Follow the rules. Be disciplined. Work hard. Fly right.
How has Marc Oken led a $31 million Capital Campaign at Sullenberger Aviation Museum over the finish line? He credits his Naval training under Marine Drill Sergeants for his “never say die” approach.
“I would say I’m competitive,” said Oken during an interview with the Collections Team at Sullenberger Aviation Museum in July 2023. “In my last business venture, I partnered with an ex-Marine. He loves to win, and I hate to lose. So we do okay together.”
Growing up in Baltimore (MD), Oken attended parochial school through the 8th grade. He went on to (Loyola Blakefield) Catholic High School where he played baseball and lacrosse. When he graduated from Loyola College of Baltimore in 1968, it was the height of the Vietnam War. Instead of waiting for the Army to call his low draft number, he joined the Navy instead. It was at Navy Officer Training School where he met the Marine Drill Sergeants that would solidify his work ethic and set him up for success in business and in life – after they did everything they could to make him drop out.
He went on to Vietnam and served on the USS Shangrila, an old Charlie Class Aircraft Carrier. Conditions were pretty bad when they weren’t in the air. Aircraft Carrier operations in Vietnam were pretty dangerous; when it rained you couldn’t see anything off the bow of the ship. “So when the weather was clear, we went,” said Oken.
As the co-pilot, he was responsible for troubleshooting the aircraft when something went wrong. You follow the checklist and figure out what to do to get the plane home. But if you are disciplined and follow the rules, he says, it’s pretty easy not to get killed.
Since he returned to civilian life, he hasn’t continued to fly. His life and his career have gotten in the way.
“I didn’t fly much out of the Navy. I worked too much on my career to take the time to put in the hours it takes to be a good pilot,” Oken said. “And once you’ve been through the Navy Flight Program, you’ve pretty much done it all.”
Oken has been successful hiring Veterans in his business ventures – first at Price Waterhouse, Bank of America and then at Falfurrias Capital, the company he founded with Hugh McColl, Jr. (the aforementioned ex-Marine) and Ed McMahan.
“Ex-military people are older, more settled, and focused…driven, unlike people that are right out of school.” said Oken. “I wish that there were a way to attract more young people to military service; it really changes your life.”
After working for large corporations for many years, Oken started Falfurrias Capital Partners (FCP) in 2006, where he manages the FCP portfolio. He has served on a number of boards in the Charlotte community over the years. But how did he become involved at Sullenberger Aviation Museum?
“I have always loved aircraft and flying. A few years ago, I went to an event that the museum hosted. I was impressed by the event, the layout, the people, and the aircraft. When I heard that they needed to raise a lot of money, I thought I’d be able to help them do that.”
The Museum took him up on his offer, and the rest is history (and science). He and six other volunteer leaders closed the book on the $31 million capital campaign earlier this year and as the immediate past board chair, he is actively involved in fundraising, board recruitment, and the business of getting the new Sullenberger Aviation Museum on the runway to take off in 2024.
Marc Oken’s Oral History will be archived in our collection and featured in the New Museum – scheduled to open in 2024.