You Get What You Inspect: Nautical Knowledge from a Naval Officer Turned Executive

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Chief Strategy Officer at Kronos Incorporated and former submarine officer on the USS Alabama Bob Hughes talks about his transition from the military to the C-Suite and how he’s applied lessons he learned in the service as a leader in Corporate America

Bob Hughes made a challenging leap when he moved from his career in the Navy to a career in the C-suite. Hughes graduated from the United States Naval Academy and served as a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy on the USS Alabama before earning a master’s degree in business administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. After working as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch & Co. and then as Vice President of Corporate Development at Blackbaud, he now serves as Chief Strategy Officer at Kronos Incorporated, a global leader in workforce management software. Tens of thousands of organizations in more than 100 countries across the globe – including more than half of the Fortune 1000® – use Kronos software to control labor costs, minimize compliance risk, and improve workplace productivity.

Hughes joined Kronos in 2009. Throughout his tenure, Hughes’ function has been centered on global efforts to develop, communicate, execute and sustain the company’s strategic plan, including pursuit of mergers and acquisitions of strategic investments. One of Hughes biggest victories was acquiring SaaShr in 2012. “It’s been a huge growth driver for us as a company. That acquisition has been instrumental to get our customers to the cloud and provide small and midsize businesses with enterprise-class workforce management solutions. It also led to an infusion of talented employees that know SaaS. In the merger and acquisition process we screened more than 100 companies and ultimately chose SasShr.”

On Hughes’ watch Kronos has passed $1 billion in annual revenue. According to Hughes, Kronos’ growth prospects have never been better: “We continue to be laser focused on innovation to bring the best workforce management products to our customers. We’re investing $100 million a year in research and development in our product set alone. We’re seeing phenomenal growth in cloud delivery of our applications. And we have a huge opportunity to grow internationally.”

Hughes-ClassLessons from Years at Sea

Hughes credits his experience in the military with many of the strengths that he brings to the table in his corporate function. A self-starter, Hughes learned quickly at the Naval Academy that self-reliance would not lead him to success. “[I learned that] it wasn’t all about me and my ability. It was more about my ability to work with a team,” said Hughes. As Chief Strategy Officer, Hughes leads a broad team of specialists. He explained the similarity between his role in the Navy and his current role at Kronos: “It’s very similar to my experience on the submarine. As a young officer I was responsible for operating a reactor plant and driving the submarine. Yet I was never going to be the best missile technician – even though I was responsible for managing these specialists and others. My job was to supervise and make sure they’re doing a good job. I learned early on that you have to rely on people, processes, and consistent inspection..”

“The old Naval adage is, ‘You get what you inspect.’”

Now at Kronos, Hughes prioritizes challenging the specialists he leads to accept new roles to gain broad exposure. “I’m a big fan of repotting the plants. I like to move specialists into a new role after they achieve their goals in a role.” According to Hughes, people who are goal-oriented, driven, interested in learning new things, and intellectually curious thrive when given new challenges. “A submarine is filled with highly technical, highly specialized people. Everybody has to learn a little about everybody else’s job…and know how each piece fits in the big picture. This kept us all rowing together,” said Hughes. Hughes has seen Kronos’ synergy and culture prosper from this method. “That comes from moving people around in jobs. I try to give people exposure to different projects. I think that’s beneficial to developing new skills and seeing how everyone’s roles contribute,” said Hughes.


Mentoring Those in Transition

While Hughes’ career in business has been successful by any standard, his transition from sailor to executive, like many other veterans, was far from easy. Hughes explained that the transition from the military to civilian life is often daunting: “Veterans have a strong work ethic, communication skills, leadership, technical abilities, and they have the ability to work in high stress environments, but they typically have less understanding of business terminology. They don’t intuitively have a functional understanding of things like a ‘sales channel’ or ‘mergers and acquisitions.’ This can lead to an undue lack of confidence.” According to Hughes, veterans often have a difficult time determining where they fit in the corporate world: “In a job interview they have a hard time translating their experience. It’s like learning a foreign language and being a translator of that language in parallel.”

Today Hughes’ passion for helping other veterans make that transition has led him to mentor veterans moving into civilian life. He is Kronos’ executive sponsor in an initiative that helps veterans get placed into civilian jobs. “One of Kronos’ investors is Blackstone Group. They have Blackstone Veterans Initiatives to connect businesses with veterans. Blackstone’s committed to hiring 50,000 veterans [into companies under its portfolio],” said Hughes.

Whether he’s supervising on a submarine, placing people in new business roles, or simply helping veterans adjust to a new life, Bob Hughes is committed to his team. ♦



We encourage you to check out Bob’s 5 Pieces of Advice for Veterans Starting Their Civilian Career: Link to Article

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