YNM Ep. 05: One Navy E8’s journey from serving our country to founding a business.
Welcome to our first episode of 2022! This time our hosts, Kajal Shelat and Maurice Wilson, welcome former US Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer, Rusty Robinson, to the show. Rusty is the Founder and President of Performance 360, an IT consulting, training, and coaching company based in California. Rusty shares his transition journey, how it impacted his civilian career and how he continues to leverage his military experience to grow his business and further his career. It’s an engaging conversation with many tips and tricks for weathering the move from military to civilian career successfully and gaining insights into becoming a veteran business owner.
Kajal Shelat is CCS Learning Academy’s Director of Business Development. She holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration and has 10+ years in the education and professional training sector. She specializes in developing sustainable partnerships and implementing technology training solutions for private and public entities. She uses her passion for education and business to keep our programs current, engaging, and relevant to today’s professionals.
Maurice Wilson is on CCS Learning Academy’s Board of Advisors. A retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer with 25 years of service, Maurice is the President/Executive Director of the National Veterans Transition Services, Inc. (NVTSI), a non-profit organization he co-founded with retired Rear Admiral Ronne Froman after serving as an advisory member for the Call of Duty Endowment (CODE).
Rusty Robinson is a retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer with 22 years of service. He is the Founder and President of Performance360, an IT consulting and training company based in San Diego. Rusty specializes in IT service management, systems alignment/integration, process improvement, project management, leadership development and coaching, strategic planning, and training delivery and development. He’s well known in the professional training industry for his extensive knowledge base and engaging teaching style. He’s currently CCS Learning Academy’s lead instructor.
Kajal: I’m here with Maurice Wilson, a retired Navy master chief petty officer with 25 years of service. Maurice is the president and executive director of the National Veterans Transition Services Incorporated and Reboot, a nonprofit organization he founded.
I’m also here with our honorary guest, Rusty Robinson, a 22-year retired Navy veteran, and the president and founder of Performance 360. He is a senior advisor for multiple enterprise service management projects using Service Now platform, a certified ITIL 4 managing professional. He’s also our very own CCS Learning Academy’s lead instructor.
Welcome to our fourth podcast. Happy to have you both.
Maurice: Hey, good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Rusty: Good afternoon, Kajal. Glad to be on the podcast with you.
Kajal: So nearly two-thirds of new veterans say they face difficult transitions into civilian life. This podcast is all about helping veterans find their identity after service and offer some guidance, advice, or tips on how to achieve that.
So, Rusty, I’m going to ask you some questions and help the listeners get to know a little bit about your story. If you have any advice along the way I’d love to hear that as well.
Kajal: So Rusty, tell us about your history, maybe a little bit of your childhood, your schooling, and your background.
Rusty: I grew up in Northern California. When I graduated high school, I didn’t know what to do. I liked electronics. I like rockets and missiles and decided to join the Navy where I was able to get into advanced electronics school. I signed up to be a missile radar technician and was able to get advanced training. So, I went to boot camp in San Diego, and then I went up to Great Lakes, Illinois for some of my training, and then came back out to San Diego.
Once I finished my training, I went to my first ship, which was on the east coast. I was on the USS Richard E. Byrd and had a chance to do three deployments: a North Atlantic, a Mediterranean cruise, and a Middle East deployment. That was absolutely fantastic! That was on a guided-missile destroyer.
I did that for a number of years, and then I got transferred down to San Diego on another guided-missile destroyer. I had a chance to go on a Westpac.
I had a great career in the Navy. I’ve been to over 30 countries and to go on four different deployments was absolutely fantastic. Both my parents passed away when I was younger, so it also gave me a chance to grow up, learn how to grow into a man, and develop the ability to have the challenges and responsibilities of working on an advanced missile system and take that on board.
As I wrapped up that part of my career, I was stationed at Mare Island, up in Northern California. That is where I was able to do advanced training. Got into curriculum development. It elevated my career and my skill sets to a whole different level, which was phenomenal because I was able to use that when I did retire and get out. That set the tone for me to move into my next career. move.
Kajal: That sounds like an incredible story. And it looks like a lot of those things that you did in your military career really set you up for success in your civilian life. But before we get into more of what you’re doing right now, I’d love to learn a little bit more about how your transition into civilian life was. What was that like? Were there any challenges that you faced?
