Thrive Global Interview with Ben Ari

Original from Thrive Global

Allen Maxwell: “Seek, identify, and appreciate your mentors”

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Allen Maxwell.

San Diego, CA…Humble upbringings did not deter Allen Maxwell from an incredible and dynamic global journey in the Navy and later in the private sector as a defense contractor.

While navigating complex dynamics in both worlds, he developed the Rules of the System,, that would be critical to survive challenging circumstances such as serving in the Philippines amid political unrest, a near death collision on the USS Kinkaid, and a devious internal plan to usurp his leadership in Guantanamo Bay.

As a businessman, he lost millions, saw the underbelly of politics, and steadfastly gained back his prosperity with a new insight on his allies.

He came to resolutely know that while the system can be unforgiving, nothing is personal. With the right Rules of the System to follow, you will win. He has done so.

Allen has opened up his valuable vault of knowledge and brought his extraordinary story and the Rules of the System to you.

He gives testimony and credit to not just the people who lifted him up and guided him, but even the folks who caused him turmoil and trouble. Without them, he would not have seen the path to a better life. We can all learn from Allen Maxwell.

The System is Unforgiving: Play by the Rules and Win, published by A Story Inside Books, 19.99 dollars hardcover, 8.49 dollars eBook, is a must-have book for those young and old. Regardless of your circumstances, if you apply Allen’s rules to all aspects of your life, you will succeed in the face of any opposition.

Allen also volunteers as the Chief Financial Officer for a non-profit organization that mentors students. Ensuring they graduate from college is one of its focus points. In a different focus, they mentor foster youth who are exiting the program. He is Treasurer for the American Legion Riders Group, a 32nd Degree Twice Past Master Mason, and an active Deacon at Mt. Erie Baptist Church in San Diego, California.

A resident of San Diego, CA for 43 years, Allen runs Omni2Max, a defense contractor, and has been happily married to his wife, Diane for 36 years. They have two grown daughters, Daphane and Ashley.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

With all of the situations I have experienced in life, I felt that after all I’ve been through, if I shared, it may assist others.

I was raised on the streets of Philadelphia and in the backwoods of Georgia and knew that to make a life, I had to leave. After 22 years stationed all around the world and I reached the rank of a Chief Warrant Officer Three in the U.S. Navy and retired, I entered a new career as an Aero-Space Engineer at the Space and Naval Warfare Command in San Diego, CA. Now I run Omni2Max, a successful defense contractor business with 100 employees in nine states which supports the federal government.

While I grew up poor and black in a time of civil unrest, I was blessed that I found mentors throughout my life to help me course correct to the right environment that could bring me to ultimate success.

All too often, people are afraid to go against their parent’s principles, and this mindset holds them back from following a new path holding far more promise than the life their parents led. But I realized that life is an unforgiving system and the world my dad grew up in is not the same world I was growing up in. Doing things differently than your parents did is not being disrespectful to them. It is deciding to adapt to your current circumstances.

We have choices in life. Know who and what you want to be. If you are not clear with your direction, then you won’t know how to orchestrate step one to building a life foundation. The system will swallow you up if you do not have a vigilant eye on the players.

Many times, I was faced with the choice to fight, give up or be strategic. As time went on, I chose strategic. No matter what place you are in right now, even if it feels like a crazy environment you can’t change, you can be strategic. You can seek proper mentorships to help you navigate to a new system. An increased acumen for awareness helped me identify various types of people, as well as the good fortune to have a mother and grandmother who saw trouble and pushed me away from it.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

All my talk about the Rules of the System and the awareness and understanding of the system, would be ultimately tested in Cuba. What I know and understand is how “Life gives you the test first and then the lesson.”

This means we are tested every day of our life. There are simple choices we have to make, and then there are complex decisions we have to make. We either reap the benefits of our decision or suffer the consequences.

