With over 40 years in the security and defence industry, Nigel Greenwood began his journey in this field by attending the Royal Roads Military College. Here he pursued a degree in Physics and Physical Oceanography and then started his career as a sea-going officer moving all the way up to the rank of Rear-Admiral.
“At mid-career, momentarily despondent at my chances for command, I wrote and passed exams for a civil certificate as Master Mariner,” Greenwood said. After retiring, he decided to leverage this qualification to pursue work in the civil maritime field, consulting in risk assessments and also practical ice navigation. He said that nonetheless, his experience and continuing interest in defence matters have resulted in an eclectic mix of civil and military consulting jobs for Greenwood Maritime Solutions Ltd.
What is your current role?
After a privileged final few years in the RCN as a senior officer with platoon of staff, I find that I am now “it”. I am everything the business needs, from business development to accounting to licking stamps! However, I have a full roster of talented associates, with specialist expertise in naval architecture, computer programming, marine biology, emergency management, and (of course) naval operations. My principal job is really scoping and estimating jobs and then coordinating these diverse team members to deliver what the client needs. What I find most engaging is devising methodologies to address unique risk-assessment or analytical requirements.
What was your most challenging moment?
Getting quickly out of my depth. I undertook a job that was not as straight-forward as I anticipated, and so I had to develop an approach that involved building a computer simulation to generate data. I am not a computer geek and my first-year college course in Fortran was a thin foundation to start with, so the project was fraught with massive over-runs of effort on my part. In the end it was a great success and fully validated my approach, but it did teach me not to assume too casually that the problem is straightforward.
What was your aha moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our reader, tell us that story?
I am still learning, and have revelations on almost every project. The one thing that sticks with me, however, is the requirement to have a detailed conversation with the client at the start of a project. I often have to address a Request for Proposal without the chance to interface directly with the client before winning the contract. I do my best to meet the perceived requirement in a competitive manner, but “maintaining the aim” throughout the project requires that I really understand the expectation better than is usually expressed in the RFP. A couple of false starts have taught me to be very sure that there is no miscommunication at the beginning of a project.
What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?
Variety. I am always invigorated by the prospect of a new job, a fresh challenge, the prospect of helping a client both define and solve a problem. I love the challenge of competing for a new job – of finding the perfect win-win proposal for the client and myself. Applying a range of skills to a new problem, developing a new methodology, is particularly rewarding. Today, I am especially charged up by the prospect of a totally new experience – travelling to Africa for the first time to join a ship as ice-navigator bound for northern Baffin Island and three round trips to European ports with iron ore. Not only is this practical work personally rewarding, but it enables me to make practical sense of some of the more extreme views of the Arctic being touted in the media.
What is the best advice you received?
I don’t know if it was ever actually articulated in this way, but it would have to do with “keep your options open” and “stay interested and engaged.” I believe that luck comes to those who are prepared to exploit success. I credit my parents with insisting I stick with a full and varied academic, extracurricular and social programme. This gave me a solid basis of education and qualifications to pursue a wide range of opportunities as they arose over the years. Perseverance is primary.
What habit contributes to your success?
Listening to others. [My wife Deborah says this is still a work in progress]. It is too easy to launch into a project with a fully formed notion of how to conduct it. To a certain extent, I have to do this to generate the right focus and momentum at the beginning of a project. But team members bring valuable insights and can frequently identify key issues not immediately apparent to me. I try to keep myself open to suggestions as we progress.
What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset?
I cannot cite a particular person or organization, but two sectors of scientific and commercial innovation that I find fascinating are simulation and geographic information systems (GIS) applications. I have some experience in marine navigation simulation use for training, and I am continually impressed at recent advances and the role that simulation is playing in project development and risk assessment. Similarly, the rapid evolution of GIS and the electronic manipulation of spatial data for navigation and statistical analysis is a field of incredible and impressive innovation.
How is your company changing the game within your industry sector?
We are a very small business, early in our development. It would be fanciful to imagine that we are having a large impact, and what impact we do have is currently spread across a number of domains – civil maritime and naval operations, and civic emergency preparedness. However, I think we have had some notable successes in applying our military and business skills and analytical problem-solving experience to deliver practical solutions and useful results in both military and civil applications.
What are the biggest impediments to innovation in your industry sector?
I am not sure I have a good answer for this. It varies from project to project. In some cases, I find that clients hire me because I can provide a reasoned and logical risk-assessment/analysis that breaks a log-jam of resistance to change within their own organizations.
How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture and how is it being optimized?
This is easy enough to do as we (GMSL) are small enough to talk through issues directly, both between ourselves and with clients. I try to adopt an open attitude to new approaches and encourage this among my colleagues. But every project is a fresh challenge, so we do not have time to get formulaic in our methodologies.
What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?
As a varied consultancy, it is hard to identify any particular factors that most impact GMSL. The winds and currents are continually shifting, and we trim our sails to make headway in a direction that looks most interesting at the time. For me, this is more like coast-crawling than oceanic racing! At the same time, I do have a competitive streak and enjoy the chase. What GMSL brings to the quickly changing business environment of consulting is a wide variety of different expertise, an ingrained habit of collaboration, and a collective ability to quickly map out a project plan or campaign. This enables us to leverage flexibility to meet any of the changing conditions we meet.
What is your parting piece of advice?
To younger readers of Vanguard, I would say: Don’t sweat progression and promotion. Just suck up the experience; it is all an investment in the future. And be ready for the call when it comes.