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In 1988, Naval Commander Scott Waddle was appointed to change the shipmate culture of the nuclear submarine USS Greeneville. At the time, the sailors aboard Greeneville were experiencing critically low morale and unacceptably high turnover. Though some in the ranks were betting against him, Waddle soon found solutions in the Navy calls Deckplate Leadership.

“The most important thing that a captain can do is to see the ship through the eyes of the crew,” says Commander Waddle. Waddle’s command approach emphasizes humility, cohesion and engagement with every person on the team – from superior officers to new recruits. Through his leadership, Greeneville turnover decreased to an unprecedented 3%, promotions tripled, and operating expenses were slashed by 25%.

As Waddle’s reputation as a commander grew, he found his character put to the test at the center of a global conflict. The way Scott handled the Ehime Maru tragedy – by accepting sole responsibility for the actions of his crew and the deaths of nine Japanese fishermen and students – became a touchstone of accountability in an era when executives in every industry have sought to deflect responsibility.

Through the Ehime Maru inquiry, Scott came to believe that “Failure Need Not Be Final.” His book, The Right Thing, is a fascinating tale of success, filled with lessons for navigating today’s choppy corporate waters. Through his candid and direct delivery, Scott connects with audiences in the same manner he connected with the men and woman aboard the USS Greeneville.

Scott is originally from Austin, Texas, and is a 1981 graduate of the Naval Academy of Annapolis. He currently lives in North Carolina.

Full Profile

At the age of 38, Scott Waddle was selected to become the Commanding Officer of USS Greeneville (SSN 772) an improved Los Angeles Class Fast Attack submarine in Pearl Harbor Hawaii. He was selected from a highly competitive field of specially trained and exceptionally skilled naval officers. The challenges Scott faced were staggering with extremely low morale and unacceptably high turnover.

Few thought that this ship could improve, but Scott only became more resolved. In some ways, it is an extreme example of the same problems facing many organizations today. “In my induction ceremony, my predecessor left to cheers. They were actually clapping. I knew then that command and control leadership was dead.”

“A lot of people do whatever it takes to secure the next promotion. All I ever wanted to do in the navy was to command a ship. I did not care if I ever got promoted again. And that attitude enabled me to do the right things for my people instead of doing the right things for my career. Along the way, it was my people that created the results that ensured my next promotion.”

The solution was a system of beliefs that Scott calls Deck Plate Leadership. A process of replacing command and control with commitment and cohesion, by engaging the hearts, minds, and loyalties of workers – a belief that Scott achieves with conviction and humility. “The most important thing that a captain can do is to see the ship through the eyes of the crew.” This meant interviewing every single person on his ship, from the most senior officer to the lowest recruit. It was an experience that began to generate invaluable ideas, often from unexpected sources.

By every measure, these principles were able to achieve breakthrough results. Personnel turnover decreased to an unprecedented 3%. The rate of military promotions tripled, and operating expenses were slashed by 25%. The USS Greeneville became regarded as the finest boat in the Pacific Fleet by surpassing his sister submarine scores in operational and combat readiness inspections.

The ultimate test for Scott and his shipmates followed a tragic accident when the Greeneville, while at sea for a distinguished visitors day cruise, performed an emergency surface maneuver and collided with the Japanese fishing training vessel Ehime Maru sinking the vessel in three minutes and killing nine onboard.

The story of the collision made global headlines and was the subject of heated discussion and debate. What followed however was even more unprecedented. Scott as the former Commanding Officer took sole responsibility for his actions and the actions of his crew.

He took the stand during the Navy’s Court of Inquiry and testified without immunity knowing his words could be used against him in a Courts Martial. Scott and his crew were heralded for their honesty and candor, putting aside personal pride in an effort to determine how such a horrible tragedy could have occurred on what was then the pride of the Pacific Fleet.

In a time where CEOs and corporate executives have been quick to blame others within their organizations for their shortcomings and failures, Scott demonstrated uncommon strength of character, integrity and uncompromising ethical conduct in accepting responsibility for the actions of his crew. In the aftermath of the ordeal Scott delivers a powerful message that “Failure Need Not Be Final” and tells us “That there are no failures in life…only mistakes and from these mistakes…lessons.”

Scott’s book, The Right Thing, is a fascinating tale of success and lessons for anyone trying to navigate today’s uncertain business seas where lessons are abundant. Scott, through his candid and direct delivery, connects with the audience and delivers a powerful message that is worthy of reflection.

Scott is originally from Austin, Texas, and is a 1981 graduate of the Naval Academy of Annapolis. He currently lives in North Carolina.


Scott Waddle Speaker Videos Back to top

Keynote Speech


In this stirring video, Scott Waddle gives an emotional account of his role in the collision between his submarine, the USS Greenville, and a Japanese fishery training ship, the Ehime Maru.

