James Carroll (callsign: Dipper) has a certain calmness, good-natured humor and confidence about him. One might, at first, attribute it to the maturity that marriage and fatherhood brings… or a Virginia upbringing. Certainly factors. But after an hour long interview, I am convinced his soundness is firmly rooted in his 14-year tenure with the United States Navy and Naval Academy. With a Navy record like James’s (which includes graduating from Advanced Jet Training 1st in his class, license to fly highly coveted F/A-18 Hornets, citations for “performance second to none” and singled out as his commander’s “first choice to lead a division in combat”), he could be mistaken for James Bond.
In the Navy, ranking is the single most important factor in determining one’s sequential advancement. Describe the competitive atmosphere.
The competition was pretty tight which is something I really loved about it. People were always competing to be in the top so they could either have their pick of jobs or assignments, or get ranked the highest and get the next follow-on job that was even better. But in spite of the level of competition and the competitive nature of most of the people I worked with, there was an overriding sense of teamwork and a common mission. There was never a sense of trying to keep others down so you could stay up higher. There was always a sense of bringing up everyone with you.
What were the most valuable things you got out of the Navy?
I think the most valuable thing I learned was, first of all, leadership and management skills. Military units are entirely self-sufficient, so that if you put the squadron anywhere in the world, it can function. I was in charge of 20 to 100 people at any one time. I learned how to manage people of all different backgrounds, education, age, and so on. I learned about not only managing under really nice circumstances, but how to manage people under very harsh conditions. Also, from my time in the Navy, I got a lot of pride out of what we did and how we did it and the fact that there’s a greater purpose to your job.
The Navy interacts with non-US military forces. What other military forces do you admire and respect?
That’s a pretty political question since HBS is represented by people from almost everywhere. Now, I would say that I didn’t have the chance to work with every other military, obviously, so I can only speak from the ones that I had a chance to operate with. I would say by far the most professional military other than our own that I worked with would be the British. I had a great amount of respect for them. I’d also say from the totally other side of the world, I had a chance to do an exercise for two weeks with the country of Oman. In spite of some of the equipment deficits they suffered, they were very motivated and highly skilled pilots
And finally, would you consider going back or doing something similar to what you did?
I would say I’m not going back because first of all, I spent 10 years in the Navy and 4 years in the Naval Academy, so I’ve spent a good portion of my life in the Navy. It was a great period of my life that I’ll have fabulous memories of for a long time, and friends that I’ll have until I die. But now, I’d like to have a better family life and a job that is a little more stable, where I’m not moving around as much. The jobs I am looking at and am going to take are operations management type jobs. They relate very closely to what I did in the Navy as an officer, which was leading people and managing projects in a fairly fast-paced, constantly changing environment.