Leadership, Duty, Honor & Country With Lt. Gen. Mike Barbero

Retired US Army Lieutenant GeneralMichael D. Barberodiscusses leadership, service, duty, honor, and country on Alan Olsen‘s American Dreams Show.


Alan Olsen

Hi, this is Alan Olsen and welcome to American Dreams. My guest today is General Michael Barbero. General, welcome to today’s show.


Mike Barbero

Thanks, Alan, how are you? Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.


Alan Olsen

Thank you. Okay, so it’s a it’s exciting. We women in contact with each other on couple of occasions, and I really look forward to hearing your story today. I’d like to start off by having you walk through with our listeners your career path, and what inspired you to join the military?


Mike Barbero

Well, it’s interesting. I was always thinking about that. And given that this is called American Dreams, I’m kind of the product of the American dream. All my grandparents were immigrants. On my mom’s side and dad’s side, obviously, my mom and dad were the first of their families born in the US, first of their other families to attend and graduate from university.

My my dad graduated from NYU with an engineering degree, the only way he could get through NYU and pay for it was through ROTC. So I had a two year commitment. And then he had a job as an engineer lined up. But he The problem was, he graduated in June of 1941.

And, you know, five years later, at the end of the war, he liked the army and stayed in it and retired as a colonel with a MBA from University of Chicago. My mom graduated from university, West Virginia University joined the Red Cross and ended up in Italy, where she met my dad and, and the rest is history.

So I grew up, I was born in an army hospital in Stuttgart, Germany, where my dad was stationed, grew up around the army, and was very proud of my dad and his service. And I thought about it as something I wanted to try to emulate. And following my brother, he was two years ahead of me at West Point, and followed him into West Point.

And, you know, just love the army and love the, the folks I was working with, and the sense of urgency, the mission, and the in, and, frankly, you know, the opportunity to serve my dad and later in life. My my sister asked him, you know, why did he stay in the army, you know, the war was over, you had a job lined up, you wanted to be an engineer, you love Engineering?

He said, Well, I always wanted to get, I always wanted to give something back to the country that gave so much to my family. So I guess that’s, you know, a long answer of how I ended up in the army and why I decided to stay and serve.


Alan Olsen

Thank you for your family’s service and your service. Throughout the 37 years of service, so what are some of the most challenging moments? And how did you overcome them?


Mike Barbero

Well, you know, my, my career, especially the last 10 years, as a general officer, as either a commander or an Operations Officer or an operations officer, you take these difficult missions, and you turn them into a plan, a strategy, a campaign plan, and then supervise the execution. You know, I spent 46 months in Iraq.

First year was 12 months during the initial year as Assistant Division Commander 20,000, troops very tough area, Baghdad north. Our headquarters was in Saddam Hussein’s hometown. So we were not the most popular folks there.

Then I went back another 17 straight months as the operations officer during what we call the surge when David Petraeus came back in we came with a new strategy 40,000 additional troops 2007 to 2008.

And then 2009 1011, is there another 17 straight months as the deputy commander in NATO commander, so you know, service in Iraq was obviously the most challenging and because because of the the toll it takes the you know, it’s unceasing demand. So mental, physical, emotional, it’s 24/7. And plus, you know, Alan, the stakes are so high.

You know, we had a lot of casualties, especially that first year. And you know, you you as a commander, my, my, my way I operate is whenever we had a casualty, I’d get alerted immediately. And the next day, I’d go down, see the commander and sit down with him, look him in the eye and say, how you doing?

What are we gonna do to get this unit back out on a patrol or operating, we got to get him back out there. And then we’d have these memorial services, which were very emotional, and taxing.

So you know, those that time in Iraq was kind of like dog years, when you think about all the pressures and demands on you, I had the advantage of coming back to the unit, you know, being around my buddies, or my family, you know, came back to my family or I came back and went to a new assignment.

And I always thought about these young soldiers who especially National Guardsmen who come back and they just go back home and there’s no support network, or anything like that. So I just, you know, offer this to your to your listeners and viewers that if you get an opportunity to contribute to or help out a Veterans Organization, I’d highly recommend it.


Alan Olsen

Thank you. I want to move on to going into the current events. So give me your expertise. How do you view the current geopolitical tension in the region such as the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the South China Seas?


Mike Barbero

Well, they’re all related. You know, we’re in a period of great power competition, once again, I think primarily the United States and China. And as you look at that, you know, what we do or don’t do in Ukraine matters to, you know, Russia is a second rate power with nuclear weapons, was really about the US and China.

And you know, how we support Ukraine in this fight against Russia, what we do about Iran, which is the greatest source of instability in the Middle East, they’re working against our national interest every day. What are we gonna do about that? And plus, you know, we have to think about America’s role in the world.

