Today I’ve decided to deviate from the typical Washington DC IT service blog and share a short story about how Qualatech began during a fishing trip one chilly Saturday morning. In 1995, I was a 20-year-old college dropout in search of some direction in life. After surfing, partying and trying to learn to play guitar, I found myself answering “Yes Sir” as an enlisted man in the US Navy.
After a few months of training, I was promptly deposited on Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi for training as a weather forecaster. A few short months later and I was transferred to The Pentagon in good ol’ Arlington, Virginia. While I didn’t get the seagoing experience I expected, what I did receive was far more valuable.
During my tenure in the Navy, I quickly realized that some people cause organizational change and others are simply along for the ride. Lieutenant Mark Dwinells, “LT” as he was affectionately known, was of the former. He had essentially come up through the enlisted ranks and received his commission through blood, sweat and tears. As a young man, I could spot a tenacity and strength of character that was attractive and strangely familiar. He told sea stories that would make a stripper blush and would drive most democrats into fits of rage when politics were on the discussion table. That said, LT was a game changer. He exuded confidence, influence and leadership. Was he the most popular guy among the rank-and-file? No. Was he the most popular guy among his peers? Nope. But he was probably the most popular guy in the boardroom because he made a difference in the organization. He plowed new ground and created “business” where it didn’t previously exist. He was focused, mission minded and purpose driven. He also invested in the people around him.
I was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of this investment. Over the 3 1/2 years I had the privilege to work for LT, I began to develop strong technical, communication and problem solving skills. I was continually encouraged, believed-in and pushed to keep trying. Good-enough was not accepted. Excellence was demanded. Over time, these skills manifested through a number of successful projects which earned me high honors from admirals and senior leadership. But that’s not what stands out in my memory. The single greatest memory I have was a Saturday morning fishing trip with LT a few months before I was due to reenlist.
I don’t remember much about that day or how many fish I caught but I do remember our conversation. “Mike” LT said, “you have too much potential to stay in the Navy and I think you should consider getting out and making a go of it in the corporate world. Maybe consider starting your own business.” Those words have stuck with me ever since.
After my enlistment ended, I started down the road of consulting that ultimately ended with the start of Qualatech in the fall of 2003. Over the last ten years, we have served hundreds of clients, brought in millions of dollars and provided jobs to dozens of employees and contractors. Indeed, Qualatech would not exist if it hadn’t been for those words on a chilly Saturday morning.
When encouraging words come from the “right” person at the “right” time they can be life changing. In this case, the words came from someone who recognized the importance of their influence and timing. So I challenge you leaders: Recognize your influence. Recognize timing. Be intentional with your words. Who knows, you just might be talking to a future CEO….and you just might catch a few fish along the way.