Retired Vice Admiral Herm Shelanski is a motivational speaker. He engages professional groups across many industries, academia, and the military. He shares exciting sea stories of his approach to leadership, decision-making, and developing highly functional teams that he learned and developed throughout his 38-year career as a Naval Officer.
Shelanski graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder with a degree in Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology. However, after graduation, he succumbed to a restless search for action, meaning, and patriotism. As a result, he took a short break from his goal to follow in his father's footsteps to become a Medical Doctor. Instead, he entered Aviation Officer Candidate School, which began his thirty-eight-year career in the United States Navy as a Naval Aviator, Aircraft Carrier Captain, and Vice Admiral.
He was lucky that at the very beginning of his career, exceptional leaders and opportunities built a foundation of leadership. They forged in him a sense of value, excitement, and camaraderie. Through exposure to challenging events, he had the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. He was immersed in the Topgun culture, driven by constructive feedback on performance and the competitive drive to want to be the best. He also learned that individual skills were only part of the formula for success. Forming a highly functional team allowed him and his squadron mates to operate and succeed. Succeed in the most intense, physically dangerous occupation of flying on and off the deck of an aircraft carrier and directing from the air as the quarterback of aircraft and ships operations in life-and-death tactical situations.
So began a journey of a lifetime to learn and put into practice the art of leadership. He earned the opportunity to first command at the squadron level with 250 sailors and four aircraft. The squadron was part of an airwing team that comprised nine different squadrons, along with the aircraft carrier and escort ships, all working as a team to form the unbeatable centerpiece of the Navy's striking power in support of our nation's National Security Strategy. Based on this experience, he honed his leadership to the advanced level on his new career path to captain the world's largest and most powerful ship, the US Navy's Aircraft Carrier. It is a floating city the size of the Empire State Building, housing over 5000 Sailors, over 60 tactical aircraft, a 4-and-a-half acre airport, and two large nuclear power plants. It has over 4000 offices and work centers for the care and feeding of the Sailors and the maintenance and repair of the aircraft, ships, and reactors. As the Captain of the USS Harry S Truman, he was ultimately responsible for the safe and successful operations while operating in heavy seas, at night, in both frigid and desert weather conditions around the world, 24 hours a day for over seven months away from home during the war in Iraq. With his leadership, decision-making, and development of a highly functional team, the crew earned the distinction of every Navy and Department of Defense Award possible for operational excellence.
Shelanski went on to promote to Admiral, where he commanded Carrier Strike Group 10, consisting of the Truman, two cruisers and thirteen destroyers, and over 8000 Sailors. He also served as the Director of Navy Environmental Readiness; Deputy Director of the Survey and Engagement Team for the Secretary of Defense review of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell,"; the Senior Military Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of Defense. Additionally, he served as the Division Director for the Navy Staff Assessments, ensuring the Navy delivered the most capable platforms to the fleet. His last assignment as the Naval Inspector General promoted efficiency, effectiveness, and readiness to maintain our Navy's maritime superiority.
After the military, Shelanski served as Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Newport News Shipbuilding.
Shelanski holds a BA in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and a Ph.D. in Science from the University of Colorado, at Boulder. He earned an MSEE degree in Electrical Engineering and Space System Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School with membership in Eta Kappa Nu, an international honor society for electrical and computer engineers. In addition, he graduated from the Armed Forces Staff College, the Navy War College, the Navy Nuclear Power and Prototype School, and the Naval Reactors Commanding Officer Nuclear Engineer course.