Talking Military Transition with Navy Federal’s Cutler Dawson

This morning, members of the Darden Military Association (DMA) had breakfast with retired Navy Vice Admiral and current President and CEO of the world’s largest credit union, Cutler Dawson. We were the benefactors of Darden’s executive leadership relationship with Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU) as their leadership development cohort just happened to be on-grounds this week. In another lucky twist of timing, our MBA for Executives (EMBA) cohort also happened to be on-grounds this week and 13 of our class’s veterans were able to attend (along with another 15 to 20 Darden residential program DMA members).

The retired admiral-who accepted the position at NFCU by a board that wanted people to be led by Cutler, not VADM Dawson-spoke about his leadership style, definition of success, types of people CEOs are looking for, and military transition in general.

On leadership:

  • Take care of people (rumor was Culter knew everybody’s face and name, all 14,000 employees. He reaffirmed that he definitely did not.)
  • Ask people what they do in all areas of the business (it also encourages them to be able to answer that question)
  • Work with people without immediately resorting to letting them go (the military requires leaders to work and develop the team they have, you can’t fire people)

Leadership challenges for transitioning military leaders:

  • The values and ethics may not align with employees and partners (not necessarily a difference, just a challenge)
  • Explaining the qualities of military to private companies

Type of people CEO’s look for:

  • The type that will approach the CEO in a personable way, be able to tell his or her story, and give valuable feedback without being intimidated by the leadership
  • Ones that will answer questions with personal accountability — Yes, No, I don’t know but will find out, no excuse.

Definition of Success

  • Happy with your compensation
  • Happy with the work you’re doing
  • You’re valued by your teammates/employees

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