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Wings of Gold: Leadership and Management

Boland's advice: Don't break backs on your way up

Editor's note: In honor of the centennial celebration of naval aviation, The Daily Transcript will be running a series of articles focusing on naval aviators and their leadership and management skills. The following is another article in the series.


I say to businessmen looking for talent: Don’t overlook those who’ve retired out of the military. They bring a tremendous amount of expertise and can really make your company shine.”

During his tenure in the U.S. Navy, Bruce Boland, rear admiral (Ret.), served in locations around the world. Since his retirement in 1987, he’s applied his military skills to supporting San Diego, from the private, to government, to community sectors.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but being in the Navy 34 years gave me a lot of skills to translate into the civilian world,” Boland said. “Also, San Diego has been very good to me and my family, and I felt that I should pay back. As I got older, I more and more realized the importance of giving back to the community either as a volunteer or as an employee.”

Bruce Boland

Following his more than three-decade career in the Navy, Boland’s first nonmilitary roles were for the county. He became deputy chief administrative officer and later the director of the Department of Public Works for San Diego County. Boland was then appointed as United Way San Diego’s president and CEO for a six-year stint and currently serves on the board of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, a post that directly bridges his Navy aviator and organizational expertise.

“Aviation has always been a big part of my life, and I feel that with the experience that I bring from senior military positions, such as being able to look at the broad picture, being on the airport board has been a good blend,” Boland said. “I think I am contributing and that I’ve been able to take complex issues and break them down as well as make good decisions when I’m asked to.”

Boland’s interest in flying stems in part from his father’s Navy service during World War II. When Boland received his draft notice in 1953, he enlisted in the Naval Aviation Cadet program and felt drawn to continue after his initial four years of service. Boland commanded Fighter Squadron 24 during the Vietnam War and then served on the staff of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe in Casteau, Belgium, as a special assistant. Following that assignment, he was appointed deputy chief of staff and director of operations for U.S. Naval Forces Europe headquartered in London.

When Boland returned to San Diego in 1983, he took over the Navy’s amphibious group in the Pacific and oversaw more than 30 ships. His Navy career culminated in 1985 with his appointment as the Navy’s regional commander in San Diego and San Francisco, where he represented the Navy in the political sphere. He got to learn the ropes of local politics, knowledge he’s since used in his subsequent city and county roles.

“My two staff tours in Europe broadened my view of the world and my experience in management and finance,” Boland said. “Interestingly enough, though, when the CAO of the county asked me to join him, I said I have no experience in government. He pointed out my skills in management, finance and large-scale personnel issues, and when I did become director of Public Works I had a combined budget over half-million dollars that I was able to manage well. My experience in human relations and human resources also helped tremendously.”

Bruce Boland seen in this photo during his days as commander of Fighter Squadron 24 during the Vietnam War.
Photo courtesy of Capt. Dick Cavicke, USN (ret)

This ability to manage and motivate people is rooted in Boland’s belief in the principles of integrity and honor, which are inherent in the military’s philosophy. Boland cites his role in helping those who came up behind him to be successful as one of his proudest accomplishments.

“You’re always going to have people who excel better than others, but I always say you should work hard but don’t trample over them. You can do well, but you must make sure you don’t do things to put others down. For me, that’s very important,” Boland said. “I used to say jokingly, ‘Don’t excel over the broken backs of your associates.’”

That spirit of positive management has continued for Boland in his side passion for coaching former military personnel as they make the transition to the private work force. Via lectures and interviews, he helps translate the array of skills learned in the armed forces to work in the private and government arenas.

“I tell people they won’t have any problem getting a position. What they have to do is understand how to transition their expertise in the military to helping out the community. You can rattle off people who’ve been successful in military that continue to be successful in the civilian workforce, too. There are people now that are former naval aviators and officers that are now CEOs of major corporations here in San Diego,” Boland said.

And Boland knows firsthand the value of the vision and disciplined work ethic found in those who’ve been in the armed forces.

“I say to businessmen looking for talent: Don’t overlook those who’ve retired out of the military,” he said. “They bring a tremendous amount of expertise and can really make your company shine.”

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