Growing up, the military was always in the background of John Spencer’s life.
His father served in the U.S. Marines. A U.S. Air Force loomed near his hometown of Fairborn, Ohio. And though enlisting wasn’t his early life career goal, Spencer recognized that enrollment in the U.S. Naval Academy would both challenge him and enable him to receive a college education.
In a way, Spencer wandered into what would become an incredibly successful career in the Navy.
The next three decades of his life were shaped by submarines, nuclear engineering, and leading big teams at bases across the U.S. Spencer captained the U.S.S. Philadelphia and ultimately reached the rank of admiral — a role in which he commanded eight submarines and about 5,000 people.
He retired from the military in 2022 and came to the insurance industry. Spencer now works as the senior director of U.S. operations at ReSource Pro. Recently, he spoke to Carrier Management about his career switch and the ways his Navy foundation helps him lead in his new profession.
He said “the importance of teamwork, the value of strong and effective leadership — even the aspect of having a good, technical understanding of your job” are all values from his former career that guide him today.
Spencer’s Navy years can be divided into distinct chapters.
During his initial assignment as a submarine crew member and later as a nuclear engineering teacher, he learned the business and grappled with questions about how it fit into his future. Did he like the work? Could he see himself doing it for the rest of his life?
“And I decided yes,” Spencer recalled, “actually, I do like this. This is challenging, and I think I want to go after this.”
His goal was clear: He wanted to become the captain of a submarine. For the next decade, he built his experience and expertise so he could be selected for the job.
“From the first submarine [in] the early 90s, barely being able to find where my bed was, to becoming the captain of the submarine, [it] was only 15 years,” Spencer said when reflecting on his rise through the ranks. “You’re always kept on a pretty steady pace.”
After reaching that goal, Spencer devoted his knowledge and expertise to overseeing policy decisions and larger organizational assignments. That culminated with his ascension to admiral, a title that he held until he left the Navy last year. He said he walked away to give his family the chance to settle down in one spot.
His looks back on his days with the Navy as rewarding and exciting, adding that the organization pushed him to reach goals, learn, and continue gaining responsibility. Reflecting on his time with the Navy, he said he’s proud to have been part of an organization that contributed to the greater good.
“At its core, I always thought what we were doing was important,” Spencer said. “And I still do.”
Spencer wanted another challenge in his next venture. He chose to work with ReSource Pro, a strategic solutions provider, because of the company’s focus on problem solving. This quality was instilled in him during his time in the service.
In a nutshell, ReSource Pro “takes on work that’s either difficult or time-consuming or would be better performed by somebody else so that the insurance company can focus on the high-quality work that they want to focus on,” Spencer said.
This includes making sure insurance companies comply with government regulations, taking on small commercial line work, and more. ReSource Pro’s website lists agent and broker solutions as well as carrier and managing general agency solutions as its areas of expertise. Spencer said the organization’s transparency and reliability were attractive to him.
In his role with ReSource Pro, his team’s responsibilities include integrating acquired companies and making sure they have the same quality standards as ReSource Pro. His team also oversees projects directed toward accomplishing the company’s strategic goals.
“I said I was hoping to find something challenging that I could bring some of the things I learned in the Navy [to],” he said. “This has been a pretty good fit. Now, don’t get me wrong, the volume of things I don’t know compared to what I do know right now — [what I] don’t know is still much bigger. And I still have lots to learn about the industry. But there are some aspects that were familiar right away.”
Gaining insurance industry expertise while continuing to contribute to ReSource Pro’s growth are his own goals. He recognizes he still has a lot to learn professionally, and he’s thankful that he’s been given a chance to continue utilizing his skills after his military retirement.
When hearing his story, he hopes employers across industries recognize the value that can be tapped by looking to military retirees who may not have traditional resumes.
“And maybe it’s worth a chance,” he said. “Maybe if you look a little bit beyond just the first job titles and give a little thought to the kind of work that those people were assigned in the Army or the Navy, there might be value there.”