ASQ’s new chief executive officer, Bill Troy, has led operations all over the globe – from Alaska to Texas, from Germany to Saudi Arabia, and even in Iraq.
Troy, who took command of Milwaukee-based ASQ in April, is a retired three-star general with a military career spanning 38 years, during part of which he was responsible for the safety and success of thousands of soldiers and the welfare of their family members.
At the height of his career in the U.S. Army, Troy was nominated by President Barack Obama, and subsequently confirmed by the U.S. Senate, to serve the country as a lieutenant general.
“You don’t so much achieve it as you’re selected for it,” Troy said about his military appointment. “And it’s a really special thing. Of course, you have to be nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate…that’s all very real. It’s not just a rubber stamp.”
Now, after being selected to succeed former ASQ CEO Paul Borawski, Troy has set up a base in the organization’s downtown headquarters, where he is applying many of the leadership and teamwork skills he polished in the Army.
“It’s no different here at ASQ or elsewhere in civilian life – the sense of teamwork is really important, and the ability to build teams is something that I think is very applicable, as applicable in civilian life as it is in the military,” Troy said.
Rising through the ranks
Troy entered the military at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1975 with a bachelor of science degree in history. He moved to the academy in his native New York from his family’s home in Racine, where they relocated while he was in high school.
“This is the first time I’ve ever come back (to live),” Troy said.
His decision to pursue a military career largely stemmed from his late father’s service in the Navy. His father, William John Troy, served in World War II.
“As I was growing up, I heard a lot about the Navy,” Troy said. “It was…a big thing for him. And I think that’s how I got interested in the military…hearing him discuss it. He loved his time serving in the Navy.”
Out of the seven children in the Troy family, Bill was the only one to follow his father’s path into the military.
Shortly after graduating from West Point, where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in infantry, he served as a paratrooper with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, a division he describes as a very distinguished unit.
During a separate assignment with the 3rd Armored Division from 1980 to 1983, Troy served as an officer in an area between Frankfurt and Fulda in West Germany during the Cold War.
Later in his career, he returned to the 82nd Airborne Division as a major, and was active in the Gulf War.
Troy’s list of military accomplishments is extensive. Among his other military highlights are his tour as a battalion command at Fort Hood in Texas beginning in the early 1990s, his 2004 promotion to brigadier general during the Iraq War, his 2007 promotion to major general, his assignment as commanding general of U.S. Army Alaska starting in 2009 and four individual tours at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
He was even in the Pentagon during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
That morning, Troy, a colonel on his second Pentagon tour, was sitting in a typical meeting when the explosion from the plane’s impact rocked the building and propelled him from the table to the side of the room.
Upon evacuating the Pentagon, Troy remembers seeing a “hellacious fire” and what looked like a chunk of the Pentagon just gone.
Immediately, he and the military and civilian staff at the Pentagon reverted to military training, setting up casualty collection points, carrying stretchers and tending to emergency needs.
“There was no panic,” Troy said. “It was all very orderly.”
His appointment to lieutenant general came in 2010, when he also became director of the Army staff in the Pentagon. In that capacity, Troy worked directly for the Army chief of staff and the secretary of the Army, headed a staff of thousands of military personnel and civilians, and assisted with management of a $5 billion budget.
A love of service
Troy says he never set out to rise up the ranks to three-star general status, but instead aspired to become a battalion commander, a kind of leader who has a relationship with every officer under his command.
“As a young officer, I really looked up to my battalion commanders,” Troy said. “I had some really, really good leaders in the Army, and I wanted to be like them. I wanted to emulate them.”
His long-term military career emerged from his deep-seated love of the Army.
“I loved the idea of serving your country,” he said. “I loved working with the soldiers. They come from all walks of life, and they have their own individual aspirations (and) hopes. But the vast majority of them really want to do their best and…if they’re well led will do anything that you ask of them.”
Troy’s passion for the military was also largely fed by the friendships he made while serving, as he lived out his career alongside friends, completed assignments with them and watched their families grow alongside his. Some of those relationships extend back to Troy’s days at West Point.
“You really develop these very, very close friendships that are just a blessing in your life,” he said. “I just can’t put it any other way.”
Troy retired from the Army about a year ago, knowing that the position of four-star general wasn’t in his future. And after close to four decades in the military, it was time for a transition, he said.
“I felt like I wanted to be able to make a contribution somewhere and use some of the things that I learned in the military,” Troy said. “And I felt like being in a leadership role would be something that I could do.”
Generals on the cusp of retirement often become consultants or try to find a corporate position in the defense sector, Troy said.
“For me, I like working with people,” said Troy, who learned about ASQ through the outreach of a recruiter. “I like the team aspect, and so I thought that (the corporate route) was a better fit for me.”
And he was confident that he could apply many of his leadership skillsets from the Army at the helm of ASQ.
“What I’ve seen, and I think it’s true, is that in terms of leadership, management and strategy there’s a very good carryover from the military into civilian life,” Troy said. “Especially in those three areas.”
From the battlefield to the boardroom
Scribbled across part of the whiteboard in Troy’s corner office is a list of five strategic questions he has transferred from the military to his new corporate environment:
- Hidden assumptions?
- Theory of victory?
- Can I accomplish everything?
- Am I doing things that are outside of my strategy?
- Have I left enough time to wargame?
Troy has spent years studying military and national security strategy, but contends that the principles of strategy are very applicable across sectors.
Strategy is the plan behind how to get from where you are to where you want to be, Troy said, and “you’ve got to lay out steps that are achievable and can be measured.”
The principles of leadership and management equally transcend the military, according to Troy, as both military units and civilian operations depend on strong leadership to build dependable teams and effective systems.
“The military is based on high standards, objective measurement for achieving those standards, and using resources efficiently,” he said. “All of those things are very applicable to the civilian world, too, whether it’s corporate or nonprofit. You still need the same things. We need them here at ASQ. Every corporation needs to have systems that work.”
Troy also has guided the organization through a process the military refers to as “AAR,” or after-action review. Through AARs, teams reflect on the execution of their plans to analyze how well they performed and in what ways they might improve.
In ASQ’s case, the organization completed an AAR on the world conference it held in Dallas in May to gain a better sense of both its successes and its shortcomings.
As Troy has settled into the life of a corporate executive, he has inherited an organizational climate that he says is very positive and open with a “very supportive” and “very welcoming” staff.
“I followed a really wonderful leader in Paul Borawski,” Troy said.
However, Troy has made his fair share of adjustments, including addressing colleagues on a first-name basis and assembling a new wardrobe.
“You have to figure out what to wear in the morning, something the Army gives you a lot of help with,” he said, adding that his wife of 36 years, Paula, deserves the credit in helping him adapt.