From Special Forces To Founder: Five Questions With Peter Winnall

Pete is a father, husband and entrepreneur. He’s a mechanical engineer by training and holds an MBA. He also happens to be a former Squadron Commander in the Australian Special Air Service. Pete is a friend and colleague and we spoke last week about his new venture Recon Leadership. If you’re in Sydney in September, Pete will be leading Recon Leadership’s flagship course, Leading Through Uncertainty — see link below.

We met during our time at business school. What was the motivation for you to do an MBA?

There were a number of drivers but the key one was recognition that I didn’t understand the language of business or how to apply the skills and experience I gained from my time in the military. The MBA was a way to bridge this gap.

Your first civilian job was with Bain & Company, a global tier one management consulting firm. What capabilities were you able to leverage in management consulting that came from your time in the military?

I think the reality for all military members is that transitioning will always be a bit of a shock. I was very lucky in that Bain is a very supportive culture and one that invests heavily in training its people. As a result I was privileged to have many people help me climb the steep learning curve. Once I got my head around the language and terminology it was a lot of fun. At the end of the day in the military we solve problems and the work at Bain was no different. There were a number of new tools and the problems were a bit different but my military experience was very relevant. More so than you would think.

We both know many former members of the military who have made an outstanding transitions to lead and grow companies or work in not-for-profits and government. What’s your advice to those thinking about separating from the military and reinventing themselves professionally?

The first piece of advice is you need to be able to communicate in a way that means something to business in order to really effectively leverage the problem solving and decision making skills we learn in the military. Therefore I would recommend investing in educating yourself in the area of business you want to go into beforehand as it will make the transition easier.

Secondly, make sure you don’t throw your military experience out with the bath water. It is very relevant but you need to be able to communicate it in a way that is relevant to business.

Finally it is important to recognise that there will be a learning curve and be humble in your approach to learning new ways of doing things. There are some amazing leaders, problem solvers and just all round outstanding people doing amazing things in the world, be open to the idea that they have lots to offer and be prepared to learn, adapt and grow.

Let’s turn to your new venture, Recon Leadership. What’s the problem your solving with this venture?

My experience at Bain showed me that often the issues we were trying to solve were as much about leadership as they were about trying to make sense of a difficult situation. In a number of cases effective leadership would have solved the problem or made sure it didn’t start in the first place. When I talk about leadership though I believe it entails three things: knowing the fundamentals, knowing how to plan effectively, and knowing how to communicate the plan. I often ask people in business “How do you Plan?” It amazes me that people don’t know how to plan. Similarly the only way to cut through the noise sometimes is through effective communication; however, people do not know the essential elements required to communicate a task. What I provide is a number of very simple, practical and intuitive tools to change mindsets and build capability in these three areas.

What could someone participating in a Recon Leadership course expect to get out of it?

The confidence and knowledge to lead in chaotic, complex or complicated environments using simple, practical, and intuitive tools combining all the best bits from military special forces and from business. All this taught in an enjoyable and experiential learning environment.

You can continue the conversation with Pete here.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post, you could hit that little heart and sign up here to receive posts like this in your inbox, every week.