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Customer Review

11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Glib, superficial extol about the superiority of military leadership applied to the business world, July 6, 2012
This review is from: TOPGUN on Wall Street: Why the United States Military Should Run Corporate America (Hardcover)
~Topgun on Wall Street: Why the United States Military Should Run Corporate America~ is another one of those misguided titles that capitalizes on America's nostalgia for its martial institutions in lauding the dubious notion that corporate America should emulate the military. The title alone is conceited. Jeff Lay is a former F-14 pilot and U.S. Naval Academy graduate. Part of the book reads as biographical sketch with the typical, toot-your-own-horn self-congratulations of a decorated military officer. The general thrust of the book lauds the military managerial mode with a polemic on the corruption of corporate America on Wall Street. Regardless this is a dubious formula for reforming corporate America.

We've all heard it beforehand, the notion that service in military is a leadership and character builder. That may have a modicum of truth to it notionally. One might grant Lay's good intentions and personal integrity. But this book has enormous shortcomings. One may grant one minor premise of Lay's book, namely that corporate America is mired in corruption, bad ethics, and inept managerial philosophy. This is especially true of financial institutions and Detroit automotive companies. Where I disagree with Lay is his errant premise that if businesses emulate the purportedly superior managerial mode of military leaders, then this will somehow effect success, and revitalization of ethics and integrity in corporate America.

The fact is that the modern U.S. Department of Defense behind all of its storied traditions is mired in corruption, red tape, graft, waste and inefficiency. That Lay overlooked this reality exemplifies why his analysis and solutions misses the mark. It's also an omen of presumed correctness that military personnel carry about their ways. Military service personnel (active and retired) generally are too possessed of a sense of entitlement, self-importance, and embrace a subculture of social promotion; and while civic culture condemns this notion among the poor that "someone owes them something," this mentality is ingrained in the psyche of veterans. Many in the officers corps follow the revolving door from the Pentagon to government contractors where they embrace a culture of cronyism, and business practices that spurs graft and waste at taxpayer expense. Need one mention former Secretary of Rumsfeld candid admission that the Pentagon could NOT account for over $1.2 trillion in DoD appropriations before the Iraq War's escalation in 2003? Then there is the misappropriation of Pentagon pensions, which were embezzled to reappropriate (unconstitutionally) for contractors and pet projects, and then the Pentagon turns around and compels Congress to replenish new funds for lost pensions. So when I hear of some military guru lauding the military leadership model, I cannot help but to cry foul. Jeffrey Lay could have just as easily identified all that's wrong with the military as Wall Street, but it did not serve his thesis. Congressmen on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives hypocritically prattle about Enron and MCI Worldcom cooking their accounting books while this has been the U.S. government's modus operandi on finances for decades. And the Pentagon, sacred cow among Republicans, has been at the epicenter of that culture of cronyism and red tape in Washington, D.C.

And before I get flagged as someone that's simply anti-military, I would point out that other ex-military have written good management books. Michael Abrashoff's It's Your Ship was sound counsel. Abrashoff was a gadfly identifying the old guard of the military as plagued by a bad managerial mindset, bureaucratic hierarchy, red tape, graft and waste. The military is awash in a subculture that stifles innovation and efficiency. Abrashoff adhered to a leadership style that compelled his subordinates to have a sense of equity in their work, which is a value generally foreign to the public sector and military. Whereas Jeffrey Lay presents the military managerial philosophy as the model for revitalizing corporate America in spite of the contrary evidence which he conveniently sidesteps. Military men thrive in a culture of enforced deference based on rank, stature, force of personality, and behaviorist psychological conditioning techniques. Abrashoff identified the good and bad in this subculture, whereas, Lay could not bring himself to say much bad of the illustrious U.S. military. The corporate world is actually more meritocratic, especially in fields requiring technical competency, acquired skill-sets, and intellect. The problems afflicting corporate America today lies in loss of ethics, and the government socializing losses and moral hazards, and inadvertently encouraging their proliferation by absolving financial capitalists of the responsibility and incentive to avoid bad decisions in the first place.

