Cambridge Judge Business School has attracted quite a few people from military backgrounds, and they’ve learned new approaches to leadership and team dynamics that go beyond the chain of command.

After six years as an officer in the US Navy, Ian Branum knew a thing or two about leadership and decision-making. But when he began his studies at Cambridge Judge Business School, he quickly learned what he didn’t know – particularly about inclusive decision-making that enhances leadership.

Ian Branum

“As someone with a military background, I knew a lot about leadership and teams, but Cambridge altered my way of thinking – especially how I present ideas,” says Ian, a member of the Cambridge MBA Class of 1997/98. “In the Navy, for example, there is a belief that all briefs are either informational or decisional. But at Cambridge Judge I learned that while that may be so, more importantly all briefs are persuasive. It’s not about informing your boss or top-down decision making, it’s about persuading juniors, peers, and seniors sufficiently well that they willingly come on board with you.”

Ian is now chief solution architect at US software company Element Blue, based in Houston, Texas, and says that he’s applying his Cambridge Judge lessons in the Navy as a reservist.

“After 9/11 the reserves really cranked up and I’ve served roughly one day in four since. Much of what I learned on that MBA course is still relevant all these years later. I never realised how useful it would be, and for how long. I still subconsciously refer back to the course every day. I wouldn’t be the person I am without it.”

Ian is not alone among people in the military who have learned new approaches to leadership, organisation and team dynamics at Cambridge Judge.

Steven Cooney

US Marine Steven Cooney, who completed his Executive MBA at Cambridge Judge earlier this year, says the programme’s strategy elements have reshaped his thinking. “I have applied a lot of lessons around corporate governance and negotiation,” he says. “The course gives you the confidence and the clarity to know how to approach and tackle complex problems.”

Steven is currently on an exchange programme with the British armed forces, where those skills have helped him increase effective collaboration and communication between the US Marines and the UK Ministry of Defence.

“The course gives you the confidence and the clarity to know how to approach and tackle complex problems,” he says of the EMBA programme at Cambridge Judge. “It’s a combination of working in real-world, practical situations backed up with academic knowledge. It’s rigorous, and it’s challenging, but it needs to be. And it doesn’t just teach you, it encourages you to keep learning.”

A paper written by Steven recently won the Cambridge-McKinsey Risk Prize awarded by the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies in conjunction with consulting firm McKinsey. The paper discussed how US railroads, which have long benefited from lucrative coal transport, need to adjust to changing energy patterns.

Philip Romanelli

Philip Romanelli, who has long been a US Army Reserve officer, began his Cambridge MBA in 2002 but was called up for deployment in Iraq after his first term, returning to the MBA programme a year later. Since completing his MBA, he has held several senior civilian posts with the US government, including five years at the Pentagon as Deputy Chief of the Strategic Initiatives Group of the Secretary of the Army and, for the past year, as Deputy Garrison Commander of the US Army post in Ansbach, Germany.

“The Cambridge MBA was a fantastic opportunity to do something that enabled a shift, to take what I had done in a military background and to add business skills and a broader conceptual context,” he says. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without what I learned in Cambridge.

“In military life you’re often focused on tactical issues, execution and doing things right, rather than strategy or operations,” says Philip. “So the broader perspective I got in Cambridge was really important, both the organisational behaviour skills and also some of the softer skills which have really stuck with me. I also learned that business is really different overseas, as Cambridge has a genuine diversity in its student body. We as Americans can sometimes assume we have it right, and it was very illuminating to see that some of these other ways also work well, and may even be better.”

Heather Ritchey

Major Heather Ritchey, an operations research and systems analyst in the US Army, came to Cambridge Judge to do an MPhil in Management Studies in 2004 after winning a Gates scholarship.

“It’s not just about the academic aspect of the course content,” says Heather. “The course I did changed the way I thought. It helped me to understand the Army – a big organisation – and to look at what it does and my role within it, from different perspectives. That’s hugely beneficial to enhancing the way you do your job. I was 22 at the time and was aware then that business exposure was an important tool, whether I stayed in or left the service.”

13 years on, that understanding has helped Heather in her most recent assignment as an assistant professor at the Military Police Corps in West Point, New York.

“Above everything, the Cambridge Judge experience taught me about team dynamics and how to lead them,” she says. “US higher education focuses on a breadth of knowledge. In the UK, students don’t have that breadth but instead they specialise, and have a far greater depth of understanding of individual subjects.

