This capture executive attributes his success to the Marine Corps
Gerald Gaskins is a Vice President and Strategic Capture Executive at Leidos. Before his successful civilian career, Gaskins served in the Marine Corps for more than two decades. In this Q&A, Gaskins talks about his military service and how it has shaped his professional life.
Firstly, thank you for your service and thank you for this interview. To start, what did you do for the military?
Gaskins: I was in the Marine Corps. I was active duty for 20 years. I did a lot of things… I was an Infantry Officer. I served directly on the Commandant staff. I was also an acquisition professional in the development of weapons system. The last thing I did in the Marine Corps, was running the Pay & Personnel System for the entire Marine Corps.
As Infantry Officer, I learned to lead people. There is no greater experience than to be 20 years old, at which time I was the youngest officer, leading 50 Marines and training them for combat. That was a lot of responsibility for a 20-year-old. That’s where I learned the essence of leadership is learning how to motivate people. Unlike in the movies, trying to motivate Marines to engage in combat, is a unique skill. That requires a special level of leadership. People aren’t necessarily willing to do that on their own.
Later, when I got to serve on the Commandant’s staff, I learned how high-level people think. High-level people have short attention spans. They expect instant satisfaction. Their rules are different than everyone else's rules. They don’t see things the way other people see them.
In acquisition, I learned that I had a natural ability with business. That’s the first time I had to deal with large amounts of money, planning the development of weapons systems. I learned negotiations and financial problem-solving.
To wrap up, I consider my time in the Marine Corps the best foundation for how I deal with anything. You are required to do a lot of things for which you are not necessarily trained. To me, it is the basis why today I can go into a situation with very little lead-in. I call it going into a situation with a “clean sheet of paper.” I apply this ability to capture.
What was your greatest lesson-learned from your experience in the Marines?
Gaskins: Leadership is important - meaning: having the presence of mind and understanding that everyone expects you to have an answer. It’s the reason that I’m not afraid today to make tough decisions - because in the Marine Corps, you make tough decisions all the time. I come across people who agonize making tough decisions. That’s second nature to a Marine.
What did your service as a Marine teach you that helps you in your career as a Capture Executive for Leidos today?
Gaskins: Nearly all of it. Leadership is absolutely critical today in managing large captures. You’re dealing with a lot of unfamiliar people and they expect you to have an answer. I’m used to being the guy in front. When I mentor people, I tell them, "just make a decision."
Also, forecasting and constantly working out “what-if” scenarios is paramount to being a good capture manager. I recently spoke to a friend of mine who was in the Army about this. What do you do before an ambush? We agreed that, if you did everything you were supposed to do, you never get ambushed. Because if you spend a lot of time going through your “what-if,” you put yourself in the mind of an enemy. That way you’re prepared. That’s the same thing you do as a capture manager. I see our industry competitors the way I see my enemies in battle. I think that way all the time. That foundation was given to me as an Infantry officer.
Do you have any parting thoughts on your military career?
Gaskins: I always say this, the thing about being a veteran is that I appreciate everything I ever learned in the Marine Corps. Frankly, had I not gotten a little older, I’d still be in the Marine Corps.
The key to success for the Marine Corps is that they are always developing their talent. The philosophy was that leadership could be wiped out with one attack. A guy like me could be called to lead at any time. And you can’t go to school for that. It was about developing everyone to potentially be in charge at some point. That’s what I really liked. I wish we would do that in corporate, develop everyone, not just a small segment of people. That’s why veterans are so powerful and willing to take on difficult assignments. If I were called back to service today, I’d do it in heartbeat.