that may mean going “paperless”, or moving to more advanced software or a CRM. Additionally, with technology, you can save time and reduce risk by easily arranging virtual meetings through a variety of services such as the Go-To Meeting or Zoom.
Communication is Key: Particularly with this current pandemic, don’t forget we are all in this together. Stay in close contact with friends, family and employees regularly. As a result of COVID-19, many people are suffering, scared, and feeling isolated. As a leader, reach out to check on your people regularly, as it may not only help them to know they have your support, but the camaraderie can give you a boost as well.
Put Things in Perspective: While some crises can have tragic consequences for certain people and businesses, I think it’s important to avoid feeling sorry for yourself if at all possible. Focusing on the positive can allow you to stay in the right frame of mind to be able to improve upon your situation. For example, I’ve heard countless people complain about being “stuck at home” for a few months, and not being able to go to their favorite shops and restaurants. This has made me think back to the sacrifices the average combat veteran has had to make, where they may have been put in harm’s way for sometimes over a year at a time, in an uncomfortable, hostile situation with none of the luxuries we take for granted here in the US. For me, referencing back to the countless sacrifices our servicemen and women have made is a helpful reality check.
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. 🙂
There are countless issues that warrant global attention and support. The more I’ve learned about the effects of global warming, the more concerned I become about the future of our planet for generations to come. Whether it be the mass destruction of our rainforests to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, we are causing potentially irreparable damage to our planet. The human race has to somehow come together to find a way to stop the destruction of Earth before it’s too late.
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 🙂
At the top of my list would be former Secretary of Defense, General Jim Mattis, USMC (Retired). I had the privilege of personally briefing General Mattis in Haditha, Iraq back in 2006 on the unorthodox work we were doing to field the police force. For a young lieutenant that was an unforgettable experience. He is revered by Marines for his superb leadership over four decades. Having recently served as Secretary of Defense, I would love to hear about his transition into civilian life and his thoughts on the current state of affairs in the US.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.