Persevering Through a Crisis

Former Navy SEAL gives lessons for the finishing industry on how to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.


Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

“About the midway mark, Wednesday night is the ugliest. As the sun goes down, you’re linked arm-to-arm with your whole class, sitting in the surf zone in eighteen inches of cold water. Waves are crashing over you and rolling back into the surf. Your energy is at the lowest. Your morale is at the lowest. Instructors are taunting the class, pulling up in a four-door pickup truck that’s heated inside, full of hot coffee and donuts. For anyone that quits, there’s hot coffee and donuts right there. Those are the temptations. But I told myself, I’m going to finish this evolution without quitting. I’m going to get through this.”

So my friend Bill Berrien describes the toughest point of “Hell Week” during his Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Training. BUD/S is the initial training to become a Navy SEAL and, during Hell Week, the SEAL candidate is basically awake from Sunday to Saturday, with the exception of two hours of sleep permitted in the middle of the week. “There’s cold water, it’s sandy, it’s dark at night, you’re carrying a boat over your head. It’s meant to make people quit.”

Berrien’s pedigree borders on the surreal. He earned an undergraduate degree from Princeton University, then went on to Officer Candidate School at the Naval Station in Newport, Rhode Island before attending BUD/S training and becoming a Navy SEAL. He served in three successive SEAL platoons as Assistant Officer in Charge of SEAL Team 4, then Officer in Charge of SEAL Team 2 and 18 months as Aide-de-Camp to the Commanding General of Joint Special Operations Command. If all of that wasn’t enough, Berrien later earned his MBA from Harvard University.

What’s most interesting is that Berrien volunteers almost none of this when you first meet him. What I did learn about his journey, I heard from others or had to coax out of him over the course of our decade-long friendship.  

Of all his accolades, though, perhaps the one by which Berrien feels most honored is an award he received at his BUD/S graduation ceremony. The “Fire in the Gut” awardee is selected not by his superiors but by his fellow candidates. It recognizes the candidate who displays the most motivation and motivates others, the one who shows the most perseverance. Given the opportunity to select their honoree for this award, Berrien’s fellow troops chose him.

Today, Berrien uses his gift for motivating himself and others, as well as his penchant for perseverance, as the Owner and CEO of Pindel Global Precision (www.pindel.com). Pindel is a global manufacturer of precision machined components located in New Berlin, Wisconsin, that he acquired in 2012. His unfailing discipline for focusing on what’s next is a lesson for any manufacturer as we experience the era of COVID-19.

Having had feet in both the special operations community and in advanced manufacturing, Berrien sees interesting and powerful parallels. “The special operations community specifically, and our military in general, are characterized by small, highly cohesive, highly trained teams enabled by advanced technology, trying to accomplish outsized objectives,” Berrien states. Similarly, those same attributes speak to advanced manufacturing.

Roughly 75% of candidates drop out of BUD/S training before completion, and Hell Week is the tipping point for many of them. Says Berrien, “My observation was that, most often, the people who would quit were the ones who would take their present reality and extrapolate it the whole way to the end of the training. They would say to themselves ‘this is so ugly right now, there is no way I can continue this for another 5 days.’ But the real mental trick was to break it down to bite-sized pieces. There’s not a lack of food during Hell Week. You’re fed four or five times a day. Throughout the whole week, my only goal was to make it to my next meal.” Berrien credits that “mental trick” with enabling him to survive Hell Week.

The coming months may not be easy ones for those leading industrial manufacturers. The current crisis could result in a decrease in order volume. Depending upon the U.S. state in which they do business, some may not be able to operate their plants. Equipment financed with debt may sit idle and unable to produce predicted cash flow. 

Even the most well-financed and operated manufacturers are facing a “new normal” that will require creativity and perseverance to see things through to the other side of the crisis. Given the current state of affairs, it’s easy to, as Berrien puts it, extrapolate it the whole way to the end. 

Manufacturers may find themselves asking, what if I can’t meet my debt obligations? What if the orders don’t come back? Will I have to lay off my dedicated team members? Will I even have a company in twelve months?

With so much available worry to fill their time, what is a manufacturing leader to do? The answer is simple — make it to your next meal. 

Extrapolating your current reality into doomsday scenarios is the worst thing a leader can do when persevering through a crisis. Doing so saps the energy necessary to focus on what needs to be done now and makes it that much more likely that the leader will give up on themselves and their team.

Instead, great leaders focus like a laser on the priority right in front of them. Maybe that’s short-term cash flow. Perhaps it’s keeping your team motivated, focused and in a safe working environment. Maybe it’s considering how to pivot strategy given changes in customer demand and opportunities that could be brought about by the current crises. 

On that note, Berrien predicts blue sky ahead for American manufacturers. “I actually think the future of advanced manufacturing is incredibly bright,” he opines. “I think we will continue to see a questioning of the status quo global supply chain now that one can see the impacts when it’s disrupted.” That could bode well for industry in the United States as supply chains re-shore and advance manufacturers that can deliver higher complexity and shorter lead times to thrive.

Until we get there, focus on making it to your next meal.