Rusty: Great question. Well, I was stationed down at the Naval Leader Training Unit in San Diego for the last three years. But my last seven years I got into Total Quality Leadership and that’s where I was certified in the courses that the Navy has – all five of them. I was able to get certified and teach those. They were phenomenal. It was an incredible career move for me. At one of my commands, I took over as the command coordinator. I remember Lieutenant Ballish sat me down – I was a Senior Chief at the time – and he said, “Senior Chief, are you ready for this?” I said, “I am. I’m ready for the position of Total Quality Leadership Coordinator.” He says, “Well, this is going to screw you up for the rest of your life.”
What he meant by that is the Total Quality Leadership frame of reference and how it applies to not only personal leadership excellence but also to organizational leadership excellence. Using the skills of team knowledge and skills and methods for managing quality, all these things that were the framework for Total Quality Leadership, were outstanding for me to be able to be certified.
When I retired in 1998, I found the transition very easy. I felt I was very well prepared to move into a civilian career opportunity. And I did. I found a position with SCIC, a large company system and software system integrator, a large DOD firm here in San Diego. It was also easy for me, Kajal, in that transition because I was ready. I had finished my 22 years and felt like for me, I was pretty well prepared to move into that next phase of my life. I was excited and I was maybe a little anxious, but I think that’s probably normal. But I, didn’t have any fear. I felt I was well-prepared and one of the other things that I found as I was getting ready to retire, there was a program. Maurice help me out here. I think it was called CTAP. Does that sound familiar?
Maurice: TAP, if you will.
Maurice: Transition Assistance Program. I retired in 1998 as well. You and I went through some of the same things during that timeframe. And I agree with you. The whole concept behind Total Quality Leadership really made you a better person at managing things and looking at a broad spectrum of things.
I think that in the time you and I were getting out, I know for my transition, I planned it like two and a half years prior. It was one of those scenarios where I retired on a Friday and went to work on a Monday. There really was no lapse there.
The challenge was to really find that identity, you know, who are you? For me, that was a big shock after so many years of being called Master Chief or being equated to my military service. Then all of a sudden one day you’re a civilian. There were mixed emotions as I began to pivot.
But I want to go back and ask you, Rusty, what was your transition challenge? You, had a lot of things that prepared you from the moment you came in till the time you retired, but what did you go through on the downside? What did, what did you struggle with as you made your pivot to become a civilian?
Rusty: I think part of it was the uniform and stepping out of a uniform into civilian clothes. I had the stature of Senior Chief. When you take off the uniform and you move into a civilian position, you don’t have that. I think that was probably a bit of a challenge. Losing the prestige of the uniform and the medals. It wasn’t a big thing, but I did kind of miss that.
Maurice: When you look at the three big areas that we typically struggle in it breaks down to identity, finding your next mission, or your next purpose. Because in the military, we’re so mission-focused and mission-driven that we often forget about ourselves. We put everything into the mission at hand.
And then the third thing is creating our new brand of who we are now, as opposed to the brand of the services that we operate in. Those three things are what sometimes stifles folks in terms of “where do I go from here? What do I do next?”
And again, the uniform piece. I can relate to that. With the uniform on people know who you are, where you came from, and what you can do just by looking at your insignia. They can look at your insignia, they can look at your medals, they can see any of your designators right there. They can pretty much read you. It makes the whole identification process pretty straightforward on the outside.
The shift though, is it now you don’t have all of those outward signals. You have to get to learn the person. That is a behavioral shift. I have to really get outside of my comfort zone and start networking, building new relationships, getting to know people, etc.
For me, it was a big shift from what I knew into the way that I had to learn how to work with people. As opposed to the style that I had developed in the military. And, you know, in the military, as you go up the ranks, it becomes that intrusive nature. On the civilian side of the house, you have to become more understanding, more sensitive. You have to become more human.
Rusty: A little more tactful and diplomatic.
Maurice: Yeah. You just can’t say all the things you said when you’re in uniform. You have to censor yourself.
Rusty: And you had positional authority as well. That was also part of your stature and who you are.
Maurice: We find is that roughly 80% of transitioning service members are looking to start anew. That is well-documented and it seems to be the current challenge. Whereas some may get out and not necessarily know exactly what it is they can do. It doesn’t mean they’re not skilled. They’re probably highly skilled and have done a lot of phenomenal things in the military. But a lot of what they were doing inside was extrinsically driven. Now they have to shift to find the intrinsic thing, you know: What do they want to do?