Guantanamo Bay was my first Duty station as a naval officer. The transition was swift. I was an enlisted Chief Petty Officer being responsible for only a division of sailors one day, and the next day a naval officer now responsible as a major Department Head. Because I was a major department head, all of my colleagues were more senior officers than I — Navy captains, commanders and Lieutenant Commanders. I was a Chief Warrant Officer. All my years of experience as a Chief Petty Officer, I had no commissioned officer experience, but I had to perform at their level with no senior executive training and with no real senior executive experience. One thing the Navy teaches you is to survey the area you’re responsible for as a naval officer. I already had this Rule of the System to survey the environment from my collective life experiences. In the Navy, when you get assigned to a new duty station you’re required to walk in and within days become the resident expert. The only way you’re going to do that is if in your first few days your immediate action is to survey the environment to see who’s who. Again, this is very critical because you’re seeking acceptance and buy — in from the powers that be. It is critical to pay attention to this because your first three months in a new environment are your defining months. Then you operate in that space professionally.

My tour in Gitmo brought about new thoughts about how deviant individuals can be. I survived the tour but learned a great life lesson.

My first introduction to Cuba was doing my turnover with the prior Ordnance Officer. He drove me around, showing me the territory I would now be responsible for and the level of responsibility I would have, which increased a hundredfold. I was now responsible for over half of the base because half the base had bombs, bullets, mines and other explosive weaponry on it (ordnance). We had active minefields around the base. We had nine different organizations or other commands we call tenant commands. I was responsible for their weapons and ammunition. There were the Marine guards that were leeward and windward that I was responsible for as well. As the former Ordnance Officer took me around, I saw some troubling things. Our first stop was at 10 A.M. to see my Senior Chief of the division on the bay fishing, knowing I was his new boss checking in. The kind of lack of responsibility was my introduction to him. Seeing this on my first day did not go over very well with me.

My next visit was the ordnance garage, where my Quality Assurance Safety Officer resides; he was in charge of this area. He was sitting around with other officers like this was the local hang-out lounge. I went into his office only to find that the file cabinets were full of alcohol, one file cabinet had all your bourbons, another had all your gins and so forth and so on. I looked in the refrigerator; I see beer and wine coolers and wine. This location is for vehicle maintenance and temporary park ordnance Leyden Vehicles. This situation I witnessed didn’t sit well with me either. This group used this space as a little getaway, not realizing what they were jeopardizing with the potential of so many bombs being in this location. The criticality of the explosive ordnance garage was for planning work that was going on in this space and the movement of weapons. Drinking and carrying on in a very hazardous location was not a good idea. I also learned that the Executive Officer was using the garage as his personal painting booth. He and the Quality Safety Officer were painting cars and selling them for profit using military equipment to do this action. This is directly against the law. I could not believe they were running a car painting business out of the military ordnance garage.

My department was comprised of three divisions, a division of Jamaicans, a division of Gunner’s mates and a division of Aviation Ordnance men. I had a very large Department, and the most interesting aspect of my department was it was about 97% African American. This was the first experience I’ve ever had in my life working with so many of my own kind. I also was introduced to the base HR Director who I learned was having an affair with the QA Safety Officer. After my first day, I went home, shaking my head, wondering what I had got myself into. I knew this duty station was going to be a challenge, but I had no idea how much of a challenge it was going to be.

I went to what I know for dealing with all these dysfunctions; The Rules of the System. My first step was to have a meeting with the Commanding Officer and to give him a report on what I saw. I had to do that in order to establish a baseline of where I was and where I needed to go, and find out if he was going to support my efforts. I needed to know if I could trust his mentorship. I knew the Executive Officer who was the ringleader of the little group that hung out at the ordnance garage was not going to support me. I had to understand the support I would receive when navigating through the system. If I didn’t have the Commanding Officer’s endorsement. It would be very difficult for me to make it through the system against the Executive Officer. Having the Commanding Officer’s support would bode well for me to achieve what I needed in my position. I identified and knew the players. If you have a player who is not on your side, you need to understand how to navigate around them to not let them torpedo your efforts.

