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 Capt. William Toti, USN (Ret) (Forefront Books, 2022, 271 pages)

In From CO to CEO: A Practical Guide for Transitioning from Military to Industry Leadership, William J. Toti, former CO of the nuclear submarine USS Indianapolis and former CEO of Sparton Corporation, offers a seminal manual for service members transitioning to civilian careers and navigating their rise up the corporate ladder. 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.


Capt. William Toti has written an informative, easy-to-read guide for military leaders transitioning into the Defense Industry with graduate school level detail combined with warfighter common sense. The author writes from considerable experience. Capt Toti had a successful career as a Navy submariner, commander, and a defense acquisitions officer. After, he went to the civilian side to seek employment and was hired as a senior manager, rising to vice president of a multibillion-dollar business, and then became CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of a company. This gives him the unique perspective that relates the difficulties of military transitions, finding an optimal second career, and also deep insight into Defense Industry practices and relationships from both sides of the table.

Capt. Toti addresses the million-dollar question for service members–when is the right time to leave the military and start a civilian career? Using relatable examples from his navy career, he methodically guides the reader through common mistakes, attributes needed to succeed, and the defense contractor landscape most veterans transition into. He relates how private industry functions, the potential opportunities for veterans, resumes, targeting jobs, interviewing, and tricky subjects like defining one’s compensation. Capt. Toti is candid as he comments on poor practices, not sugar-coating his words as other civilian self-help books might do.

The author steps his military transition guide up a level from other self-help guides with masterful tips. The author recommends mastering a new profession by expanding your perspective, being adaptable to company culture, and to volunteer for hard jobs. He reveals how profit-driven companies operate by defining financial metrics, their organization, and how they make bids on contracts. The author shares and challenges common fallacies about the private industry by showing their need for a return on investment (ROI), cash flows, and awareness of opportunity costs. His critique of Defense Acquisitions details how the process should efficiently work between industry and government but has degenerated into a bureaucratic game dominated by only a few players. He imparts this wisdom and more to help readers master their second career and perhaps achieve CEO, a position he compares to being a CO (Commanding Officer) in private industry. He reveals the differences of advancing in corporate America based on acceptability, visibility, and sponsorship.


From CO to CEO, shares many impactful tips for transitioning service members. Toti showcases when they should leave the military, how to identify the right job, how to get and hold that job, what skills are necessary for the private workforce, and how to plan and manage a second career. He succeeds by filling an information gap previously lacking for military leaders who want to excel at the upper echelons of the defense industry. Having already transitioned into my second career, I still found this book very useful for clarifying my goals and examining my career trajectory. I would have found it invaluable when seeking my first job if he published it five years ago. However, I found his appreciation of the Defense Industry a little lacking. He primarily focused on products (subs, tanks, jets) rather than services (cybersecurity, cloud, monitoring). Understandably, he writes from his experience, but IT services are now becoming some of the largest defense contracts. 

What truly resonated with me was Toti’s sincere attempt at helping fellow veterans succeed with their post military lives. His notes on leadership, values, fitness, and even personal finance don’t belong in a job seeking guide. Yet, he inserts them anyway, because it’s apparent from his words that he wants people, the defense industry, and the nation to succeed, not just sell a magic formula for career transition. Because of this, I recommend this book for current and former military members moving on to their second career. Besides serving as a transition guide for senior service members, this book can also be a wealth of helpful information for veterans pursuing business degrees and advice for government and military acquisitions officers.

Darin Pepple is a former U.S. Army Captain and artilleryman who served two combat tours in Iraq. He is the author of Dodgebomb: Outside the Wire in the Second Iraq War and member of the DODReads Board. He currently works as an IT project manager in the Defense Industry and resides near Washington, D.C.

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