When you got out and started to evolve, you got your first job at SCIC. I say you work with SCIC it’s like working with the military.
Rusty: Oh, it was!
Maurice: So you were still surrounded with the culture, which made it somewhat easy, your journey back home. Can you tell us about how you evolved to where you are today?
Rusty: Yeah, and you’re right. The culture there was very accommodating. I think that helped in that transition. But where I started to advance my thinking and my skillsets and getting other opportunities to get training was really around IT, service management, and the application of IT and technology, working on a couple of very large programs.
It was great because I was a business process manager on a joint network management system. And within SCIC, they had achieved a CMMI level five certification, which is the highest maturity rating that you can achieve. I led that effort for one of the focus projects for the company. That helped me get exposure to a framework for excellence that was a model for any organization, whether it’s DOD, it could be in healthcare, it could be education, it could be manufacturing. It was good to have that level of exposure and that experience to get that additional business acumen.
From there, I was able to work on another large project building the new network of the future being deployed on ships. As I got promoted, that gave me another opportunity to take on an even bigger responsibility. I was with a consultant firm and it was a multi-billion dollar effort so it allowed me to work with a lot of different types of companies and different types of people, even more so than in the Navy. It was a great opportunity to learn and advance and add to my resume.
That’s one of the things that I think about; not only leveraging what I had known in the military but adding to that and growing, becoming that lifelong learner. Getting other certifications, working on other projects, taking on different types of jobs and responsibilities that correlate to those that are moving out of the military and ready to transition into a civilian role or a position that they would want to consider. Keeping that saw sharpened and keeping on the cutting edge of technology and those opportunities.
[Maurice: We covered the identity part, what that was like. And then we just covered the actual work activities, things that you’re doing, that you’re skilled at, that you’re really cut for. The other area veterans seem to have a challenge with is finding their purpose. Like doing things that you want to do, things that you were made to do. Basically, “Hey, I’m working in an area that I don’t even care if they paid me, I’m so happy working! I found my purpose.”
So on that note, have you found your passion? Are you there yet?
Rusty: That’s a great question. I would say yes, to both. I have found my passion in the last five to 10 years or so moving into helping companies achieve performance excellence. And it correlates to the next phase of my career. Once I finished my time at SCIC, what I did discover as part of my drive and my passion was I wanted to become independent.
When you have the comfort of being in an organization and have a salary, along with the benefits, there’s that certain amount of reassurance that you have for your family.
In 2003, I decided to start my own consultancy. I worked on a couple of different consulting projects within the company. And I saw an opportunity to make money, to make an impact, and to do things that I wanted to do, the way that I wanted to do them. That correlates back to my passion. I wanted to help individuals in organizations achieve world-class performance excellence.
That’s where I ventured out to start my own company, Performance 360.
That’s where I was struggling and trying to figure out what’s my next step. Do I want to go work for another company? I could have done that. And by the way, I did do that even after I started my own company. There were opportunities that presented themselves to be working with other consultant firms, mainly around Service Now, that platform and consulting with other companies to help them deploy and bring their service platforms to life.
Along that path, I found my purpose and my passion, and what I liked to do was lining up. It was risky, but I chose to go down that path because I wanted to make a difference. And I found that I had more freedom as an independent consultant to do what I wanted to do and work with the types of clients and the people that I wanted to work with. I had that affiliation and connection where maybe I didn’t have that kind of connection when I was within a company because there’s a certain mission, vision, and core values that are part of the company culture, and even styles of leadership, that I felt that as an independent, I could grow that into my own, which I did. That helped me find that passion and what I wanted to do as the next steps in my career.
Maurice: It’s so interesting. We’re always working for somebody. We all pivot and say, “I’m going to start my own business. I want to be my own boss.” Yeah, but you’re still going to be working for somebody. That never changes. It’s just, the pressure’s now really squarely on your shoulders.
It’s interesting, as we have this dialogue and we share this information with the listeners out there. You know, when you join the military, the military gives you three things. It gives you a new identity. It gives you a mission, i.e., your purpose. And then it gives you an occupation. When you finish your tour, whatever your tour is, from four years to 35 or 40 years, you have to pivot and you have to go out and reclaim it. You’ve got to first find your identity now that you are no longer in a uniform. It took about three or four years for me to really get comfortable in my own skin and being around people and networking and understanding the cultural nuances of how things are done.