In light of our, you know, the the disastrous way we exited Afghanistan that resonate, whenever I do a lot of business overseas, talk to folks, and then that invariably comes up.

It really, and then when they hear this, you know, our faltering commitment to Ukraine, the current relationship where we have with Israel, where we can be viewed as undercutting their efforts, you know, is it all resonates across the world. So in this, in this period of great power competition, what we do or don’t do in one region, all all resonates, it’s not isolated acts.

So you know, I just finished reading the rise and fall of the Third Reich. William shires, the history and the parallels between the 1930s and Putin and Russia, are striking. And they don’t anymore.

The real question is, where’s our Churchill who is going to rally the free world and whereas you, the US as the leader of the free, you know, appeasement doesn’t skrang does work, you know, Putin is a KGB thug. He understands strength, weakness, and use of force.

And if we want a prosperous and secure world, if we want a world where Russia and China aren’t aligned against us, and we need to stand fast, and do art, do the job and Ukraine, and that will send a message to China or Iran and the others opponents in the world that America is a source of strength, and will secure our future for the next decades.


Alan Olsen

Do you have any thoughts on the importance of alliances and partnerships and maintaining global peace and security? Well,


Mike Barbero

I think NATO speaks for itself. I’ve been a NATO officer in Iraq. My last time as a three star I was the deputy us commander and the NATO commander, I was a senior NATO commander there. So I saw it firsthand, we had a small little NATO commander in Iraq, but man, they punched above their weight, you know, when you have 17 flags out there.

It really carried some weight. And I think collective deterrence has proven to be the success. And when you work together and alliances, you’re securing America’s interests. So any money, time effort put into difference is not wasted energy or money. So I’m absolutely believe that Alliance is working. I’d say that to this audience.

You know, there’s a great hunger for American business and technology overseas. They want America, whether it’s Middle East, I was in Turkey, they want American.

So what we can do in business, I know since I’ve left the military, what can we do to bring American investment technology joint ventures overseas, I think that’s a powerful way of building alliances that withstand the political election, you hear rhetoric here in the US, and it’s something that we can all contribute to. So absolutely. alliances are the way to go.

Whether it’s cybersecurity or business, it just helps American interests.


Alan Olsen

And throughout your career, both in military and civilian roles. You’ve held leadership positions that require making tough decisions. What advice would you give to emerging leaders on navigating complex challenges?


Mike Barbero

Well, you have, you know, I’ve seen a series of your podcasts, and you have the experts in business and technology and how to grow business and investments in the world.

So I’ll take a little different tack. I’m not going to give any advice on software, hardware business practices, but what I found successful in my Army career and you know, in my time in business, is you a leader must invest the time to build a culture in the company.

What are the values? What are the standards, how are we going to operate what’s acceptable, what’s unacceptable, you know, that really forms the true strength of an organization. And in the military. I was an infantry leader. It was It was how do I build trust, trust is the most important thing, whether it’s the military, or business. And, you know, it’s got to be mutual.

So when I’d give an order to for a tough mission to where my subordinates, he would follow it, because he trusted that I had his best interest, it was gonna be a hard mission, but I wasn’t gonna waste energy or casualties, or it was the best course of action that I could come up with. He trusted me. And when I gave him that order, and he say, Yes, sir, I got it.

They were I trusted him to do it. I think that carries over to the business, how, you know, what do you stand for? What are we what are what are our values, and then you have to communicate the over communicate. So you have to get around and talk and be visible.

You know, the most effective leaders are the ones who are visible, and communicating well with their their leaders.

So, so building this culture of trust, mutual trust, requires a continuous investment, but the leaders time and attention, but it pays off, you know, better than then some new software or hardware does. And it’s something that I think is a prime requirement for leadership,


Alan Olsen

transitioning from military to civilian career. What key lessons have you learned about adaptability and applying military leadership skills in the business world? Right.


Mike Barbero

Well, you know, there is some carryover, I will quote one of my mentors and best friends, Dave Petraeus, who has solidified this into what he sees as a four rules of strategic leadership. And like I worked for him a couple of times in Iraq, and he’s the master of this first one is the prime responsibility of senior leaders to get the big ideas, right, what are the priorities?

What are the big efforts that we’re going to expend our time and energy and resources to achieve? And then the within that, you have to understand the context there. So the senior leader sets these priorities, these big ideas, but he has to understand the context in which they operate, you’re operating the business context, investment, or the market situation?

Or if you’re in Iraq, how do you? How do you change your strategy to apply to that context, but then the leaders responsibility, which I touched on earlier, as he must be a communicator to communicate the priorities of big ideas to his subordinates, continuously and effectively.

And then the fourth one is you have to execute, you have to oversee the implementation and make adjustments along the way. So it’s a continuous sensing of where we are feel for things and then make any adjustments. And then I added a fifth one, I think, as leaders, you have to identify what are the golden metrics?

