March/April 2020

Managing

Does Your Firm Have a Mulberry Harbor?

Thomas C. Grella

My regular readers know I like to travel. I generally find valuable leadership lessons everywhere I go. This past summer was no exception. A cruise on the Seine from Paris to Rouen, with an all-day excursion to the beaches of Normandy. A trip full of history and lessons. There are so many based on those first two weeks of June 1944. What I found most interesting were the lessons to be learned from a certain World War II post-invasion Allied strategy.

Looking into the English Channel from the D-Day Museum in Arromanches (close to what is known as Gold Beach), a few large remnants of an artificial harbor are still visible over 75 years after its construction. These harbor remains are a reminder of the genius of those who planned and executed the Overlord invasion. The construction and use of these harbors, which were code-worded “Mulberries,” had been meticulously planned. Allied leaders understood that once the invasion was underway, it might be some time before there would be access to a natural harbor. There would still, however, be a need to transport men and supplies into France. Assembly of two harbors began just two days after the invasion, and they were operational in less than a week. The harbor near Arromanches is believed to have been used to move several million men, hundreds of thousands of vehicles and millions of tons of supplies to the Allied effort in France. There are many lessons to be learned from this Allied engineering feat, even a few that can be applied to the operation, management and leadership in a law firm.

Innovation: Edgy Ideas Others Originally Reject

The artificial harbor was not an invention of World War II leadership but an idea that Winston Churchill had in 1917 in relation to prosecution of World War I. The idea was not yet ripe at the time, and the memo Churchill wrote about the use of artificial harbors was filed away. The idea in that memo was finally taken seriously when Churchill reintroduced it during World War II as a temporary solution when a port could not be immediately captured in an invasion. 

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