To make matters worse, the Executive Director was a redneck out of Alabama who, after thirty-five years of service in the Navy, was still a racist. My first-hand experience living in Georgia and seeing how people like him act informed me of this fact. I was astonished and blown away that he had been in the military as long as he had been and still carried out these types of biases. I quickly recognized him for who he was, and I separated myself from him. I also learned that he and the QA Safety Officer were best friends. After I let the Commanding Officer also know what I saw with my turnover, seeing my Senior Chief on the fishing creek and seeing a bunch of alcohol at the ordnance garage, I let him know why I needed his support. He trusted me right off the bat. I took a gamble because he was new and I was new, and maybe he had heard some of the stories about Guantanamo Bay.

My first act of duty was to shut down the ordnance garage. When I did that, I made instant enemies of the crew that hung out there. That was fine by me because I knew I had a job to do and I knew if something happened all the responsibility would fall on my shoulders. I took on that responsibility. The Executive Officer was extremely upset with me because I didn’t allow his friend to do what he wanted to do. At one point, he pulled me aside and threatened me and told me I had better leave this guy alone.

“Who does that guy work for?” I asked him.

“You, of course,” he said.

“Well I won’t be leaving him alone then,” was my reply.

That really got him upset, and I knew from that point forth he was not a friend of mine. Luckily, through my smart communication using the system, the Commanding Officer liked me.

The group of people I befriended was the Staff Judge Advocate and the entire legal team on the base. Rule of the System #10 applied immensely here: Be discerning about whom you trust with your ambitions. I also made friends in the personnel office, at the base of operations, and the Operations Officer. All these people were key individuals to know. I learned that the Admin Officer was a friend of the Executive Officer and also was a team member of the crew that hung out in the ordnance garage. This situation was getting very interesting and exciting because I knew I was walking into a figurative minefield and knew my career could potentially suffer from my actions, so I walked the line very carefully.

I got my entire department together and laid down the laws on what my expectations were. I made it very clear I did not like lazy people. If you wanted to get along with me, do your job to the best of your ability. I had a discussion with the Senior Chief about my disappointment and seeing him on the fishing creek as I was checking in. It was detrimental for that to be the example he was setting for the rest to follow. It was not the example I would expect from a senior enlisted.

Another Chief Petty Officer who worked for me had some personality issues. Every morning when he came into work, he looked like someone had peed in his Wheaties. He would not say good morning to the troops; he would walk right in, go right into his office and sit down and not say anything. It was horrible. What I learned was that my predecessor was a drunk and just let everyone do what they wanted to do. I had a completely different leadership style. I was more of a hands-on get involved guy who understood processes, set examples and generated momentum. They were not used to someone like me coming in. I understood I had to figure out how to make change in the department, and I had to do it delicately as best as I knew how. I had to reach into my years of personnel experience, and reach back into the years of leadership to manage this as I went forward. Here is where learning and understanding the system paid off once I knew I had the captain’s confidence. I began to put my plan into action. I started holding people accountable, shut down the ordnance garage situation and made my Senior Chief do his job.

As you move around the chess board of life and you build up your allied support, you have to know who will support you when times get rough. I had the Commanding Officer’s confidence and trust, so I knew I could move a little more aggressively in the system. I still had to be very respectful to the Executive Officer. I could not treat him with disdain. Even though I knew I was winning in the system, I could not pound my chest and stand on the mountainside and shout. Rule of the System #4 demands humility. In the system, it’s not important who publicly wins, or shall I say the public announcement as to who wins. The victor is the one who walks away with his head up, quietly knowing the aftermath wasn’t a total shamble. The Executive Officer lost and I won.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it?

The actual writing was my biggest challenge, getting the words on paper. Finding a book coach to help me manage my time, to coach me through the entire process, assisted with overcoming the issue. Kudos to Kim O’Hara.

Can you share a story about other aspiring writers?

