Viola would have been a great choice to lead the US Army through an extended period of challenge and growth to continue the mission of winning the nation’s land battles…
Vincent Viola was President Trump’s initial choice to become the new secretary of the Army. Viola is the current owner of the Florida Panthers ice hockey team, the chief executive officer (CEO) of the high-speed trading firm Virtu Financial, and is heavily involved in supporting innovative US Army think tanks at West Point, NY. Viola, a United States Military Academy (West Point) graduate and a ranger-qualified former infantry officer, represents the current trend of Trump government nominees: aggressive, professional, accomplished, rich, and outspoken. Viola’s military experience provides strong evidence of how Viola operates his businesses and the lessons that he took from the military to his civilian job.
The US Army’s former leadership from Secretary Eric Fanning and Under Secretary Patrick J. Murphy were instrumental in leading and helping the US Army recover from Iraq and Afghanistan and reset the force for future challenges. Today, the US Army faces ISIS in Iraq and Syria, a still-present threat in Afghanistan, a resurgent Russia, brush fire insurgencies from Africa to the Pacific, and wars ranging from cyber operations and counter-insurgency to full-scale tank-on-tank conventional war. The lessons and leadership from Vincent Viola’s military and business experience combination will be essential to help the US Army understand, compete, and win against these threats.
During the initial stages of the confirmation process, Viola withdrew his name from consideration to become the next secretary of the Army. Viola cited his inability to separate himself from his business ventures and maintain those businesses as successful, ongoing companies. Even though Vincent Viola will not be the next secretary of the Army, he offers several significant lessons from his background and explains how these lessons matter to the continued success of the US Army.
Lesson #1 – Use High-Speed, Robust Technology to Dominate Competitors. Viola’s company, Virtu Financial, is a high-speed trading firm. The success of high-speed securities trading is based on the concept of finding, identifying, creating, and then rapidly executing trading positions before competitors are even aware or can simultaneously execute a similar trade. High-speed trading uses technology to find a discrepancy between the stated value of an asset and its actual market value. These imbalances often only exist for seconds or minutes, but high-speed traders can dominate their competitors by finding, creating, and executing a trade to profit from these market imbalances. This use of technology to dominate competitors will be a great asset to bring to the US Army.
Lesson #2 – Combine Different Skills, Backgrounds, and Experience to Create Effective Teams. Viola’s leadership skills in sports, financial services, and leading his non-profit (Viola Foundation) are an incredible combination. Viola’s success in distinct and widely different business ventures would have allowed him to create successful teams within the US Army. The US Army needs to understand how to be successful in cyber warfare, counter-insurgency, and conventional ground combat. Viola would have been instrumental in gathering and identifying leaders with widely different skills sets who could work cohesively on these different types of combat.
Lesson #3 – Create Multiple Options to Drive Success. A good strategy identifies and creates options to succeed. Viola’s multiple lines of business, including high-speed trading, financial service, horse racing, professional ice hockey, and other associated businesses, are a great example of creating multiple options to be successful. The best path to success is to have MANY paths to success. This background of multiple business strategies will help Viola create multiple options for the US Army to have the training and equipment to fight and win successfully across multiple, simultaneous battlefields.
Lesson #4 – Study Military History to Understand Success and Failure. Military staff rides are a simultaneous study of success and failure. Understanding success on the battlefield is just as important as understanding failure. Viola took members of his company on military history staff rides to the Little Big Horn to understand the success of the Native Americans and the failure of Custer and to the beaches of Normandy to understand the success of the American, United Kingdom, and Canadian forces to defeat the defending Nazi Germans in June 1944. The study of military history is one of the best ways to maintain and create humility and help create success, because an understanding of military history creates a respect for the whims of time, events, and shifting military fortunes.
Lesson #5 – Overcome Adversity. As a ranger-qualified infantry officer, Viola was used to both success and failure. No one ever gets through ranger school without failing patrols and having to give their best when they feel their worst. Therefore, it was no surprise that Viola was a leader on Wall Street following the 9/11 attacks. He moved to restore the New York Mercantile Exchange as quickly as possible, even though it was near Ground Zero at the World Trade Center site. Viola understood that restoring normalcy, leading by example, and continuing to rebuild quickly despite the disaster were ways to lead and overcome a horrible situation for the country, his employees, and customers dependent on his business.
Lesson #6 – Find New Ways to Learn. Viola has been a strong proponent and enabler of digital learning of traditional military topics such as military history and military strategy at the US Military Academy. Viola understood the irreplaceable value of military history, but what needed to change was the platform for how USMA cadets could more effectively learn. Therefore, Viola and his foundation created books and content for cadets to learn military history on iPads and iPhones.
Lesson #7 – Be Loyal. Viola’s reason for withdrawing from consideration for the secretary of the Army position—his loyalty to his businesses and employees—is one of strength. Viola’s continued commitment to electronic learning and National Security centers at West Point reflects his strong personal loyalty to West Point and the defense of the United States.
Lesson #8 – Be Open to Big Risks. Leaving the US Army as a mid-career major and then going to law school. Investing in new learning technology and national security centers at the very traditional United States Military Academy. Serving as the owner of the Florida Panthers National Hockey League team in Florida (ice hockey in Florida . . . c’mon!). These are all examples of where Viola took on very unconventional and very big risks and found great success. The ability to discover and take calculated risks to win will be a great skill set for the US Army to follow.
A New York Times story summed up Vincent Viola quite well:
Mr. Trump’s transition team described Mr. Viola as ”living proof of the American dream.” A son of Italian immigrants, Mr. Viola was raised in Brooklyn and graduated from West Point in 1977, becoming the first member of his family to receive a college degree. He was a member of the 101st Airborne Division, graduated from the Army’s elite Ranger school, and retired as a major before going on to work as a trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange.” He became head of the exchange in March 2001. In 2013, he became the owner of the Florida Panthers, and around that, time also began buying racehorses. According to Forbes, Mr. Viola is worth $1.81 billion; he is No. 374 on its list of wealthiest Americans. He is one of four billionaires that Mr. Trump has nominated to be in his administration.
Donald Trump called Mr. Viola ”a man of outstanding work ethic, integrity, and strategic vision, with an exceptional ability to motivate others.” The US Army and the US military establishment can learn incredible lessons in technology, strategy, versatility, learning, leadership, and overcoming adversity from the business experience and personal leadership of Vincent Viola. Viola would have been a great choice to lead the US Army through an extended period of challenge and growth to continue the mission of winning the nation’s land battles. Even though he could not serve as the secretary of the Army, he has significant lessons for the success of the US Army.
Chad Storlie is an OpsLens Contributor and retired Lieutenant Colonel with 20-plus years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. Chad is author of two books: “Combat Leader to Corporate Leader” and “Battlefield to Business Success.” Both books teach how to translate and apply military skills to business. He has been published in The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and over 40 other publications. He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University. Follow Chad @Combattocorp.
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