WASHINGTON: Who is Vincent Viola, Donald Trump’s pick for Army Secretary? “He knows how to build teams of young men. And what is the Army? Mostly teams of young men,” said Maj. Gen. Bob Scales. On the trading floor of Viola’s successful trading company, Virtu, which has earned billions from high-tech trading algorithms, “they’re all kids…from MIT and CalTech,” Scales told me in wonderment. “Vinnie whips them into a cohesive unit. That’s a rare skill.”
Scales, the retired commandant of the Army War College, first met Viola when the West Point-educated entrepreneur took his employees on Scales’ “staff ride” around Little Big Horn. No mere tour guide, Scales uses the battlefield where Custer fell as a case study in leadership and decision-making, both good and bad. Scales also expects his guests to ride on Indian ponies authentic to the period so they can experience the ground as the combatants did.
When Scales suggested to Viola that some of his techies — “virtually none of them knew anything about the military” — might want to take a van, the ex-Army Ranger scoffed: His men would ride. Viola and his staff enjoyed the experience so much they hired Scales for a second staff ride, a 10-day visit of the Normandy battlefields in France.
“He told me, ‘I attribute my success as a CEO to the time I spent at West Point and in the Army,” said Scales. “He took the tenets of West Point… and applied them to his leadership style on Wall Street. I’ve been around Wall Street a long time and I’ve never seen anything that effective.”
Viola stands at the intersection of multiple worlds: Wall Street, the tech industry, and the Army.
- He moves among the New York super-rich, having bought a $114 million house near Central Park in 2013 — a transaction that would have brought him to real estate mogul Trump’s attention if nothing else did.
- He succeeded on Wall Street by applying innovative technology to trading, analyzing vast amounts of data to help humans make quick, savvy decisions — a major theme of the Pentagon tech drive known as “Third Offset Strategy.”
- And he remains closely tied to the Army, connecting troops to tech experts, giving money for veterans, and funding projects at his alma matter, West Point — “the Counter-Terrorism Center, the West Point Cyber Center, the Modern War Institute (where) I am an adjunct professor, (and) the Military History Institute,” Scales said, off the top of his head.
But how will Viola’s style translate to the Pentagon? “He’s got a great deal of impatience, he does not suffer fools gladly,” Scales said. “He’s made his company great because of his ability to bust through bureaucracy…. Boy, does the Army need that.“