What are the key indicators that you’re having success today, and you’re on the glide path for tomorrow? And then once you you understand what those metrics are, you have to pay attention to them, peel them back, okay, we’re having a problem in this area, why is it and peel it back to its essence, and then you have to act to make those adjustments.

So I think those are things that we’ve learned in the military, I think that carries over to to whatever venture or enterprise you’re in, whether it’s business or whatever.


Alan Olsen

And since retiring, you’ve transitioned into roles that leverage your expertise and security and strategic consulting, what motivated you as a founder of MDB partners, LLC, and then the focus on newer emerging markets.


Mike Barbero

While you know, Alan, what I didn’t want to do when I retired is where I worked for the biggest bureaucracy in the world, the Department of Defense, I didn’t want to go work for a big defense company, nothing against them. They do. They’re the best in the world. And a lot of my great friends are doing wonderful things there. But that just didn’t wasn’t attractive to me.

And I started getting calls from friends overseas. Can you come over we got these projects, can you bring America companies are American investment. So I just started doing that. And it kind of evolved.

My last job in the army, I had the job to go after the roadside bombs, his IDs and a $2.4 billion budget. I had rapid acquisition I could buy mostly anything within days.

And you know, I had the technology and and capabilities and responsibilities to do that. So we went out we bought sensors at 40,000 feet, all the way down to bomb docks that sniffed and detected bombs. So it’s almost like a an investment fund. And with rapid acquisition, so we’re looking for Game Changing tech technologies or practices, anything in innovation.

So I said, you know, this is this is a tremendous challenging job. I want to do the same thing here. So I look for innovative products, people I like working with And in areas of the world, right where I think are important to US interests, the Middle East, I was just in Turkey. Last week, North Africa and the Balkans in a number of different areas.

I’m working for a couple of, you know, defense firms, some financial firms that invest in emerging technologies in the defense world, but also some infrastructure projects and in a number of different ventures. So that’s how I kind of got into it and evolved to what I’m doing now.


Alan Olsen

When we’re looking ahead, what trends do you believe will shape the global security of strategic consulting in the next decade?


Mike Barbero

Well, as I said, we have to accept this period of great power competition, whether we want it or not, China is in it. And we have got to realize that and react, and we have to reassert ourselves as a reliable ally. And I think US business can have a tremendous role in that. Be being expeditionary joint ventures exporting us talent, technology and leadership.

I think that’s, you know, this this project, I’m doing a turkey, the Turkish companies that we want an American construction company, can you bring us one, they still want American? So I think those are the trends that I see. We have to be out there be expeditionary and look for opportunities to spread US businesses, investment and technologies around the world.


Alan Olsen

When you’re looking at artificial intelligence, and not amazing technology, you have any thoughts and how it can be shaped defense and security strategies globally?


Mike Barbero

Well, I mean, we’re all watching what happens in Ukraine. And it’s fascinating to see the evolution of the battlefield and strategy and warfare I think, you know, advanced sensors, AI enabled capabilities, hybrid war, open source intelligence, I mean, commercial drones flying, which are feeding real time intelligence back to headquarters, a cyber.

I think the question as we go forward is how can we push command and control decision making intelligence, situational awareness and capabilities to what I call the tactical edge down to that platoon leader? You know, how can you see what’s gone what’s over the next hill and be able to understand that real time or the cockpit?

Or, or how can that pilot transfer to is on armed wing man that’s, you know, a strike platform without a pilot or to a ship’s captain. So the battlefields becoming more distributed, the demands for intelligence and information and decision making ability are being pushed to the lowest levels. And we need to have capabilities that can do that.

You know, we are in the age of cheap, swarming autonomous systems that are very capable. The American military is built upon very large, very expensive platforms that are very few aircraft carriers. I think we have 10 or 12 of those, you know, F 30, fives a couple billion a pop, you know, M one techs.

How do we make this transition to this what we’re seeing Ukraine, smaller, cheaper, swarms, large numbers of very capable platforms that are somewhat expendable, unmanned. So I think we have a lot of soft questions that we can ask ourselves for the future of the US defense that we need to take on and really study and think about.


Alan Olsen

Are there any projects that you’re currently working on that you’re particularly excited about?


Mike Barbero

Well, there’s one project I’m very passionate about. We, you know, a couple years ago, we lost our only daughter to cancer and she was an Army kid. She loved the army grew up born in army hospital, you know, what the Big Eight, nine schools, the longest place she ever lived. In one spot was her four years Xavier University in Cincinnati, as has a college student.

So she grew up around the army loved it, she loved her time at Xavier, a great, great university. And then, um, you know, after she graduated in the workforce, she’d always looked for opportunities to help veterans organizations or veterans businesses, she’d say, Hey, Dad, this new company opened, it’s run by veterans, I bought this for you.