The incident took place off the south east coast of Oahu, Hawaii in 2001. It is all but impossible to ignore the intensity of the situation even though Scott is speaking about it several years after.

Far from being indignant and defensive, Scott took full responsibility for the decisions he made that day. “Accountability is what it’s all about”, Scott says. It is a vital lesson for all of us.

Waddle’s experience at the center of an international incident has taught him, “In life you can have setbacks and disappointments, but those disappointments don't necessarily have to define who you are as an individual. What defines you are the actions you take as a leader.”

Waddle’s measurable successes in changing the work ethic and culture among the men and women aboard the USS Greeneville are enlightening for managers in all industries. Waddle says effective managers, “ ‘Praise in public, reprove in private.’ Remember that. People like to be praised often for what they do. […] It's important you know which individuals need the positive strokes, the pats on the back, the reassurance, the encouragement.”

Keynote Speech



Speeches / Speaking Engagements Back to top


In his topic about overcoming adversity, Scott recounts how his refusal to shirk responsibility for an accident involving the submarine he commanded. He demonstrates the importance of integrity, humility, resilience and faith with great skill and eloquence.

Failure Need Not Be Final
An inspirational leader with uncompromising ethical standards, Scott Waddle graduated at the top of his class at Annapolis. With 20 years of experience in the construction, maintenance, and operation of nuclear-powered submarines, in 1988 he was handpicked from a highly competitive field of 250 naval officers to command the improved Los Angeles class Fast Attack nuclear submarine U.S.S. Greeneville. As commanding officer of Greenville, he managed a 140-man crew. On the fateful day of February 9, 2001, Commander Waddle’s life was forever changed when he gave the order to perform an emergency surface maneuver that inadvertently caused the nine-thousand ton submarine to collide with the Ehime Maru, a 500-ton Japanese fishing vessel, killing nine people on board. Against the advice of his attorney and the Navy’s direction, he took responsibility for the accident. Commander Waddle’s compelling story about a tragic ordeal and the choices that followed is a lesson about integrity, faith, and resilience.




* Please note that while this speaker’s specific speaking fee falls within the range posted above (for Continental U.S. based events), fees are subject to change. For current fee information or international event fees (which are generally 50-75% more than U.S based event fees), please contact us.

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    The Right Thing
    Over 150 years ago, Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle dubbed economics the "dismal science." But it certainly doesn′t seem that way in the skillful hands of Todd G. Buchholz, author of New Ideas from Dead Economists. In this revised edition of a book first published in 1989, economics is accessible, relevant, and fascinating. It′s even fun--for example, when he uses the cast of Gilligan′s Island and Henny Youngman jokes to explain complex economic theories.

    Order Here


Failure Need Not Be Final
An inspirational leader with uncompromising ethical standards, Scott Waddle graduated at the top of his class at Annapolis. With 20 years of experience in the construction, maintenance, and operation of nuclear-powered submarines, in 1988 he was handpicked from a highly competitive field of 250 naval officers to command the improved Los Angeles class Fast Attack nuclear submarine U.S.S. Greeneville. As commanding officer of Greenville, he managed a 140-man crew. On the fateful day of February 9, 2001, Commander Waddle’s life was forever changed when he gave the order to perform an emergency surface maneuver that inadvertently caused the nine-thousand ton submarine to collide with the Ehime Maru, a 500-ton Japanese fishing vessel, killing nine people on board. Against the advice of his attorney and the Navy’s direction, he took responsibility for the accident. Commander Waddle’s compelling story about a tragic ordeal and the choices that followed is a lesson about integrity, faith, and resilience.

Keynote Speech


In this stirring video, Scott Waddle gives an emotional account of his role in the collision between his submarine, the USS Greenville, and a Japanese fishery training ship, the Ehime Maru.

The incident took place off the south east coast of Oahu, Hawaii in 2001. It is all but impossible to ignore the intensity of the situation even though Scott is speaking about it several years after.

Far from being indignant and defensive, Scott took full responsibility for the decisions he made that day. “Accountability is what it’s all about”, Scott says. It is a vital lesson for all of us.

Waddle’s experience at the center of an international incident has taught him, “In life you can have setbacks and disappointments, but those disappointments don't necessarily have to define who you are as an individual. What defines you are the actions you take as a leader.”

Waddle’s measurable successes in changing the work ethic and culture among the men and women aboard the USS Greeneville are enlightening for managers in all industries. Waddle says effective managers, “ ‘Praise in public, reprove in private.’ Remember that. People like to be praised often for what they do. […] It's important you know which individuals need the positive strokes, the pats on the back, the reassurance, the encouragement.”

Keynote Speech