Nobody enters into the military expecting a job for life, or to change their fortunes. They do so to serve their country and make a difference to the lives of their families and people around the world. But the life experience, discipline, and leadership and management skills learned on the front line enable significant advantages when entering into business, whether you choose to work for someone else or become the director of your own firm. I would know.
As a military veteran myself, and a graduate of the Royal Military College and the Australian Defence Force Academy I servced as a commissioned officer in the Australian Army, completing operational tours to Central Asia and the Middle East. Transitioning from the the military to the boardroom wasn’t an overnight decision, but I believe that all military veterans have a lot in common, and a series of transferable skills that can’t be taught anywhere else.
Below, I explore military experience and explain what it can bring to businesses in all niches.
The core values
Whether you’re serving in Australia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand or in the United Kingdom, a number of core values are entrenched in everything you do as a serviceman. Courage – the ability to make some difficult decisions, and do what’s in the best interest of your country; Initiative – the ability to explore opportunities, embrace innovation, and make a real contribution to your team; Respect – not only the ability to respect yourself, but your colleagues, communities, and the history of your army and country; and finally, Teamwork – supporting team members, your community, allies, and partners to achieve and make a success of your mission, without fail.
One of the reasons why military veterans make good entrepreneurs is because those values are instilled from day one. On the front line, there’s no time for messing around, for making mistakes or for sitting around waiting for the world to come to you. To succeed, you have to work hard, be disciplined, learn how to solve problems, build relationships, handle stress and be dedicated to your craft. It’s those skills that set you apart from the rest and that can turn you into an entrepreneur. Knowing how to make the switch, however, is another story.
From an officer to an executive
It’s become something of a cliche – today’s business executives are ‘captains of industry’, their staffers ‘troops’ that devise strategies helping them ‘go to war’ with competitors. In truth, the business world is nothing like serving in the Middle East, but there are certain similarities between an officer and an executive. You cannot simply parachute in from the battlefield to the sales office, though – it takes training, and careful transitioning to become a good leader.
It’s no surprise to hear that 10% of American CEOs from S&P 500 companies served in the military, but entrepreneurs from some other countries, including my home nation of Australia, have been reticent to discuss their time on the front line – some, in fact, choose to avoid the subject altogether. Perhaps it’s because, in the United States, CEOs are applauded for being stern disciplinarians, whereas in other nations, we take a more modest approach to success.
However, times are changing, and leaders are becoming more profiled in the media, using their personal brands to network, sell products and services, and build names for themselves in industries. That’s not to say that all former officers should enter into a managerial role.
Negotiating a contract with a client, for example, is a very different kettle of fish to negotiating with a terrorist when your life is, quite literally, on the line. Understanding the nuances of the business world can take some getting used to, and adapting your way of thinking certainly won’t happen immediately, but with passion and hard work, it’s certainly possible for officers.
From my own experience, I’d recommend building market experience and awareness before trying to make a name for yourself in the business world, as diving in head first before you understand your niche and the wants and needs of your clients can end in disaster. But I’d also suggest embracing your experiences, battles, and missions: they’re part of who you are, and equip you with a competitive edge against others who do not have the same discipline.
The proof is in the pudding
With Biz Latin Hub, my back-office support company that enables businesses to expand into new markets across Latin America and Australasia, I’ve been able to apply a range of skills and experiences from my time on duty, but I’m not the only Australian officer to take a leap into the business world. Indeed, there are a growing number of Australian entrepreneurs with a background on the frontline, like Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, who started his career in the Royal Australian Navy, where he was deployed to Iraq. Since then, he has been recognized with the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award and is a three-time 30-under-30 winner. His startup accelerator, BlueChilli, was named BRW’s 3rd most innovative company and 7th fastest growing tech company in the Asia Pacific by Deloitte, going from strength to strength.
Tim Walmsley, on the other hand, is an army veteran who left the military to become the National Director of Strategy and Business Development for a US aerospace engineering firm. He’s now the CEO of Benchon, an innovative sharing economy platform that enables companies to tap into additional revenue streams by loaning their staff to other businesses.
There’s also Patrick Batch, who is today Director of BCT Solutions, but previously served more than ten years in the Australian Army at home and abroad, promoting the country’s interests and deterring and defeating threats in Baghdad and Madrid. BCT Solutions is now the fastest-growing consultancy in the industry, delivering services in electronic warfare, cybersecurity, intelligence, and technology, supporting government and corporate clients and utilizing his skills from his time on the frontline. His business was built on the foundations laid out by militaries around the world – research, evaluating complex problems and delivering the most appropriate outcomes in a timely manner, thinking not only about the here and now, but their client’s long-term goals and ambitions. It’s Batch’s military attitude that has enabled significant growth, positioning BCT as a leader in its niche, and delivering real results.
The truth is that no business would be a success without passion, hard work, and dedication, but veterans have the upper hand. Whether you’re an officer considering venturing into the business world, or an entrepreneur wanting to utilize the expertise of an ex-army officer, be confident that the skills that have been drilled into you from your first day will be applicable in the business world.