Building your unique brand, because that’s what gets you through the door. That took me about five to seven years. But when it came to the purpose and the passion and finding that unique thing that I want to do, it took me about 10 years.
Does that sound about right? Because our listeners, how do they navigate? What steps should they take? How should they put things in perspective? What can you share with them that will help them get some insights into how to navigate the next chapter?
Rusty: I’m in a breakthrough mastermind group. That has helped me formulate my company and focus. But I would go back to what you had said, Maurice, about your journey taking about 10 years. It has taken me about that long as well. When I first jumped out on my own, I bit off more than I could chew, and it was pretty challenging.
That’s where I had an opportunity to work for another company. I did that for a period of time. I grew, I kept my company still growing. Then I started back up as Performance 360. I had taken on some new clients, some new opportunities… Then a friend of mine was introduced to a hiring manager for another consultant firm. That was another step up in my career. I was able to take that position, work with other clients, other consultants, learn more of my craft, more of my trade, kept my company, Performance 360, but I was able to add some other skillsets and some other business acumen. I found that over that 10-year period, I had done that about three different times. I kept it going, but I didn’t have all of the pieces together.
And like you said, it sounds like the grass might be greener on the other side until you get there. Especially being independent because you’re a one-man band and there’s a lot of things that you have to do to run a business from finance to marketing to sales to your business operations to branding, and having your own IP, your own intellectual property. It is a challenge. Fortunately, I was able to pivot each time, grow and learn, and then come back to it.
Now I’m at a point where I’m very happy with where my company is. I have a lot of strategic partners that I have developed over the last five years – one of them being CCS Learning Academy. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to develop these relationships and these strategic partners. I couldn’t have done that 10 years ago. I just wasn’t ready, I wasn’t that mature. But now I’m at a position where I feel very good where I am. I’ve got a great portfolio of training and curriculum and training and consulting. You know, a catalog of capabilities that I can bring to bear with clients. I’m very happy, but it’s not a simple turnkey thing like a lot of people think.
Maurice: Often with the students that go through the Reboot Workshop there is a gestation period between the ideas that you have and the maturation process as you evolve. There are a lot of things taking place as you create a new identity, as you find your new purpose, as you build your new brand. These are all things you’re doing simultaneously. In many cases, people are doing it without guidance. In some cases, it could extend the learning curve to 10+ years.
I’ve spoken to some Vietnam-era veterans. They’re still trying to figure it all out. They haven’t got there yet. But there are some things that can be done along the way as you pointed out, like the mastermind group.
I’ve been in a mastermind group now going on 12 years. And we meet religiously every Saturday morning from 7:30 to nine o’clock and we rarely ever miss a Saturday. And it’s sort of like you have to get outside of yourself and get other ideas and opinions and thoughts so that you can begin to make sense of who you are and where you want to go.
As people are making that pivot from military to civilian, I tell them don’t necessarily look for a job per se, look for a company that they can grow with. Like you working with SCIC. That was an organization that you could grow with up until the time you were ready to move to the next level. It’s about experience and experience comes from working on teams and working on projects.
Rusty: I completely agree. It takes time to get there. Nd the mastermind group, we need that. We need that as business owners, as leaders, as individuals. It helps you mature and it goes back to your identity. At being your own person, being comfortable in your own skin, and doing the things that you’re gifted at that you want to do. That’s why I’m so grateful that I have my own company. I’ve been blessed with great clients and great opportunities over the years, and it’s getting better. You always need to sharpen the saw and stay connected with like-minded people.
Looking at those who want to get a new skillset, I think they have an incredible opportunity to leverage the various courses that are available so that they can get reskilled and get retrained, and get certified in areas that make them more valuable in the marketplace and more valuable for an organization. I think those are some of the skills we learn in the military that transition very nicely. It’s those leadership skills, the core values of courage, honor, and commitment, for example. Those resonate in your heart and your soul, right? You can bring those with you to that organization. That helps you fit in and to make a difference.
Maurice: It’s no doubt that we have what it takes to fit into a company. But you have to do the inner work. This is on each one of us to find our identity, to find our purpose, and find our brand. The company can’t give that to us. The company is where we manifest these attributes. It doesn’t happen overnight and you have to go through some phases of learning and relearning so that you can re-establish yourself.
