On a crisp autumn morning at the Washington Navy Yard, similar to the ones we’re having now, I pulled on the heavy door of the headquarters of the Military Sealift Command (MSC). Only in my mid-twenties, I had, through an odd series of events, found myself the project manager for something called MSC’s “business process reengineering” and MSC’s Chief of Staff, a US Navy Captain, had summoned me to his office. For what, I did not yet know. 

I was at the start of my career and the Captain was nearing the end of his. He was a large man with little patience and a reputation for yelling. I sat nervously in his outer office waiting to be called. When I got ushered in he grunted at me to sit down and after eyeing me for a few minutes, leaned forward and asked, “Son, do you know what we do here?” I started a jumbled response until he raised a hand to stop me. “The United States Navy’s Military Sealift Command replenishes, refuels, and restocks our ships at sea. It ensures that we can project power anywhere around the world, safeguarding freedom of navigation for us and for the world. It is this near singular ability to do so while underway on the world’s great oceans — without having to pull into port — that makes us a superpower. So what I’m trying to tell you, son, is that if you f*** this up, you f*** up the whole goddamn country.”

From that day forward, whenever someone new joined our project, I told them that story. My team called it my “Save the Navy” story. I told them that story because, first, it was true, and second, as a way to impart to them the importance of the work that we did. Even in small things, like business process reengineering or meeting facilitation, we could and should take pride and put in extra effort because our work was in service of this higher purpose.

This season, as the holidays cascade around us and the year comes to a close, I often find myself looking back and setting intentions for the year to come. That meeting in the Captain’s office took place a little over 25 years ago. Throughout this past quarter century, I have always tried to find my version of “Saving the Navy” in whatever work lay in front of me. Today, we confront unprecedented challenges: accelerating climate change, increasing great power competition, growing economic volatility, rising migration, and more. As I consider the year ahead, I’m grateful for many things, including a wife and family that support me and a CollaborateUp team ready to rise to the challenges ahead. 

But perhaps most of all, I’m grateful that at CollaborateUp, we work every day to accelerate the ability of companies, nonprofits, and governments to come together and take on these great challenges of our day. And when my career finally ends, I hope that I will be able to say that we did our part to “save the navy” in ways great and small.

– Richard Crespin, CollaborateUp CEO