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Captain offers lessons for cattlemen at NCBA Cattle Industry Convention


By Stuart Estes

Pirates and the cattle industry. This seems like an unlikely pair, but at the 2014 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Cattle Industry Convention, this was the focus of the first general session keynote address.

Captain Richard Phillips spoke to attendees about his experience with pirates off the coast of Somalia in April 2009, which was the basis of the film “Captain Phillips.”

How ever unlikely it may sound, Phillips related three lessons he learned from his experience to the cattle industry.

“You and I can examine how what I experienced can apply to us personally and professionally,” Phillips said.

The three lessons Phillips related to attendees were: You are much stronger than you know, nothing is lost until we choose to give up, and a dedicated professional team can overcome any problem.

“It was a perfect piracy day,” said Phillips, as he told the story of how pirates overtook his ship, the MV Maersk Alabama.

After watching the pirates approach from a distance, Phillips made sure the majority of the crew was stowed safely away. As the pirates got closer, Phillips realized the severity of the situation.

“I could hear the ping, ping, ping [of the pirates’ guns],” said Phillips. “One by one, the four Somali pirates came over the side of the ship.”

At this point in the attack, Phillips became all too aware of the first lesson he gained from this experience.

“When faced with a threatening situation, we find something within us,” Phillips said.

Phillips noted that this concept was also important for the cattle industry as it deals with competition, a weak economy and the effects of fewer people entering the industry.

Throughout the taking of the ship by the pirates, Phillips remained cognizant of his duties in the situation.

“I believe my major responsibility was to get these pirates off the ship,” Phillips said. “So for me to leave the ship with these four pirates wasn’t surrender.”

Phillips was forced to leave the ship with the pirates on the Alabama’s lifeboat after negotiating a trade to save the ship and crew. Yet Phillips was aware that he needed to remain flexible in this situation.

“Nothing is static in today’s world,” said Phillips, which led him to take an opportunity to escape when the time came.

“They were not happy,” Phillips said. “I didn’t follow the proper procedures for a hostage.”

The escape attempt failed and the pirates recaptured Phillips and took him back aboard the lifeboat. But Phillips made a distinction here about his experience and related it to the cattle industry.

“When you vow you won’t quit, something will eventually happen to make your situation better,” said Phillips.

This lesson directly related to his second point for the cattle industry. As in his situation, nothing is lost until the industry and the people that constitute it choose to give up.

Phillips also emphasized the importance of remaining calm even when the situation may warrant otherwise.

“I don’t think it’s possible to persevere when you’re panicked,” Phillips said.

After the failed escape attempt, the pirates began to play mind games with Phillips. These mind games went on until the U.S. Navy intervened, which led to Phillips’ rescue.

“Finally, a voice says, ‘Are you all right?’” said Phillips as he remembered what the Navy SEALs who first boarded the lifeboat said to him after the gun fight was finished.

The professional team Phillips alluded to in his third point was the group of Navy SEALs that saved him that day. And as their dedication and professionalism was a contributing factor to Phillip’s rescue, so too can the dedication and professionalism of the individuals in the cattle industry allow the industry to overcome any problems it will face in the future.

In closing, Phillips reiterated the applicability of the lessons he learned from his experiences to the cattle industry.

“These aren’t skills to use on the high seas,” said Phillips, these are skills for myriad personal and professional uses, including meeting the challenges of the beef industry.

Pirates and the cattle industry—two things that don’t seem to go together, but the two in this instance make perfect sense.

Date: 3/3/2014


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