Oct 17

Retired Navy Admiral at Full Throttle in Civilian Life

john harveyTransitioning senior military leaders have the extraordinary opportunity to redefine themselves in their post-military lives. Retired Navy Admiral John C. Harvey, Jr. who retired from military service in October, 2012 after serving as Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, embodies that philosophy and was kind enough to share his transition insights and experience with Military Leaders in Transition:

VSB: John, it has been a year since you retired as Admiral. When you left active duty, did you have firm ideas about what you planned to do in this next phase of your personal and professional life?

Harvey: I had some firm ideas, but they were very broad. For example: 1) I wanted to become involved in Executive Education programs (see my profile on LinkedIn); 2) I wanted to stay engaged, in an appropriate manner, in the debate that was sure to accompany the coming significant decline in the defense budget regarding our national defense strategy and force structure; 3) I wanted to do some value-added pro-bono work and; 4) I wanted to find rewarding ways to augment my retired pay.

VSB: It takes years of training to become a senior military leader. What more can be done to better prepare senior military leaders for successful transition into the civilian workforce?

Harvey: I think that once an individual advances to Flag rank, preparation needs to begin at that time for the inevitable retirement.  The key ingredient in this preparation is mentoring from senior Flag officers, active and retired; that helps get the thought processes flowing.

Early participation in the various transition-assistance programs is a smart way to go; I waited too long (I took mine as a 4-Star) and lost valuable time where I could have been talking with my wife about our future and developing better ideas about how to approach this next phase of our life together.

The most important thing for current service leaders to do is to encourage the 1, 2 and 3 star officers to think about “life after Navy” earlier in the Flag career.

The most important thing for current service leaders to do is to encourage the 1, 2 and 3 star officers to think about “life after Navy” earlier in the Flag career.

VSB:  You have highlighted the importance of building business skills while still on active duty. Outside of taking online or night classes, how might senior military leaders increase their business acumen while still advancing their military careers?

Harvey: There is absolutely no substitute for an active reading program that encompasses a wide range of subjects. It doesn’t take a formal class to get educated – you don’t have to be in an MBA program to learn.

You have to have a desire to do the best job you possibly can and then act on that desire.  There are an infinite number of ways to increase your knowledge, either on your own or by bringing that knowledge to you.

For example, let’s say you want to learn more about supply-chain management and how it may apply to your mission. If your command is near a large college or university, reach out to the appropriate department (commerce or business school) and talk with the Dean. You’d be absolutely amazed at how many will be willing to provide the expert help you need at little or no cost.  This nation is filled with patriots who are looking for the opportunity to make a contribution.

You can also reach into the local community through the chamber of commerce and find an expert in just about any field who will be willing to help.

The military is certainly very unique in many ways, but there are certain things common to any large organization that has to allocate scarce resources in the most efficient and effective way possible in order to accomplish the assigned mission.

IT-related issues, human resources questions, managing complex development projects, whatever – there is someone close-by who is an acknowledged expert in what you are trying to do or in what you need to learn. Reach out and ask; it doesn’t cost a dime and the rewards can be immense.

VSB:  What have you learned so far from sitting as a board member on a number of nonprofit boards and advisory councils? Do you see these positions as a good fit for transitioning senior military leaders and, if so, why?

Harvey: I’ve learned a great deal from my non-profit board experience and advisory board experiences and I think this knowledge will help me grow in potential to serve on other boards in the future:

  • First, I chose non-profits I believe in and am willing to support with time, money and effort.
  • Second, the most of the mechanics of a non-profit board are common to other types of boards. So you’re learning about things that will likely bear fruit for you in the future.
  • You need to learn the “language,” how to read and understand a revenue statement and learn the functions of a board. A board is about effective governance, not day-to-day, month-to-month management.
  • Your service on a non-profit board will also help develop your professional reputation as someone who can work effectively outside the uniformed military environment – an important issue.

VSB:  What other advice would you give to those senior military leaders currently planning for their own transition into civilian life?


  • Start thinking about it early, learn from those who have gone before, keep expectations in check and talk with your spouse – often and honestly.
  • You don’t have to rush into a job once you retire.  Take the time to “decompress” and get your bearings once your daily life is outside the support structure of the military.
  • Little things matter.  It took me a while to get used to NOT living on a base. I really, really enjoyed the sights, sounds and patterns of everyday life on Naval Station Norfolk – ships getting underway, helo operations near my “front yard”, Sailors all around doing me what Sailors do and the “sound of freedom” from Chambers Field at 0300!
  • Now it’s time to treasure what was and look forward to what will be.

The great thing about retirement is I get to redefine myself outside the military environment that helped define me for the previous 39 and 1/2 years.

The great thing about retirement is I get to redefine myself outside the military environment that helped define me for the previous 39 and 1/2 years.

It’s different, it’s exciting and it’s filled with potential.


In his 39-year Navy career, Admiral Harvey specialized in naval nuclear propulsion, surface ship and carrier-strike group operations and Navy-wide manpower management/personnel policy development.  Since his retirement in October 2012, Admiral Harvey has joined the board of directors of the Navy Memorial Foundation  www.navymemorial.org  and the Armed Services YMCA www.asymca.org  He is a visiting lecturer in Executive Education programs at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and is a Senior Fellow at the National Defense University. Admiral Harvey is also a member of the Board of Advisors for Huntington-Ingalls Industries, the Board of Advisors for Rally Point www.rallypoint.com and the Strategic Advisory Group for Boeing Network and Defense Systems. In March, 2013, Admiral Harvey was appointed by Virginia’s Governor to serve as the Chairman of the state’s Commission on Military Installations and Defense Activities. 







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