The Afterburner’s Flawless Execution at UCSB

A-10 Fighter Pilot Patrick “Lips” Houlahan of the Afterburners spoke to the next generation of business leaders at the University of California, Santa Barbara in a lecture hall packed full of students from the university’s Technology Management Program.

The Afterburners are a group of fighter pilots, U.S. Navy SEALs, and other elite military professionals who bring their training and expertise in strategy development and leadership training from the cockpit to the boardroom. Today, Houlahan brought the Afterburner’s time-tested and combat-proven model for flawless execution to the business-savvy students of Dr. Ken Sterling’s marketing strategy class.  

Houlahan offered a six-step planning process to set business and organization leaders on the path to flawless execution. The steps are straightforward enough but, be assured, there are no shortcuts.

The first thing to keep in mind is that planning must be collaborative. Houlahan assures, “If we plan in silos then we execute in silos.”

Step one in the planning process is to determine a clear, measurable, and achievable mission objective that supports the big-picture goals. This means no broad reaching generalizations like, “Let’s launch a successful Facebook campaign” — this statement does not provide any actionable steps moving forward and it is nearly impossible to measure the success of such a goal. Instead, create a mission objective like, “Let’s launch a Facebook campaign that increases ‘Likes’ by 70%, and ‘Shares’ by 48% by October 31st.”– clear, measurable, and achievable.

Houlahan explains this six-step planning process with a detailed yet straightforward logic that only a professional fighter and instructor pilot could provide. After logging nearly 2800 hours of flight time, training over 320 replacement aircrew, and being named 2003 Instructor Pilot of the year, Patrick “Lips” Houlahan brings his tactical expertise, leadership, and superior instructional capabilities to each Afterburner’s workshop.

Another important asset, according to the Afterburner’s flawless execution process, is the presence of a Red Team. A Red Team’s sole responsibility is to look for potential problems and inconsistencies in the plan and report their concerns back to the original team to be addressed. Houlahan assures that if you do not do this kind of problem-solving internally and before execution, then your competitors and customers will after execution.

After going through the Six Steps of Mission Planning, one might think they would be ready for execution, right? Wrong. Before executing there must be a briefing. Often after so much time brainstorming it can be easy to lose sight of the purpose. The brief should create clarity of purpose by reviewing the big picture and the objective of the mission, as well as clarify the roles and responsibilities of team members.

In this interactive and informative presentation, Technology Management students learned that the Afterburner’s Flawless Execution strategy can be implemented into the planning and execution of their class projects, 3-year career plans, and into their future careers as business and organization leaders.

An afterburners presentation seeks to empower individuals, teams, and organizations to close execution gaps, accelerate learning and lead more effectively, and Patrick “Lips” Houlahan’s presentation did just that.

Truly this is a strategy applicable to any corporation, organization, industry, or individual who needs to reorganize and refocus their execution plan in the most efficient and effectively proven way possible.

The Afterburner’s motto says it all, “Accelerating performance through flawless execution.”




Tasha Harris is the Content Associate at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau. She graduated with honors and a degree in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara.  She also holds a certificate in Publishing from the Denver Publishing Institute at the University of Denver. Contact her at