From CO to CEO: A Practical Guide for Transitioning from Military to Industry Leadership

From CO to CEO: A Practical Guide for Transitioning from Military to Industry Leadership by William J. Toti, CAPT USN (Ret) (Forefront Books, April 5, 2022, p 272)

You’ve served your country dutifully, and as a member of the US armed forces you’ve also developed a discipline, drive, and skillset admired the world over. Your success in the civilian job market after your military career ends is all but ensured, right? Well, if statistics and real-life reports from your predecessors are any indication, this transition is not always smooth sailing. More than 200,000 service members separate from the military each year. More than half of those surveyed about the process felt as if they had little to no help with the transition. That’s why William J. Toti, retired naval officer and CEO of Sparton Corporation, wrote From CO to CEO: A Practical Guide for Transitioning from Military to Industry Leadership. As someone who successfully progressed from captain of a nuclear submarine to a captain of industry, he knows what it takes to make the most of your military training and what more is needed to rise up the ranks in the C-suite. From CO to CEO aims to help you get the most out of your industry career, thinking through the kind of company and career track that is best for you. It provides a step-by-step guide to navigating the search, interview, and negotiation process and helps you acclimate to your new environment and to accelerate your climb to the top.


William J. Toti, retired Navy Captain and former Chief Executive Officer of Sparton Corporation, delivers the Rosetta Stone of transition many service members need in his book From CO to CEO. Toti’s consistently readable, humble, and forthright prose shines the light on the transition process all the way through to long-term aspirations in the C-Suite. Toti’s military and business experience provide the language and expertise to translate the different roles, expectations, and considerations that come in the civilian workforce and may be foreign to most service members.

From CO to CEO is a treasure trove of wisdom for those suffering from the “unknown unknowns” of the transition process or those who seek to clarify their knowledge from someone who has been there before. This book provides the unvarnished truths that will answer most questions and then help veterans ask better questions in light of their new knowledge. From CO to CEO should be assigned reading for all service members and especially those within two years of transitioning.

Everyone leaves the military, whether through the completion of a contract, retirement, or unintended separation. Nearly every service member will return to the ranks of the civilian workforce in their lifetime. For those who started their professional careers in the military, the civilian world beckons as a vast land of opportunity and a strange land with new customs and languages that can be altogether different from the life they have made in the military. Beyond the mandatory transition assistance courses, service members still have questions and concerns about navigating the transition into a civilian career to thrive, not just survive. 

Yet, it would be too simple to applaud Toti’s book purely in the transition-assistance genre. From CO to CEO weaves in stories of leadership, history, and moments from Toti’s life that engage and inform the context of the transition process. There is an interview with Admiral Rickover to join the submarine community, he shows his support in exonerating CAPT Charles McVay, Commanding Officer of USS Indianapolis (CA-35), and shares his role in response to the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and the 2013 Navy Yard shooting. Each story is rewarding to read, even for those who continue to serve. Toti stresses, “the symbiosis between America’s armed forces and industry is one of our great strengths’’. Through his accounts from both sides of the acquisition table, it dispels myths and imparts knowledge critical to ensuring successful contracting and program management. 


Toti succeeds most in his direct assessment of the mismanaged veteran expectations, clarifies the rumors, and gauges which persists in the civilian world. Among the most basic are:

  • “Good leadership” is not the only thing your new boss wants. You need an informed passion to learn, because you are starting at the bottom again. 
  • Every career option from sales, human resources, and operations etc have trade-offs with initial expertise required. Every career option needs time to apply and develop skills and there are opportunities for advancement, just like with the companies that hire you. Don’t avoid the hard truths of those company incentives and structures when starting your next career. 
  • Your military experience can help you as long as you acknowledge and balance the organizational differences in the civilian world. These differences can be in areas like developing company culture, legal requirements, and management practices. Crisis leadership and matters of integrity remain the same across both the military and the civilian workforce.

Department of Defense and by those private sector individuals who work with the DoD or hire veterans should read From CO to CEO. Our service, our companies, and our people will benefit from this book.

Lieutenant Kyle Cregge is a surface warfare officer. He served on a destroyer, cruiser, and aircraft carrier as an air-defense liaison officer. He is a future SWO Department Head. He posts on LinkedIn at:

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