Insolvent investment banks like Lehman Brothers (which Lay critiques herein) might have been horribly mismanaged and reflective of the bankrupt culture of America's private financial institutions. But in many ways, Wall Street investment banks are much like America's military-industrial complex. The Pentagon is cozily intertwined with big business, defense contractor lobbyists, and exemplifies crony capitalism. Wall Street's philosophy of privatizing profits and socializing losses at taxpayer expense is not much different from practice of corrupt military contractors that milk taxpayers with billions in cost-overruns, utilization of cost-plus accounting that incentivizes waste to maximize profits, and no bid contracts. Bear in mind this transpires with projects that often have military oversight from Pentagon brass. Halliburton, with its legions of ex-military officers, helped take taxpayers for a ride with billions of dollars in fraud. When Boeing-Sikorsky cancelled its operational Comanche program to manufacture an operational aircraft, it continued the program for years with wasteful R&D contracts; and sustaining these programs benefited self-interested DoD project managers and contractors, and the congressional districts of Capitol Hill's incumbent politicians. Contrast this red tape with Jeff Lay's implication that the mortgage meltdown never would have happened if the military leadership was in charge as if military have the magic touch against greed and corruption.

It would seem with a cursory survey of contrary evidences, the notion that military leadership is better suited to run the country and corporate world better is an egregious myth. America's military is arguably more ethically bankrupt than corporate America. While Wall Street's financial capitalists are corrupt as Lay implies, at least there remain centers of innovation and entrepreneurship among high-tech and service firms in America. And those innovators are seldom ex-military. Sometimes an iconoclast needs to state the obvious and challenge the status quo.

I just see this book as glib and superficial. I've had family in the military, and quite a few of them came out lamenting its collectivistic bureaucratic subculture even using the adage "socialistic" to describe it. The military is hardly a model for running a business. Anyway, this book's execution was ill-conceived. It seems like Lay wanted to write a biography at first, but then may have heard the market is saturated with military biography, so transforming it into business book was some sort of marketing strategy. Its transitions are weak in connecting biographical material to the managerial focus. I would recommend one pass this book over.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 12, 2012 7:25:48 PM PDT
T Hall says:
This reviewer makes a grave error in classifying veterans as non-innovators. I think the reviewer has zero insight into what a tour of duty does for a young man or woman, and also grievously underestimates the intellect and decision making of a fighter pilot. As of this writing I have three clients, all ex military, all doing AMAZING things in the business world. One, an ex-marine, used his GI bill to get his MBA, and works for Deloitte with his account being a well know online book seller, Amazon. Next is a former fighter pilot who specializes in mergers and acquisitions. Third is an ex officer pooling REIT investors. Finally, I have achieved some success myself as an ex Navy flight deck photographer. His reviews, which are many, seem more like an exhibition of his vocabulary. He writes a decent review, but seriously has NO CLUE how much a tour of duty can positively shape a person, especially in a skilled vocation.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 26, 2012 1:22:19 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 26, 2012 1:25:29 PM PDT
G-MAN says:
I served three tours aboard the USS KITTY HAWK in the Gulf of Tonkin
from 1966-69, and held a Top Secret security clearance. I agree that
a tour of duty in the military can positively shape a person. However,
it can also destroy a person mentally and physically. Particularly those serving in a war zone. The reviewer is correct in his assessment that "the modern U.S. Department of Defense behind all of its storied traditions is mired in corruption, red tape, graft, waste and inefficiency." President Eisenhower warned us about the Military Industrial Complex. The problems on Wall Street and in the military stem from corruption and a profound lack of government oversight.
The reviewer sums this up very well.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 27, 2012 4:29:11 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 27, 2012 4:33:51 AM PDT
T Hall says:
Would love to hear more about your service. You can find my profile on Together We Served. I think LCDR Lay was trying to contrast his unique life in two worlds. Keep in mind he served under Reagan's Navy as I did and pride of mission was very high then. I had the good luck to serve during peacetime and so my feelings towards it may be overly simplistic. Thank you for your service my Navy buddy! PHAN Timothy G. Hall.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 29, 2012 6:48:13 AM PDT
R. Setliff says:
I would not deny private sector innovators have came out of the military, but that admission need not collaborate the thesis of this misguided book.