It’s important, as you’ve pointed out, that we try not to do this by ourselves. In fact, we’ve found that roughly 70% of transitioning service members are out there trying to do it by themselves, without a network, without mentors, without advisors, without really tapping into some of the vast resources that we have in all the communities across the country.
So listeners, try not to do this by yourself. Find a peer network and find your buddies. Find buddies that are positive and really optimistic and really are looking at achieving a better life. We’re all going to take off the uniform eventually. We’re all going to make that shift from military to civilian. Just like training for the mission and mission readiness, we have to train for re-integration into civilian life. It’s important to seek out organizations that can help you.
Rusty, do you have any organizations out there that you would recommend?
Rusty: Yeah. One of the things that I got certified in is Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise, DVBE. And Service Veteran Business Owned Certification as well. And you can add those certifications to your portfolio or to your resume.
Another is Small Business Development Center. That’s another local resource. They have workshops on business planning if you want to open your own business. There’s also Score Program to help you. And conferences! I would add that to the mix as well, Maurice, in terms of lifelong learning.
If you’re into a particular domain of IT, there are some great opportunities to get additional certifications or attend conferences that have workshops and presentations and seminars and white papers that can help add to your own business acumen.
Maurice: Yeah, there’s a plethora of organizations and resources that people can tap into from Veterans In Business, they call it VIB, to the Rosie Network. You got Veterans Chambers of Commerce. There are tons of resources. Don’t do it alone.
And I can tell you that from an employer’s perspective, they love veterans. They want to hire veterans. They have a hard time finding veterans.
Let’s pull Kajal back into it so we can start winding down and wrapping up. But I really appreciated talking with you, Rusty. You’re doing some fantastic things. Wanted to salute you for all the hard work and the role model that you are.
Rusty: Thank you. Maurice. It’s been a pleasure being on here with you. wish you well, and it’s great to connect with you. It’s just phenomenal work.
Kajal: These have been amazing conversations. Typically, I’m in the mix but today, I took a step back and let you guys have the whole thing because you guys have so much similarity and lots of great advice for transitioning veterans. And not even the transitioning veteran, but maybe even the veteran out there who has transitioned who’s still finding purpose, who maybe wants to take the risk and start their own business. This is such a great podcast to really hone in on that. Our takeaway is to use your resources wisely, use the benefits and the outreach and your network to the full advantage and get out there.
So, Maurice, I know you did some hot seat questions, but we have some hot seat questions for Rusty that I’d love to ask here. What’s one of your greatest fears in terms of what we’ve been talking about?
Rusty: I think, probably, not being prepared. I like to be prepared when I’m going in with a client or with a workshop or anything. Trying to be prepared is important. Right? It’s important for people to have a sense of comfort. You’re always going to get thrown a curveball, but I find that as I am more prepared, I’m more relaxed, I’m more myself and relate better, and have more confidence in what I’m doing.
Kajal: Great. And as it relates to this podcast and the listeners out there, what’s next?
Rusty: Kind of the same. I really want to advance the concepts and strategies and approaches for performance excellence and get individuals and leaders visibility into frameworks for performance excellence within the organization.
I think there’s a lot of opportunity with the ITIL 4. It’s been recently refreshed. They’ve taken a number of years to put together all the new courses. I think there’s a big opportunity for clients and, especially now with the COVID, enormous challenges with remote learning or remote work.
Those are all things that the training could advance and apply to. So that’s my mission. I want to continue down that path and bring more of the new advanced cutting-edge training, whether that’s in Agile or Value Stream, Management, Dev Ops, IT, Service Management, Enterprise Service Management. There’s a lot of technology challenges out there. There’s a lot of new cutting-edge technologies and companies are challenged with those investments. That’s what I’m looking forward to. Helping them mature and improve.
Kajal: At CCS Learning Academy, we really do that on a daily basis. You are one of our lead instructors who love to help organizations and individuals keep IT talent up to date. That’s our ultimate goal there.
So that concludes our fourth episode of Your Next Mission. I want to thank Maurice and Rusty for their time and insights today. And thank you all to the listeners out there for giving us your time. This will not be the last time you hear from Maurice or Rusty. They have such great wisdom and guidance, and they’ll be, I’m sure, on our next episodes in the future. So stay tuned. Thanks so much.
Maurice: Awesome. Thank you.
Rusty: Thank you, Kajal.