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Booz Allen principal recognizes importance of business in military

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He might not wear a uniform anymore, but retired Vice Adm. Tim LaFleur still uses the skills he perfected during 35 years in the Navy to continue his service.

After only a few weeks in retirement more than four years ago, LaFleur accepted a position at Booz Allen Hamilton. He intended to take more time off, but the firm made him an offer he couldn't refuse, and he knew the company's philosophy aligned well with his own.

"They are a great company and they have the right spirit of service to clients, service to country and service to community that I really like, so it seemed to be a great fit," he said.

"I enjoy that our client here in San Diego is predominantly the Navy," he said. "I think I can still add value to what the Navy is doing."

As a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton, LaFleur helps different entities find more efficient ways of meeting their goals. He first worked with what he calls the "metal benders," or people who provide products to the Navy. He then worked with the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, followed by work in the realm of maritime domain awareness, the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) and finally a piece of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) headquarters account.

In the Navy, LaFleur moved to a new position every few years. He didn't always walk in knowing all the ins and outs of the job, but he did know how to lead. A strong network of people under him could help with the technical aspects as the learned the ropes. And he could orchestrate the bigger picture.

LaFleur can look at a situation, see the problem, identify the end point, and determine the best way to reach that goal.

"That's always one of my strengths, I guess," he said. "I can see how the dots should connect."

That same concept applies to his work now. When he was working with BUMED, he knew nothing about medicine. But he did know what people needed, how to manage and how to affect real change.

And he knows that sometimes, a different perspective can be the best solution.

"Sometimes it takes an outsider to help people who are so deep in their jobs," he said. "They need another set of eyes to say, 'Have you thought about this? I'm kind of good at asking those kinds of questions."

He's also good at looking at a situation from a business angle -- another important trait in his new job that he developed in the service.

During his last couple years in uniform, LaFleur began the process of looking at the Navy from a business perspective. There was a great deal of resistance to what is now called Navy Enterprise. There were those who argued they joined the Navy to defend the country, not to be part of a business, LaFleur said.

"However, as a tax-paying citizen, we all want to make sure were getting our money's worth for defense," he said. "When you're building a house or buying a car, if you're going to spend a little more money, you want to make sure you're getting a little more car or a little more house for it."

With Enterprise, it was about balancing output and cost, he said. When it came to ships being prepared for missions, officials had to determine how much it would cost to get everyone trained and prepared.

In the end, they realized that reducing the number of steaming days per month from 29 to 26 would "save this big chunk of money" without compromising preparedness.

Reducing personnel also became a viable business option. Eliminating outdated rates and replacing underutilized positions with contractors improved the efficiency of the Navy while saving significant amounts of money in the long run, LaFleur said.

He also was instrumental in bringing the Littoral Combat Ship to the Navy. The newest warship incorporates the necessary capabilities on a less expensive platform that requires fewer operators.

"We headed down the LCS road because it was an adaptable ship, it was going to be minimum manned, all of the smart technologies build in, so we could not have a lot of people on the ship and still be able to do a lot of stuff," he said. "It would have everything an Aegis cruiser would, but it wouldn't cost $5 billion."

And the LCS will utilize a version of Sea Swap, an approach to manning ships in which the ships remains at sea and a new crew is flown in to take over the mission. LaFleur tested Sea Swap while in command of Naval Surface Forces and was pleased with the results that indicated better maintenance of the ship and its equipment as well as increased efficiency and reduced costs.

On the LCS, the core crew will swap out every four months with different detachments joining them to operate the capabilities on board at any given time. The LCS uses modular design to swap out equipment depending on the ship's mission.

All of these efforts gave LaFleur experience of looking at situations from a business perspective. He had to weigh the costs and benefits of every aspect and find the right compromises between the two.

At Booz Allen Hamilton, he can look at his clients' situations and bring that same perspective. His Navy background helps him understand the Navy's needs and capabilities to come to the best solution.

He learned that problem solving and analytical process in the Navy and now can apply it in his civilian job.

"I like to think that even in the Navy, at whatever level, when you're a division officer, you have a set of problems you have to solve," he said. "Some are people problems, some are maintenance problems, some are logistics problems, some are training problems for your division. Then you move up to be a department head and again you're solving problems but on a different scale.

"I've been trained to be a problem solver, and that's what Booz Allen does. We solve problems for our clients."

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