O'Day Aviation Consulting

Strategic Planning on the High Seas and in the Boardroom

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”  – William Arthur Ward

As a business consultant, offshore sailor and racer, this quote brings to mind the great number of parallels between sailing and navigating a business to its destination. However, there are a number of steps a leader must take before that sail adjustment may take place. This is the work that begins prior to setting off from port while sitting at the navigation station and continues throughout the journey as conditions change. For business, it is often referred to as strategic planning, and is especially critical in today’s dynamic environment:


A captain must have a destination. Where do you want to be in 3 years? 5 years? How will you chart the course and know when you have arrived with measurable and achievable goals?


Have you taken into consideration the external environment? A leader must understand the complex external environment (competition, leading indicators, changing customer needs, trends, emerging technologies, geopolitical, total available market, etc) much as a captain must do (weather, sea conditions, navigational hazards, etc) to safely and efficiently guide their crew or team to the destination. What potential hazards await around the corner? What are the opportunities for growth or to pick up speed on the opposition?


How about the internal environment – culture, morale, product positioning, financial condition, marketing campaigns? A captain must ensure their vessel is in good working order, with a rested crew, fuel, strong sails, provisions, etc. while understanding what is working well and what areas need improvement. What are the existing gaps to achieving the goals? Are your current capabilities able to achieve the destination? Do we need better resources, tools or a pivot in strategy?


Just as a captain would not give conflicting or multiple commands to a crew simultaneously, it is important to keep it simple. For a strategic plan, it should be no more than 3-5 key actions you will take to reach the destination. They should be clear, actionable, measureable and well understood by the crew. What actions will you take to pivot, fill the gaps and achieve the vision?


The crew must have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities in the strategy in order to be effective. They must also feel ownership for the objectives and their role in the outcome. What waypoints and metrics are you tracking to know you are on your way to your designation? Finally, just as a captain must constantly keep an eye on the horizon, once the new strategy is developed, it should be re-evaluated and tuned as conditions change.

How are you navigating your business in today’s environment? Do you have a good understanding of the opportunities and challenges as you set your strategy and make your sail adjustments?

Shawn O'Day, President of O'Day Aviation Consulting

Shawn O'Day, President of O'Day Aviation Consulting

Shawn is a former GE executive in a career that spanned 33 years. His career began as a Field Service Engineer working with airlines throughout South America, Australia and the South Pacific. In 1994, he was accepted into GE’s highly selective Global Marketing & Sales Leadership program. Upon graduation, Shawn progressed through a number of roles at GE including 6-SIGMA Master Blackbelt and marketing roles driving strategy for commercial, business aviation and military programs. In 2008, Shawn was promoted to Chief Marketing Officer where he was instrumental in the creation of GE’s Business & General Aviation division and the launch of multiple products including GE’s Passport, Catalyst and Affinity engines. At the time of his retirement from GE, Shawn was responsible for marketing, branding and strategy for a $2B business that spanned business & general aviation, propellers, aviation components, services and electrical power systems.

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