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Trust Yourself, Then Take The Leap: A Former Demolitions Expert Is Building Up The Leaders Of Tomorrow

Maggie Sieger
September 27, 2017
When Steve Mumm joined GE after a successful military career, he knew there’d be some travel involved. But the West Point graduate never expected that his transportation would include yaks.
In September 2016, Mumm, 39, and a group of GE employees traveled to the Himalayas to help install a solar microgrid in a far-flung village that had never had electricity. “We literally drove as far as we could, until we came to this rickety, Indiana Jones-style bridge,” Mumm says. “That’s where we met up with the 80 yaks.”

After the grid was installed — the yaks hauled all the equipment — the team turned on the lights, starting at the local Buddhist monastery towering above the town and working their way down the hill. “There was cheering and crying, and a lot of celebrating,” Mumm remembers.

Mumm had volunteered for the trip not just for the adventure but also to sharpen his leadership skills. When he isn’t marching behind a herd of shaggy-haired mountain cattle, he’s running GE’s accelerated leadership program (XLP) and helping others learn to take risks, become better leaders and keep their minds open to opportunities. Mumm learned these skills as a demolitions expert in the Middle East, and he still keeps them close. “Change has been the one constant in my career,” says Mumm.

The Nebraska native had planned to be a career military man, but when he was recruited for GE’s training program for military officers in 2007, something clicked, and he opted for another adventure and the chance to help fellow vets who would follow in his footsteps in the program. “It was a new challenge,” Mumm says. He found the transition from the military to the corporate world, through GE’s Junior Officer’s Leadership Program, exciting. He says his first instinct is always to find a way to say yes when someone asks for help, which turns out to be a great way to learn the ropes and meet mentors.

During his years with GE, Mumm has spent time as a project manager in a string of different countries, including England, Brazil, Singapore and Australia, happily absorbing the culture shocks. In England and Brazil, he worked to integrate an acquired business, Wellspring, into the GE portfolio. In Singapore, Mumm was tasked with finding new suppliers for projects in Korean shipyards, while in Australia, he spent time developing a sales and service network to support the liquefied natural gas industry. In fact, Mumm says he’s at his best when things are ambiguous, uncertain or extremely complex. He honed these strengths in Iraq where he led combat troops in “demolition clearance operations,” cleaning sites that had been bombed or were littered with munitions.

Mumm says these experiences forced him to think quickly on his feet and deal with people coming from different backgrounds and cultures in order to keep his men alive. He used translators and quickly developed a basic vocabulary to communicate. “That was where I really understood that [language and culture] aren’t real barriers,” he says.

When Mumm was the commercial lead for Surface, an oil and gas business, he and his team helped U.S. customers respond to changing commodity prices and developed market strategies to introduce new Predix-based services. Last year, he was tapped to help the newly launched XLP, which was designed for rising leaders who would shape GE’s future as a digital industrial company. Mumm and the team developed a program focused on skills he’s well acquainted with: flexibility, responsibility and leadership. Participants spend time honing their new skills both within their current business and function and then in an area that’s unfamiliar to them as a way to accelerate growth and gain new experience.

As the program’s operations lead, he’s once again training and leading troops, but under significantly safer circumstances. Mumm’s advice for others considering a change? “Trust your ability and be willing to take the leap,” he says. “You have to take the first step. Then help everyone around you and fight to win. Really be committed. Be focused. Those are the things that made my transitions successful.”

 width= Above: Steve Mumm cut his teeth as a demolitions expert in the Middle East. Today, the West Point grad uses his leadership skills to teach GE employees the merits of risk-taking and other behaviors that will serve them well in the corporate world. Image credit: Steve Mumm Top: Mumm and a group of GE employees traveled to the Himalayas to help install a solar microgrid in a far-flung village that had never had electricity. Image credit: Getty Images.