Name: Joel “Thor” Neeb
Joel is the CEO of the consulting firm and corporate events company Afterburner, Inc.
In this role, Joel leads more than 70 former elite military professionals, including fighter pilots, Navy SEALS, and Army Rangers, in achieving strategic objectives and fostering elite teams for Fortune 100 companies and professional sports teams.
Joel joined Afterburner in 2012, was named president in 2015, and assumed the role of CEO in July 2019. Joel initiated Afterburner’s expansion from an events-based business into transformational business consulting. This focus developed into Afterburner’s newest business unit offering, Impact Consulting, where Afterburner’s team works along-side clients to identify challenges and improve performance.
As a former F-15 mission commander, United States Air Force, Joel continues to go by his pilot call sign, “Thor,” in his business career. As a pilot, he’s both escorted the President and performed flybys at football games. He was the tactical leader of 300 of the most senior combat pilots in the Air Force and oversaw the execution of a $150M/year flight program. Joel was named the Top Instructor Pilot at the Air Force Flight Training Headquarters in 2010. In 2012, he was selected out of 62,000 people to receive the Air Education and Training Command (AECT) National Public Service Award.
In 2010, Joel was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and given a 15 percent chance of recovery. During treatment, Joel founded CureCare, a community outreach program for at-risk students in San Antonio. To date, CureCare has reached more than 15,000 kids. Additionally, he co-authored the upcoming book Survivor’s Obligation, out in October 2019, to tell the story of his cancer journey and his resolve to live an intentional life.
Joel sits on the board of several national organizations and is the co-founder of a military support corporation including PCSgrades.
Joel holds a BA from the USAF Academy, an MA from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and an MBA from the University of Texas. Joel enjoys competing in sporting events; he completed the New Zealand Ironman Triathlon in 2015 and was a contestant on American Ninja Warrior in 2018. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and three children.
I got to know Joel while I was at VMware. Joel and the Afterburner team provided training for VMware Executives and then all organizations across the company. Joel kicked off the training and found a way to meet and get to know most of the leaders at VMware.
More important than how I met Joel, is why I decided to have him on the podcast. Up to this point, every person that I have had on the podcast are managers that I have seen in action. I selected them not because they were all the same, but rather because I saw something in them that I thought was exceptional and important to share.
I have not seen Joel in action, managing his team. But based on what I have seen, it is clear that he is a great manager. That he has an amazing rapport with his team. That he cares about them and they reciprocate. That they are aligned to the vision, mission, and culture of the company, and are executing.
I also understand Joel’s personal story. His recovery from stage IV cancer and how it has changed him. I have read his book “Survivor’s Obligation: Navigating an Intentional Life”. I know about the events that he has participated in. And can see the good that he is doing.
In short, I think that Joel is perfect for the podcast. His experience is something that is important to share. I hope that you agree!
I asked Joel three questions that were specific to him.
- You spent a number of years in the military. Then moved into industry with Afterburner. As a manager, what is the same and what is different when comparing the military to industry?
- As a follow on – in the military, I imagine there is a lot of stress and pressure, some due to being in life-and-death situations. While not the same, managers in industry often feel a great deal of stress and pressure. What have you learned that can help these managers deal with the stress and pressure of their job?
- As a member of Afterburner, and now the CEO, one of the things I am sure you are involved in is helping sell the methodology to companies. Given how unique it is, and with its connection to the military, I assume there are hurdles to closing deals. Can you talk about how you work through and overcome these hurdles?
- Many people go through life-altering events. Your battle with cancer was bigger than many. Having gone through that, how do you put things into perspective? What advice do you have to others that they might use even without having such a major event?
I then asked Joel the same six questions that I ask all interviewees – in a lightning-round format.
- What’s the most important factor you consider when hiring someone?
- Who was your most effective boss, and what made him or her stand out?
- What was the most difficult transition that you made in your career?
- How do you approach helping someone with their career development or path?
- What tools and tricks do you use to find work-life balance?
- How do you go about building relationships with your peers and other leaders in the company?
It is hard to pick a few quotes from the interview – there are so many that resonate with me. But here goes anyway!
When I asked Joel about work-life balance, a couple of things jumped out for me. The first is related to how he integrates work and life together.
“Work should feel like focused play.”
And the second is more generally how he prefers to think about the topic. He is not a fan of the word balance.
“I prefer to think of it as work-life harmony.”
I also loved the discussion about surviving cancer and the survivor’s obligation. This changed his perspective as it relates to work in a way that I think would be beneficial to all of us.
“I don’t have to do these things – I get to!”
This is the first time that I have interviewed someone that I have not seen manage. I think that the interview is amazing. I hope that you think so as well!
I talked to Joel about his career journey. I don’t interview many people like Joel. I hope you enjoy hearing from him.