Posted on Dec 29, 2012 4:43:00 PM PST
My guess is that the reviewer opened the book with his bias in hand and saw what he wanted to see. It's hard to know where to begin.

Corruption in DOD - yes, in fact one of the very top people did hard time recently and along the way perjured herself on several occasions. But what the writer failed to recognized that DOD has civilian leadership on the acquisition side.

I have had a pretty good view of the military having done a brief stint, had family members do a career in F-14's, Marine officers as mentor, some of my best grad students and a partner. I think the average Marine NCO has far better leadership skills than MBAs from the best schools. I had the good fortune of spending a week on the Stennis as it returned from an extended stay of Iraq. I anticipated the trip based on my love of airplanes and the sea. However, what blew me away was the quality of the crew from the young plane handlers who did not look old enough to drive to the senior officers.

If you watch the preparation for launching a fighter from a carrier when the airplane is hooked up to the catapult, everyone has taken a last look at the airplane they are polled - each acknowledges that either their area of resonsibility is OK or to scrub the launch. It's not about rank, there's nobody going to argue with them. It is a lot of highly motivated young people working in a highly disciplined world.

The story is repeated around the world, in the opening days of the first Iraq was you would see a Marine squad suddenly pinned down by fire from a building. The young Marines are laying in the sand behind a slight hill, neatly spaced at the proper distance apart. A gunny seargent is moving from man to man checking that they understand what they need to do, how to minimize the risk and giving words of encouragement. Behind them there's a young mother and child with two Mariines shielding them with their bodies. Ever see anything like that on Wall Street.

Although it gets very little exposure, the wholsale accepance of corruption on wall street and in the banking industry seiously challenges the future of our nation. We had a similar problem in the late 80s with our financial institutions. However, the corrupt institutions were largely liquidated and many of the participants did hard time...... Milken, Boesky, Keating, and a long list of others. However, this time around the taxpayers have bailed out the corrupt and given them new life. We have establshed that major banks had departments whose sole job was to fabricate documents that were to be filed in various courts as part of the foreclosure process. see subprimeshakeout.com We have undisputed evidence that Wall Street designed funds to fail, sold them to their customers and then made bets on cds that the investments would in fact fail.

We have sacked 3 senior generals for "sexual indiscretions" while Bill Clinton committed criminal sexual acts on multiple women ( not incuding volunteers like Monica) , engaged in witness tampering and perjury and is now a hero of the left.

I thought the author was over the top on a number of occasions and not at all typical of many of the fighter pilots I have known. To that extent I think the book deserves some criticism. However, the military could teach the country a lot about the leadership we deserve in our corporate world. Highly recommended is Colin Powell's pppt presentation on leadership.

One of the worst trends of the Clinton and Obama administrations has been the micromanagement of military operations and the absense of true leadership and vision. We're treated to photo ops of Obama and Hillary watching the video feeds of the raid on bilLaden's HQ as if it is a new video game or action movie. Of course it is not new. We lost a lot of pilots in Vietnam as McNamara and Johnson would gather after cocktails and make decisions on targets in N Vietnam, not on their priority on a strategic target list, but what was to be hit the following morning, regardless of weather, threats or other opportunities.

Sadly while we have dumped billions into politically driven "green" projects with no financial feasibility we have handicapped our military with the tankers built by our grandfathers. Much of the delay can be traced to politics and corruption.

Innovative thinkers in the military? The record speaks for itself. Of course much of the innovation we never see .

Posted on Feb 22, 2014 1:37:06 PM PST
DM says:
I flew F-14's with Easy. I flew with him when he came back to VF-101 after kicking cancer's ass. You start your critique with "Jeff Lay is a former F-15 pilot and U.S. Naval Academy graduate." 1) F-14's were Navy jets. 2) F-15's are Air Force jets. But please, now that you've clearly demonstrated your credentials via your keen and detailed understanding of military aviation, feel free to tell us what we clearly don't know about military culture and that he's superficial-- having never met the man. You're probably the kinda guy that gets ticked about military getting 10 percent off at Lowes or Home Depot. Whatever, dude.
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