It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy
By Captain D. Michael Abrashoff
Hardcover in dustjacket, 212 pages
Published by Warner Business Books, May 2002
Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.01 x 9.5 inches
The USS Benfold (DDG-65) is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. The Burke-class are the most common ship type in the U.S. Navy, with 68 in commission and more building. They are high-tech state of the art warships with crews of 310. In June 1997 Commander Michael Abrashoff became her Captain. Her previous CO was not respected by the crew and morale was low, affecting the ship’s performance. This is a vicious cycle which can spiral to the point where the ship is unable to excel, or even complete basic requirements successfully.
Commander Abrashoff decided to turn the Benfold around, starting with the basics. He listened to his sailors, and acted upon their suggestions to improve the operations of the ship. This improved both morale and efficiency, which in turn led to gains in performance. An example near to my heart is a sailor questioned why so much time was being spent on corrosion control, specifically chipping and painting boltheads which were a constant source of rust. The sailor suggested replacing the rusty bolts with stainless steel. Abrashoff not only acted on the suggestion by replacing Benfold’s bolts, but passed it up the chain of command so other ships could benefit. The program was extended to replace or coat other rust-prone fittings. The crew’s time saved by this and other programs was invested in training, and soon Benfold’s crew had the highest rates of Enlisted Surface Warfare qualification in the fleet. This increased morale, made the crew more knowledgeable and professional, and improved retention.
This book is a management “how to” manual aimed at the cooperate business world, but is also the story of a Captain running his ship based upon first principles. “Because we’ve always done it this way” is not a good answer when your goal is to do better. There are many valuable insights here, made all the more interesting because it is set within the story of a ship and her crew. An enjoyable read, and valuable for leaders in all professions.