Or, let’s go, you know, go grab a coke coffee at this Veterans coffee shop that is open, and things like that. So when she got sick, you know, we spent a lot of time together. And one of the things she was she had a very successful career in, in US government in data science and data analytics, very important job in the intelligence community.

So we spent a lot of time together once she was diagnosed, why she is sick. And one of the things she said that stuck with me is she said, you know, Dad, I’m so young. I’m afraid that when I pass, I’ll be forgotten. So, you know, after she passed, I picked up a phone called Xavier University, and I, you know, I said, Hey, here’s here’s who we are.

Here’s our story. What can I do to start a scholarship and my daughter’s name, so she won’t be forgotten. And we’d like to do something for military kids or veterans. So Xavier has started a a scholarship in her name.

And it’s targeted towards veterans or military kids like she was wanting to pursue a career in one of two honors programs, either data science or public service.

And so Xavier has been unbelievable. And so we were focused all a lot of our efforts are in our family trust, we’ll go to that.

And it’s just been a very bright spot for us in a very dark chapter and something that we’re very passionate about, you know, if any of your listeners want to go, you know, Google Emily, barbero and Xavier University, you’ll see it and see what it stands for.

And I can’t say enough about the folks at Xavier, and what they’ve done done to help us do this. So that’s that’s, you know, one of the things that we’re very very passionate about


Alan Olsen

thank you and noble cause and a way to honor your the memories of your your daughter.


Mike Barbero

Thanks so


Alan Olsen

we’re out of time today but before we go a person that would like to reach out and chat with you as some of the projects that the habit BB aligned with you how would they go ahead and contact you General?


Mike Barbero

Well, I’m up on LinkedIn, contact me or LinkedIn or my email I put okay, I could give you my email here. It’s m or m barbero M as in Michael barbero, ba r b e r o seven six@gmail.com. And please reach out to me I love having conversations and see if I can, we can have a good chat.


Alan Olsen

Well, it’s been a pleasure having you with us here today on American drinks.


Mike Barbero

Alan Thank you very much. I really enjoyed it. Appreciate it.

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Transcript generated by software and may contain errors.

    Mike Barbero on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Mike Barbero

    Michael D. Barbero, a retired US Army Lieutenant General, is a career Infantry leader, who has served in leadership assignments and has commanded forces at every grade, from Lieutenant to Lieutenant General.

    While a General officer in the US Army, he served 46 months in Iraq over 3 separate combat tours of duty, coordinating intricate political-military operations, working with allies, senior foreign government and coalition leaders, while commanding large, complex US and NATO organizations. In his final assignment in Iraq, he served simultaneously, as both the Commander of Multi-National Security and Transition Command–Iraq and the Commander of the NATO Training Mission–Iraq, managing a $4 Billion budget and $13 Billion Foreign Military Sales program to build capabilities of Iraq security ministries, forces and institutions.

    Immediately prior to his retirement from active Duty, in July 2013, LTG Barbero served for two years as the Director, Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). In that position, he worked directly for the Deputy Secretary of Defense, managed a $2 Billion budget, and led the Department of Defense’s efforts to develop and rapidly field new technologies, tactics, and operational capabilities to counter the effectiveness of Improvised Explosive Devices against our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Currently, he works in Europe, Turkey, the Balkans and the MENA Regions coordinating with senior political, security, and business leaders to develop business projects and investment opportunities while promoting American Business and US interests across these regions. He is a Board Member or Senior Advisor to several US Companies in Defense and Security, Infrastructure, Finance and Investment, and Emerging Technology sectors.

    He has testified several times before Congress on security issues in the Middle East and has participated in numerous American and international media programs and fora to discuss business and security issues.

    Lieutenant General Barbero is a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He also holds a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the National Defense University, Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the Army’s Command and General Staff College and the School of Advanced Military Studies Program, and he has completed the Executive Course on National and International Studies at George Washington University.

    Alan Olsen on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Alan Olsen

    Alan is managing partner at Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co., LLP, (GROCO) and is a respected leader in his field. He is also the radio show host to American Dreams. Alan’s CPA firm resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and serves some of the most influential Venture Capitalist in the world. GROCO’s affluent CPA core competency is advising High Net Worth individual clients in tax and financial strategies. Alan is a current member of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (S.I.E.P.R.) SIEPR’s goal is to improve long-term economic policy. Alan has more than 25 years of experience in public accounting and develops innovative financial strategies for business enterprises. Alan also serves on President Kim Clark’s BYU-Idaho Advancement council. (President Clark lead the Harvard Business School programs for 30 years prior to joining BYU-idaho. As a specialist in income tax, Alan frequently lectures and writes articles about tax issues for professional organizations and community groups. He also teaches accounting as a member of the adjunct faculty at Ohlone College.

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