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John A. Meyer Headshot

Veterans Ready to Serve As Corporate Assets and Entrepreneurs

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Myth: A veteran's skills and experience gained in the military are not transferable to the business world.

Reality: A trained, disciplined veteran is the best resource for protecting the front lines of your brand or business.

Imagine a veteran, who is also a customer service or tech support agent, handling that all-important point of contact between you and your customers. He is the first line of defense for your brand, committed to completing the mission, responsible and accountable, technologically savvy, problem solving under pressure, all while communicating respectfully and never losing his cool.

Clearly, this individual is an asset to your business.

Yet, veteran unemployment for those who fought in post-9/11 wars is currently at 7.9 percent -- higher than the national figure of 6.7 percent.

Why? The biggest stigma holding veterans back is the belief that military experience does not transfer to the business world. This is simply untrue. Veterans have acquired important management and entrepreneurial skills through enlistment and subsequent
deployment. They have exercised dedication and commitment; worked as a team toward a common goal; supervised and motivated people; and developed the confidence to lead and make calculated decisions. Their experience is highly applicable in the business world. The problem is, they might need a translator.

The military has its own language, and so does the corporate world. Most vets need guidance in translating military terminology to convey what they have accomplished. Companies working with ex-military should be aware of this language gap, not overlooking veterans who are valuable assets.

As a former U.S. Air Force flight commander and current CEO of Arise Virtual
Solutions, I've seen firsthand the impressive performances of veterans as professionals and entrepreneurs. At Arise, we have worked with thousands of small businesses run by veterans who, because of their unique training in the military, know how to take ownership of a situation and create the perception that they are in charge. They are empathetic and can think like a customer, bringing their excellent communication skills and firm grasp of technology to the front lines.

Veterans clearly have the potential to be more than a menial worker. They can be managers and entrepreneurs, but they would do well to guard against common pitfalls of re-entering the workforce or starting a new business. Those who have served in the military should avoid coming off as too stiff -- or too directive. In the military, you tell someone to do something and they do it. In the business world, you have to leave the room for consultation and input before a decision is made, so that colleagues feel involved in the process.

My biggest challenge in transitioning to the business world was that in the military, the objective was clearly defined and singular: take the hill. I measured how successful I was by how fast I took the hill. In the business world, there are conflicting opportunities, and taking that hill is not necessarily a goal shared by the entire team. It is important to bring the why into the room, as a leader, and let the team understand the decision process so there is participation and learning. Early on in business, there were some hills I took and found that I hit the top all by myself. It goes with the territory. Then again, that is why veterans often make good entrepreneurs and business partners.

Programs such as the White House's Joining Forces initiative provide much-needed exposure for veteran unemployment. When First Lady, Michelle Obama takes the podium, she shines a light on the issue. However, the next step is to build a bridge from the military to work opportunities for vets returning home. In addition, the U.S. Small Business Administration could support veterans who want to be entrepreneurs and start a business by making special loans available.

While the Walmart pledge to hire 100,000 veterans within five years is a move in the right direction, our goal in America should be more ambitious. Why not empower 20,000 veterans-turned-entrepreneurs and the small businesses they run? Veterans have proven that they are capable of not just filling jobs but creating jobs for fellow Americans -- a better long-term goal for our economy and our country.