Q&A with Mike Abrashoff, MDCE Closing Keynote speaker

This year’s Marine Dealer Conference & Expo will once again feature a Closing Keynote to close out the conference.

In “Get Your Ship Together,” Mike Abrashoff will share the leadership lessons he learned after taking command of the USS Benfold. When he took charge, morale was low and the performance of the ship ranked near the bottom of the Pacific Fleet. Within a year, the ship was the benchmark for performance.

We talked to Abrashoff about his experiences and his plans for MDCE.

Boating Industry: What can the dealers expect to learn from your talk?

Abrashoff: It takes a lot to be successful. You need to have good products to sell. You need to be technically competent at what you do, but the most important part is how you show up and gain the trust of your customers.

It’s easy to do one transaction and be done. However, if you want to be around for a long time, it’s about having that customer come back time and time again and more importantly, having them out there in the community recruiting other customers for you instead of counter-recruiting against you.

The way you do that? Thru leadership. By knowing how to listen to them. To gain their trust. To be seen as their solutions provider. Your shipmates on the front lines need to be engaged and need to take ownership, as well, in order to help you. You can’t order them to do that but you can cultivate it and nurture it and grow it.

Boating Industry: As our closing keynote, what is your goal as you wrap up the conference?

Abrashoff: I want the attendees to leave my presentation focusing on what they can influence instead of what they can’t. I didn’t get to choose my missions. I didn’t get to choose my crew. I had no input over my budget. It’s easy to feel like you are a victim. I decided to take command and focus on what I could influence and that was my crew. At the end of the day, they were the ones who delivered the excellence.

Boating Industry: What’s important for attendees to know about your background?

Abrashoff: I didn’t start out life at the top rung of the economic ladder. My father made $13,000 a year. I didn’t graduate at the top of my class at the Naval Academy. But I decided to treat my crew like they were the best and they never once let me down.

Boating Industry: How does your experience with the U.S.S. Benfold relate to what our audience is facing as business leaders?

Abrashoff: There are a lot of things we can’t control. None of us can control the economy. But what we can control is making our customers feel like they are getting a great deal when they deal with us. We can be the low cost provider but that may not be the best way to thrive economically. The best way is to make our customers feel like they are valued, that they are getting a great deal by dealing with us. The only way they can do that is by enjoying the process of working with us and our people.

Boating Industry: What was your biggest lesson learned from that experience?

Abrashoff: You can’t order excellence. But you can create a culture and a climate that causes your crew to take as much pride and as much ownership in your business as you have in it.

Boating Industry: You talk and write about culture and attitude. Why is that so important for a successful business?

Abrashoff: You can be the low-cost provider or you can be seen as the solution provider. Solution providers gain the trust of their customers and will thus gain a soldier for you who will recommend you to their friends and family. Solution providers can charge a premium for there services and then can save on advertising when you have satisfied customers out there doing your job for you.

Boating Industry: Based on your experience, what’s the top obstacle in creating a positive culture?

Abrashoff: A lack of self-awareness. We don’t take the time to understand how we are showing up to our people and to our customers. Before I could ask the crew to change, I had to change first. I had to view my ship thru the eyes of my crew. It opened up a whole new world for me.

One comment

  1. I must comment on one thing. This “leader” was a kind and fair captain on the ship I served on while he was the skipper. Sadly, his facts are skewed to an extreme level. When he left and when I left this command, the ship still suffered from blatant internal problems, cases of sexual misconduct,even racial bias and other issues that plague the military today. Enlisted surface warfare pins were practically “handed out” to its crew members, not earned, and many favors done which sidestepped procedure,regulations merely for morale and reputation reasons. It is easy to be awed with glazed eyes at one man’s rendition when looking from the outside without knowing firsthand what TRULY took place. I wish him well, but there are far too many cases of fiction when fact should be told and characters should be intact.

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