Rear Admiral Mark Fung, MBA ’11, knows what it takes to be a leader.
He joined the United States Navy in 1988 and he was deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm and the Global War on Terrorism. Among his earned decorations are the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star Medal; his current positions with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command are deputy chief of civil engineers and deputy commander. In his civilian life, Fung is a project manager with AmerisourceBergen. As a student, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Villanova University.
That’s not all: Fung also completed his MBA at the Fox School of Business in 2011.
There’s a thriving community of veterans at the Fox School and Temple University, which has been called one of the “Best Colleges for Veterans” by U.S. News & World Report. Between 2013 and 2017, 249 veterans earned degrees from the Fox School, and there are currently 442 veterans and veterans’ dependents enrolled at the school.
During a recent visit to the Fox School for Military Appreciation Month, Fung met with several Fox alumni veterans and deans, as well as the Temple University Veteran Association president. We had an opportunity to talk to him about how earning his MBA impacted his work as a Navy Officer and shapes his leadership strategies and practices. Here’s what he said.
In what new ways did earning an MBA challenge you?
I have a normal civilian job and I have my military responsibilities. As I’ve climbed the ranks, my military work gets more and more demanding. Balancing that and earning an MBA was a big challenge, but absolutely worth it. It required a whole different thought process. It was great being surrounded by people with such different backgrounds, representing different industries, and bringing different ways of solving problems to the table. It really broadened my horizon.
What was the most important thing you learned?
The ability to think on the fly. Fox taught me the basics of business, of course, but some of the courses I had really pushed my ability to react properly to the unplanned. As a military officer at this level, we face a lot of challenges that are unwritten—there’s no instruction manual on how to handle certain things. Whether working with allies, partner nations, or different governmental agencies, much of the work we do is work you’re not going to learn how to do from a book. The MBA taught me how to think outside the box; it taught me how to be open to new ideas and to diverse ways of thinking.
How has your personal leadership style been shaped by your work, military, and MBA experiences?
My MBA experience strengthened my ability to act as a team leader and as a coach. There’s this thought within the military that we’re very regimented, and that if you tell someone to do something, they do it. But that’s more of the Hollywood version. We want people to do the right thing all the time, even when their leader is not there. You do that through coaching and mentoring, and these are all traits and experiences I acquired from working on my MBA. It taught me how to motivate people to bring out their personal best.
Can you talk more about the importance of improvisation in your business and military roles?
In 2004 and 2005, my unit was mobilized and we went to Iraq. My part of the Navy does a lot of construction and civil engineering. We were in Fallujah rebuilding the city. There is no manual to tell you how to do that. Everything had to be done very nimbly, on the fly, with changing conditions. We had to learn how to work with people who didn’t speak the same language as us, people with different cultural backgrounds, and in collaboration with foreign government and non-governmental agencies, all who were trying to do good work.
What two books do you recommend to every freshman business student to prepare them for the future?
The first is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. You have to read the entire book. It’s not a big book, but a lot of times people will just Google the main points and not understand the meaning behind them. Read it, and it will tell you about business operation, decision, and conduct. The second is Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, by Robert Kaplan. It’s a geopolitical book, but you have to understand that the majority of trade in the United States comes across the water. Our economy is deeply tied to Asia so understanding the importance of the South China Sea and trade is essential to our economy and future.
If you were starting college today, what would you study?
I’d be more involved with information technology and information dominance. It’s a huge part of global commerce and the military now. The career opportunities currently in that field, and the growth opportunities in the next five or twenty years, are incredible.
You’ve achieved so much. What keeps you focused and ambitious?
I love what I do. Life is too short to do something you don’t enjoy. I enjoyed my time at Temple, and at Fox, and I enjoy my work with the Navy. That’s the secret. And I like to achieve and I like to win. What drives me, especially at this level of the Navy, where the stakes are high, is that there’s no room for second place. Even in the business world, you make decisions that affect the outcome of those who work for you and with you. It’s this responsibility to my team that makes me strive to perform at a higher level.