I really don’t know any other aspiring writers to comment about.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Working with Google Docs, I did not have any idea how to navigate Google Docs so, through my frustration, I would get apprehensive about making the meeting on time with my coach. I later realized that I was the problem. The process was not the issue. From this, I learned to choose to correct my course, not to lay blame elsewhere.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Everyday in the business of Omni2Max is exciting and challenging. As a defense contractor, we support the federal government. I walked away from a cushy GS-15 job making great money to take the risk to start this business. I believe discipline, determination and having risk tolerance is the key to making it.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

My life in Charleston was the most interesting where the discovery of adulthood and responsibility that broadened my perspective tremendously. It also brought a number of the Rules of the System into play. Specifically, #1, #2, #3, #8, #9 and #11.

Rule of the System #1: Seek, identify, and appreciate your mentors. They have been put in your life to push you to greatness.

Rule of the System #2: Stay focused on the objective and continuously re-evaluate your game plan.

Rule of the System #3: Constantly survey the environment to ensure every day you see where you are at.

Rule of the System #8: Be flexible to change but stand your ground ethically.

Rule of the System #9: Stay close to your circle, which should be extremely small (1 or 2).

Rule of the System #11: Don’t take anything personally. This is a waste of your time.

Imagine if you will, in 1980 Charleston South Carolina, an African-American man and a gorgeous white woman living together. Having spent time in Georgia, I was a little bit gun-shy of the racism. Whether it was real or perceived, I feared it would be an issue.

Being back in the South in a mixed relationship screwed my perspective up with the system. I anticipated blatant racism and I didn’t see it, but I did see the unspoken words and actions of racism. The stealthy type systems are especially critical to recognize. These are the systems I’ve never spoken or talked about, but you know they’re there because things happen. And if you’re not aware, then by the time you do figure it out, all the damage has been done and it cannot be undone. So, I’m so thankful for my prior understanding and knowledge of the system. You hear people say it’s not personal, it’s just business, but it is personal and it is business if it impacts you. But if you understand how they system works, you will be able to separate the personal from the business, and when you’re able to do that, you’ll be able to navigate and manage the system around you. Rule of the System #11: Don’t take anything personally. This is a waste of your time became a strong component of how I worked through my various environments from this time forward. The stealthy systems are the ones that are most challenging to deal with while in the midst of them. Nonetheless, it is a system and it can be dealt with while it’s in operation. That’s the beauty of being aware of the system.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

You are the driver of your life, not society’s perspective.

Don’t take anything personally, this is a waste of your time.

Also, when you learn how to navigate life’s system, with success comes more success.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

This is a new road that I’m traveling. The System is Unforgiving: Play by the Rules and Win is my first book so I am still learning this business of books. While The System is Unforgiving was published in the midst of a global pandemic and, within a few weeks, had become a best-selling business book on the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Amazon best seller lists, I don’t yet know what I don’t know.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

Allow me to share The 15 Rules of the System as I believe that applying these rules to your life will allow everyone to thrive. They have held me in good stead for many years.

The 15 Rules of the System:

1. Seek, identify, and appreciate your mentors. They have been put in your life to push you to greatness.

2. Stay focused on the objective and continuously re-evaluate your game plan.

3. Constantly survey the environment to ensure every day you see where you are at.

4. Never become pompous or arrogant. Adversity is not the enemy; stay humble.

5. It is not important to always win; let others win.

6. Own your mistakes but don’t take the fall for others.

7. Never be too demanding.

8. Be flexible to change but stand your ground ethically.

9. Stay close to your circle, which should be extremely small (1 or 2).

10. Be discerning about whom you trust with your ambitions.

11. Don’t take anything personally. This is a waste of your time.

12. Don’t let the haters distract you from your objectives.

13. Cut ties quickly if someone is not aligned with your vision.

14. Always have rainy-day money.

15. In marriage, effective communication is paramount.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

None really. I like reading James Patterson’s books because of the content structure. But that is for entertainment.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I want to educate the uneducated. To have the ability to show Americans that our country lied to us and provided mis-information. I want to set the record straight.

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