“Being in that cohort, I learned you can bat the ball to other people with different levels of experience and knowledge bases, and I learned how you can tie all those skills together so they complement each other. It taught me that every person – in a cohort, a business, an Army unit – brings their own unique skills, and I learned how to leverage and value every single person’s strength.”

War is narcotic for presidents. It confers instant satisfaction, raising their respectability. They get to make patriotic declarations on a topic where every utterance sounds divine. But removing a strongman always makes things worse. We leap in, thinking we’re helping the poor devils under the thumb of a dictator, and then a new dictator takes over and oppresses everyone else, usually much more brutally, while hating us even more than the old dictator. The Washington establishment is determined to manipulate the president into launching counterproductive military strikes. Our enemies, both foreign and domestic, would be delighted to see our bewildered country further weaken with stupid wars.

The largest bribes originate in the military industry. Military procurement is a corrupt business from top to bottom. The process is dominated by advocacy, with few checks and balances. Most people in power love this system of doing business and do not want it changed. War and preparation for war systematically corrupt all parties to the state-private transactions by which the government obtains the bulk of its military products. There is a standard 10% bribe to kleptocrats for military purchases.  

Participants in the military industrial complex are routinely blamed for mismanagement, fraud, abuse, bribes, and waste. All of these unsavory actions, however, are typically viewed as aberrations, malfeasances to be covered-up, while retaining the basic system of state-private cooperation in the trade of military goods and services and the flow of bribes. These offenses are in reality expressions of a thoroughgoing, intrinsic rottenness in the entire setup.

As the debate about killer robots continues, the threat they pose looms large. Fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems and killer robots, would be able to select and attack targets without meaningful human control.

It’s time for countries to move beyond the talk shop phase and pursue a preemptive ban. Governments should ensure that humans retain control over whom to target with their weapons and when to fire. A ban is the only option for addressing all of the concerns. Other more incremental measures, such as adopting limited regulations on their use or codifying best practices for the development and acquisition of new weapons systems, have numerous shortcomings.

There are many challenges that fully autonomous weapons would present for compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  Huge lack of accountability would exist for the unlawful harm caused by such weapons. The weapons would also cross a moral threshold, and their humanitarian and security risks would outweigh possible military benefits.

Several of the 121 countries that have joined the Convention on Conventional Weapons – including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Israel, Russia, and South Korea – are developing weapons systems with increasing levels of autonomy. Critics who dismiss concerns about fully autonomous weapons depend on speculative arguments about the future of technology and the false presumption that technological developments could address all of the dangers posed by the weapons. The success of past disarmament treaties shows that an absolute prohibition on fully autonomous weapons would be achievable and effective.

Matryoshka dolls conceptualize collaborative defense procurement. In collaborative defense procurement, a number of states decide to buy some expensive piece of military equipment together, for instance a combat aircraft or a warship. This allows them to reduce costs through economies of scale and the sharing development costs, and to increase the interoperability of their armed forces by using the same equipment. A program management entity (an international organization or a lead nation) is tasked by the participating states with the award of the contract and the management of the program.

This organizational arrangement leads to the creation of a four-layer matryoshka doll of legal relationships at the crossroads of public international law, EU law and domestic law. The first doll consists of the law applicable to the decision of a state to participate in the program. This decision made on the basis of the domestic procurement legislation of the state concerned. In the EU, this legislation has to transpose the EU public procurement directives. The second doll is the legal relationship between the participating states and the program management entity, which is usually some form of international agreement under public international law. Those agreements, when concluded by EU member states, also have to comply with EU law. The third doll is the law applied by the program management entity to award the common contract. If the program management entity is one of the participating states acting as a lead nation, the applicable law will be its domestic procurement legislation transposing the EU public procurement directives. If the program management entity is an international organization, it will be its internal procurement rules, which are part of the international institutional law of the organization concerned. Finally, the fourth matryoshka doll consists of the law applicable to the execution and interpretation of the contract itself, which is usually the domestic contract law of one of the participating states.

So as we can see the image of the matryoshka dolls is a perfect way to conceptualize the legal and organizational structure of collaborative defense procurement, and is valid as well as a model for multinational collaborative procurement in general, even outside the defense sector. So the book is of interest, not only to specialists and academics active in the defense sector, but to a wider professional public as well. Nevertheless, this matryoshka doll can be especially complex in the defense sector, as a number of exemptions can be relied on (sometimes abusively) in order to avoid complying with EU law, in particular to protect the essential security interests of the participating states.

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