“You see, you learn, you adjust.”

As a Marine Captain with experience in the Middle East, East Asia, and Afghanistan, Rob Casper has learned to learn from mistakes. “When I went into the Philippines, I had what I thought was a brilliant plan for teaching patrol skills to a platoon of Philippine Marines. I was very proud of it,” Rob says, “and it turns out I was completely wrong. We were supposed to shadow them in the field, give them pointers, but within minutes, they had completely melted into the jungle – I had totally underestimated their ability. In fact, they were better than we were.”

Rob paused to reassess his mission. “I stopped the patrol after an hour and huddled with my squad leader. How can we add value here? What can we help them with?” We abandoned the patrol plan, broke out the heavy machine guns, and called in some helicopters, things our Philippine colleagues had no previous experience with. My Marines were able to instruct them, and they were able to learn new operational capabilities. The lesson? You see, you learn, you adjust.”

Long-term leadership

Rob found leadership so rewarding he looked for a way “to do it longer, not just in short command stints. Business is a good extension of my experience, a creative way to build things by helping others become better and more efficient.”

Making the transition from Marines to MBA is not always easy. “I’d never taken an accounting class before,” Rob says. “But the summer Analytics Program is hugely helpful – I suspect it would help every vet coming to HBS. And I really appreciate the veteran community on campus, a great group of people with similar experiences. We’re struggling through it together, we help each other out.”

Often teamwork means leadership in entirely unexpected venues. Rob’s FIELD 2 experience put him on an all-male team, in Shanghai, helping a client with…women’s facial cream. “I had no idea what I was doing. None of us knew what we were doing. We were constantly on the phone with our sisters, friends, girlfriends, trying to understand what customers thought.” In the end, humility may have saved the day. “We went through four different product ideas, then dropped them,” Rob says. “Our big idea, which the client liked, was a video game application that would appeal to the right people: adolescent girls.”