John Flynn has had many roles throughout his life, including as a football player, Air Force soldier, advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden as part of the Obama administration, and is currently senior vice president of administration and aviation for MGM Resorts International. Regardless of the position he has held or with the people he has worked with in those positions, there are two common traits: service and leadership.
Flynn said of MGM Resorts' Global Aviation Division, "I have several different departments that I manage and manage. We have several planes and a few dozen pilots.” He also works with other military personnel with the Security Operations Division and its Military and Veterans Program (MVP). Overall, Flynn works with over 2,000 people in his diverse roles in the corporate world. That might seem very different compared to his military career, but he found that the two fields have more in common than meets the eye.
“Some of the things we learned in the military we also appreciate in the private sector. I think a couple of those things are that you learn to be flexible and proactive and reprioritize different goals like you would in the military and you often fail. But it's not about failing. It depends on whether you get up again.”
John Flynn's commitment to leadership and the betterment of others can be traced back to his childhood. Flynn grew up in Irvine, California, as the youngest of two children. Sports were an important part of his life as he was associated with teams like the California Angels (MLB), the Los Angeles Rams (NFL) and others. t only was he a fan of these sports, he also played them.
"I grew up with baseball, football and basketball, whether it was in my school or in Irvine."
Football was the sport in which Flynn found the most success. He started out as quarterback for Mater Dei High School for three years and they finished as the best team in the country. That prompted him to look for opportunities to play for Vanderbilt or the United States Air Force Academy. He felt that high school was an important time for him as some of the lessons he learned on the field could be applied off the field.
"It was here that I first learned how to successfully recover from a game-to-game failure," he said, laughing. "It was a good life lesson."
Even in his childhood he was able to learn from people who stood by him as mentors such as his parents, coaches and teachers.
"You don't really appreciate these mentors until you've moved away, grown up and matured in life."
By the time he graduated high school, Flynn had thought he would go to Vanderbilt, but a change in the head coaching position there shifted his focus to the Air Force Academy. A trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado later, and he knew where he was going. In hindsight, the choice makes sense to him as he grew up in an area where it was common to see Marines and Navy personnel. His father served
in the Marines and his grandfather was in the Navy during World War II. Even if he joined another branch, the military may have been his destiny.
"I definitely liked the idea of flying planes, getting my degree, and basically doing what the military has to offer."
In his football role, he would be a backup quarterback but was also able to enjoy some moments with his teammates and learn valuable lessons at the college level as well. He also served as a coach during the second half of his senior season. He looked back fondly on that year as his team finished in the top ten in the country's rankings.
"For a service academy football team to finish in the top ten nationally was a pretty big deal."
After completing his college career, he joined the Air Force full-time, accumulating more than 3,100 hours as a C-17 evaluator pilot. He has spent part of his career in Afghanistan, as well as in Baghdad, Iraq and elsewhere. He was proud to be a part of this effort, but acknowledged that missions of this magnitude in which he was involved required the support of many teammates and fellow Soldiers.
“The fighting in the early days of the war on terror in the mid-2000s was pretty incredible. To be in the military and to do these successful missions, you had to work with a lot of people.”
In addition to working under great leaders and being a part of leadership in both sports and the military, another common theme is being physically ready at all times. That's why fitness was and still is an important part of his life.
"Once again, there are a lot more similarities than differences," Flynn said of the fitness level of both areas. "In general, I think it's important to stay fit, keep up the cardio, and maintain muscle tone. Sometimes you have to carry 75 kilograms on your back on these missions and you have to be in incredibly good shape to do that.”
John Flynn went on to Washington, DC, where he worked for the Department of Defense as a Legislative Fellow under Senator Bill Nelson and at the Pentagon, eventually becoming involved in the ultimate form of leadership—a presidential administration. Flynn served as a special assistant to the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, and as an advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden. After flying for ten years, this change in momentum might come as a shock to most people at first, but Flynn adapted and found another way to contribute to his country.
"It was really educational and enlightening after you were at the forefront of the spearhead, you were at the bottom of the policy and then the orders came and you followed those orders operationally," he recalled. "It was incredibly instructive for me."
After his time in Washington, he transitioned to the position he now holds at MGM Resorts. He is still enlisted as an AFWERX reservist with the Air Force. He also takes time to stay in shape as that is a variable that allows him to look his best for everyone around him as well as for himself.
"You can make clear decisions, you can make better decisions and have more confidence in what you do"
John Flynn wants to make sure the next generation of Americans know and have a positive impact on the military. He took his son to a Veterans Day event called Salute to the Troops, which honored those who were willing to give anything for freedom.
"It's very important that we celebrate military personnel in this next generation," he said.
Though he is now in private industry, he believes the military can still be a great option for young people who want to prepare themselves for great accomplishments in the future. He advises carefully considering all options before making a final decision.
"As a 17 or 18 year old, it's a really exciting time to graduate from high school because there's so much out there that can help you achieve your goals," he said. “If you're doing your research, you should look at companies, the military, and even colleges or universities to find the best options for them.
You can learn more about Col. Flynn by following him at John S. Flynn on LinkedIn