From General to CEO: One man’s journey from the battlefield to the boardroom

Mon, 12/23/2013 - 12:47pm
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

I’m proud to work in an industry with such a disproportionately high number of military veterans. Many of our colleagues previously served the nation with honor and distinction, trading ACUs for business suits and M4s for fountain pens. Case in point: Steve Sargeant, CEO of Marvin Test Solutions, formerly a Major General with the United States Air Force.

Marvin Test Solutions has a history of providing vertically integrated test solutions for the military that stretches back to the Army’s Hellfire Missile system in 1992 and includes cutting-edge programs like the F-22 Raptor and the Joint Strike Fighter.

Founded as Geotest in 1988, MTS has a longstanding relationship with the military, so the test provider was a natural fit for Maj Gen Sargeant, who’d worked extensively with many of the systems — including the A-10, F-16, and F-35 — supported by Marvin.

Back in 2000, Sargeant was wing commander at Luke AFB while the Joint Strike Fighter was being prototyped, and he supervised the community’s JSF efforts and built lasting relationships — that would serve him later in his career — with many of the leaders of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and the F-35 JSF Joint Program Office.

He also established the first flying training squadron for the F-22 Raptor — the “premier air-superiority fighter” — at the Air Education and Command Headquarters in Texas. Most recently, he served as the Commander of the Air Force Operations Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC) at Kirkland AFB in New Mexico, where he reported directly to the Air Force Chief of Staff regarding the status of more than 76 major programs, including the Joint Strike Fighter.
Sargeant was responsible for equipment valued at more than $650 million and ensured that the JSF would be ready for operational test and evaluation and initial delivery to the various military services.

But this was merely the apex of a storied military career, with over 20 years of senior executive experience in all aspects of aerospace operations and testing and more than 3,100 flying hours in aircraft ranging from the A-10 “Warthog” to the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

And he has the coolest military surname of all time. But that’s another story.

Sargeant was born in Defiance, Ohio and earned his commission from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1978 (precluding any hope for the legendary moniker “Sergeant Sargeant”). He received his degree in National Security, an International Affairs track. Over the course of his career, he’d also earn a master’s degree in business administration-aviation and a master’s degree in aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle University.

His first command was as Commandant of USAF Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base. Weapons School (the Air Force equivalent to the Navy’s “Top Gun” program) provides a comprehensive masters-level education in tactics and weaponry, and under Sargeant’s tenure, they expanded the curriculum to include the Space, Search and Rescue, and C-130 communities.

I asked Sargeant about his time at Weapons School, in particular, and he said it “was a wonderful opportunity to go lead and learn about the other warfighting communities beyond the ones I had flown in.”

“By learning their craft, and the craft of their fellow war fighters, the students were better-prepared to be more effective warfighters in future operations,” he said.

Much like the Navy’s “Top Gun” course, graduates of the USAF Weapons School become surrogate instructors in their own squadrons.

Sargeant deployed a number of times throughout his 34 years of distinguished service to our nation. His first assignment was in England at Royal Air Force Base at Bentwaters. He flew the A-10 Warthog in what was, at the time, the largest fighter wing of the United States Air Force.

He travelled throughout Europe and was deployed on a permanent basis to Kunsan Air Base in South Korea twice over seven years, including a stint as wing commander. Sargeant would return to the Korean peninsula numerous times throughout his career.

During Operation Desert Shield/Storm, North Korea’s “Great Leader,” Kim Il-sung, was thumping his chest and rattling his saber, and Sargeant was the operations officer in one of only two operational F-16 squadrons in South Korea (Osan AFB) at that time.

Sargeant would also serve as the Deputy Chief of Staff for the United Nations Command and U.S. Forces Korea at Yongsan Army Garrison, South Korea.

More recently, he deployed briefly in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (aka, Afghanistan) and became the first Air Force general officer deployed on the ground in Iraq during an 18-month tour in Baghdad.
Sargeant’s impressive military career spanned more than three decades, and he answered our nation’s call during some of the most profound affairs of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Our discussions also yielded fascinating insights on the future of aerial warfare.

Asked about the expanding role of unmanned aerial vehicles, Sargeant noted that UAV have already replaced manned aircraft in many of the traditional reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence missions. However, he was quick to point out that these unmanned aerial vehicles are still flown and maintained by people from the ground. (The Air Force generally prefers the term “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles”, or UAV, over “drones” because the latter doesn’t do justice to the vital human element.)

In June of 2012, Sargeant retired from the U.S. Air Force with the rank of Major General and used his extensive leadership experience to become the Chief Executive Officer of Marvin Test Solutions (MTS) and Vice President for Strategic Development for The Marvin Group.

In that role, Sargeant focuses on modernizing armament test equipment for legacy aircraft (like the F-22) and ensuring the Joint Strike Fighter is ready for operational test and evaluation.
But for all his success in the private sector, Sargeant has never forgot his service to our nation. The former General reflected back on his military career:

“The thing I liked most was meeting challenging missions with outstanding people. There was an ever-present positive attitude. The level of responsibility for the people and the mission, and the friendships you make in service, go hand in hand.”


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