Against the Tide, Rickover’s Leadership Principles and the Rise of the Nuclear Navy.
Against the Tide is not a biography or a memoir. It instead discusses the interaction of great personalities and how leadership changed our history. The period is the decades after World War II, when the Soviet Union was an economic, military and emotional threat.
Admiral Rickover’s nuclear submarines were one of the major tools that Presidents successfully used in this fight.
To make these weapons work, Rickover had to overcome the Navy’s strong aversion to change. Specifically, he needed to eliminate the diesel officer submarine community (the same one popularly credited with winning the war just completed in the Pacific), and replace these heroes with young whippersnappers armed with slide rules.
But how was Rickover ever going to infuse his young engineers with the other essential facet of submarining – the bravery it takes to penetrate minefields, ice fields, and reattack under fire? This was the real challenge everyone knew Rickover faced. No one wanted to return to the days of yesteryear. It was not much of a secret that the submarine force had spent the first several years of World War II wallowing in ineffectiveness until the commanders without true steel in their hearts had been weeded out.
As will be recalled in Against the Tide, for a period in the fifties, the nuclear submarine program was excelling, the Air Force space program could not get a missile off the ground and the Army was tied up with enforcing desegregation in Selma, Alabama. By exception, Rickover and nuclear submarines became the National and International poster child of American success. The Admiral was on the cover of Time and Life magazines. For nearly three decades Rickover was one of the most easily recognized military personnel in the world, and goodness knows, he was never loath to give a friendly reporter a quote.
However, time marks even the hardest rock and, after the longest career in the history of the Navy, Rickover was finally forced to retire. Cruelly, he died before the Cold War was won. By that time, his numerous enemies were eager to bury his memory and unwilling to credit his achievements.
Rickover, an essentially private man, never did write an autobiography and never “wasted his time” explaining. As a result, his unique management method, the same one that built and ran a most complex industries has been largely ignored by the business world and generally dismissed (outside the nuclear submarine community). Like the neighborhood butcher in Rickover’s Chicago childhood, this book is an effort to put a thumb on the scale to re-balance history to made sure his good management techniques receive their proper recognition.
Governing America well requires different skills than does running small business, large business, law practices or even working in Congress. Many political appointees in Washington do not do as well as their resumes would forecast. One reason is they lose precious months against a ticking political clock learning the differences. This book of advice draws attention to differences and provides useful suggestions on proven processes.
Why are nuclear submarines so well run and what lessons do they have to apply to entrepreneurial organizations?