Over the years, I have had the honor to work with business owners, many who are also veterans from all ranks of the military. For our veteran entrepreneurs, in addition to their selfless dedication to country what has stood out to me is their ability to harness the discipline and lessons learned during their time in the military, and then apply those traits to become successful entrepreneurs.
A 2011 Small Business Administration (SBA) study found that "veterans are at least 45 percent more likely than those with no active-duty military experience to be self-employed." Through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, the Southern California Regional Center at Long Beach City College provides a business and management education program, business advisory services and alumni services for entrepreneurs with businesses poised for growth. We have worked with veteran entrepreneurs on what we consider the front lines of developing business growth plans. What is clear to me is that business owners with training from the military service are building and sustaining successful businesses. Adaptive, decisive, and unwavering dedication are the military traits that these veterans have said are often the ingredients of their success. Let me share more about some of our veteran owned businesses.
Army veteran and owner of an environmental consulting firm, The Sanberg Group CEO Sandy Schneeberger once told me, "My military service provided me with great leadership training, team building skills, and experience working in a large dynamic organization. The military trained us to be disciplined, decisive, adaptive, mission focused, and resilient. All of these characteristics are necessary to succeed in the entrepreneur's dynamic and challenging market place." She added, "We have a 'veterans first' policy - for any job opportunities. I first look for a veteran qualified for the position before I look to other resources."
Schneeberger shared that she felt a need to support and mentor others in the veteran business community. Committed to making a difference in the lives of veterans, she said, "We must provide jobs for our returning veterans whenever possible. By upholding these commitments, we can continue to serve our fellow veterans who have served this great nation." She thinks strategically and has a desire to fulfill her duty to her business and other veterans.
Veteran entrepreneurs show constant discipline, problem solving skills, and the ability to build a team, and with these skills they are able to meet the daily challenges that a small business owner faces. Coast Guard veteran and CEO of IO Environmental and Infrastructure, Mike Bilodeau was recently honored at The Aspen Institute, Global Leader Forum. He explained experiences in building his business by saying, "I am frequently told, and as is in my case, that serving one's country better conditions one for independent thought, teamwork and risk taking. There are many programs to help veteran entrepreneurs, but none other like the 10,000 Small Businesses program. This program has allowed me to focus working on growing my business and with growth I have been able to actually hire more veterans and/or mentor other veteran owned firms." Mike has a goal for his firm to have a 40% veteran staff. They work with the Employment Development Department (EDD), Wounded Warriors as well as other organizations to assist with this internal company goal.
When I reflect on the veterans that have been in our classroom and graduated from our program, in the words of our veteran business owners, 10 common success ingredients come to mind:
5. Unwavering Dedication
7. Mission Focused
10. Team Builders
Just as they have exhibited their duty to our country, they are building our communities. Air Force veteran and CEO of Custom Acrylic Products, Ron Hamilton always positive and with a smile brings his military and corporate experience to his small business. Ron says, "I feel that serving allowed me to learn persistence. It's the persistence with something you love until you make it successful." He said he does not consider himself an entrepreneur -- "When hiring, I don't specifically look for veterans; I look to serve the underserved in the community, particularly those coming out of prison, which is how we started the company. It's not about the money, it's about achieving - overcoming a challenge."
Our veterans put their lives on the line to protect our freedom, some have said they find it difficult adjusting to life after the military, and that all they want is an opportunity. I have seen many businesses flourish through the leadership of a veteran entrepreneur. As we move into the season of giving and 2014, let's work together to support our veteran owned businesses and look for opportunities to provide jobs for our returning vets.
Vivian Shimoyama is a regional executive director of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.