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Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Selfless Service. Honor. Integrity. Personal Courage. These are the seven core army values, identified by the U.S. Army. Taught in basic combat training, these values are instilled in soldiers so that they “live them every day, whether they’re on the job or off [the job],” according to the U.S. Army. Undoubtedly, though, these are life attributes, so once a soldier hangs up their uniform, these values translate into a veteran’s next venture, particularly so in the life of business and professional development as an entrepreneur.
“Military veterans have already demonstrated willingness to take risks, and have unequivocally spent long periods of time sacrificing time away from their families and working in austere conditions,” summarizes Magda Khalifa, a U.S. Army special operations combat Veteran. Khalifa is also the first American female Veteran to own her own fragrance line.
She told me directly, “Many Veterans have leadership skills and experiences that often far exceed their peers of the same age. They are trainable and have developed character and values. They have been tested and proven and have managed to solve problems with limited resources. They understand the culture of working in a team for a greater purpose and have demonstrated discipline and resilience. All of these things are critical in entrepreneurship and desirable in an employee.”
I saw this firsthand when I launched my firm, ZTPR, and hired U.S. Army Veteran Kyle Haman as an Account Executive. He demonstrated how these values were applicable to all areas of business, particularly problem-solving, which he said is a key role of military work. In addition to the character-first attitude of Veterans, I continue to work with dozens of Veterans and military nonprofits each month at my firm—their honest, reliable work ethic is unbeatable. Just look at some of the top companies with CEOs who came from military backgrounds: Alex Gorsky at Johnson & Johnson; James A. Skinner at Walgreens; Sumner Redstone at Viacom; Richard Kinder at Kinder Morgan. But it’s not just mainstream companies, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Veterans make up roughly seven percent of the population, and Veteran-owned businesses account for 6.1 percent of all firms in the U.S., that’s about 2.5 million veteran majority-owned businesses across the nation, as reported by Small Business Trends.
“There are several key skills and qualities I learned while serving in the military that crafted my entrepreneurial mindset,” shares Colin Wayne, a well-known decorated U.S. Army Veteran, on his success in founding his own company, Redline Steel. “Cohesive teamwork, persistent work ethic and drive, ability to lead, and a resilient discipline are all qualities that I can equally trace back to my years in the Army.”
Marshall Morris, a Veteran and CEO of HomeLife Media that is valued in the millions of dollars adds that when it comes to company culture, “Ownership of your output” is one of the biggest applications from his years in the Army. “Only when you truly own ‘you,’ all your decisions, successes and failures, thoughts and actions will you be able to really own the moment and make clear decisions,” says Morris.
Even when you may not be in the mindset to make a clear decision, or feel far away from yourself, soldiers can come back to the core values, which is how the military ensures that soldiers will perform under pressure. Sean Matson, retired U.S. Navy SEAL, who now creates products for the U.S. government and has turned himself into a multi-millionaire shares that understanding he had to master the basics was his key to success. “As a SEAL, we would do thousands of repetitions to ensure it was a muscle memory, that when it got squirrely, we fell back on the basics,” says Matson.
Also embedded into Veterans is a strong mindset of persistence, which Korey Shaffer, a U.S. Marine Veteran and founder of the Til Valhalla Project that gives back to Veterans says, kept him moving forward through the early development. “It was long hours, but so was the military; it hurt mentally and physically, but so did the military. The persistence to keep moving forward every time the mission seemed like a lost cause was embedded into me by the Marines.”
Khalifa also adds, “Having this belief and confidence in yourself and the context of understanding a different kind of ‘difficult; is a powerful strength in any sphere – most certainly in entrepreneurship.” She continues, “The tenacious, no-excuses, fast-moving, mission-focused mindset has eliminated a lot of the mental hurdles entrepreneurs face on the come up, or when they reach breakpoints in their business.”
But it’s not just about self-serving entrepreneurship. As mentioned, I have worked with dozens of Veterans and can vouch time and again for their incomparable work ethic and ability to perform as team players, which any successful business owner knows is a necessity for nimble growth.
“Veterans understand what it means to be part of a collective—a group of people who have the same mission moving in the same direction, ” says Morris. “As a company grows, this becomes more and more important. Having that understanding allows them to be key team players as a company matures.”
This is why Veterans tend to attract other Veterans, to work together, as they have a mutual understanding and training, which allows a cohesive coworking relationship. Matson explains, “My partner, Zach Steinbock (who is also a former SEAL) and I know how to build our team. Everyone in the team is important to the success and we treat all employees with the same respect.”
Kevin Newcom is a U.S. Veteran and the plant manager at Redline Steel, who works alongside Wayne, who I aforementioned, is the former Veteran and founder of the company. He says another advantage to working with and for a Veteran is the mutual understanding when it comes to the chain of command and organizational structure. He adds, “Veterans understand how to drive forward with tasks less than appealing and still get the mission accomplished whether that be cleaning weapons in uniform or cleaning and performing maintenance on important manufacturing equipment.”
So how do Veterans make the transition? And a successful transition at that? Many will tell you it’s difficult finding purpose after serving their country, however, that’s a lead factor in their decision to start their own business or to really dive into a company that aligns with their deeper passions. Khalifa says upon leaving the military, make sure to close that chapter, to leave it in the past, which will ensure a smoother transition; then, she adds, “immerse yourself in business like you immersed yourself in the military.”
Khalifa continues, “That means cut out whatever or whoever does not fit in your new mission. Find a business mentor qualified to guide you and vet them well. Learn to speak the language of business by surrounding yourself with other business owners. Form mutually beneficial relationships (your new battle buddy or swim buddy) where you can hold each other accountable to your targets on a weekly basis.”
So, if you’re looking to work with a Veteran but may not have an appreciation for their background, other than the title they carry, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the core values of the military first that I mentioned at the start of this article. Take an honest look at yourself and your values, and see which ones need improving. They may not be as inherent as some of the veterans you work with, which is another advantage of partnering or hiring a veteran; you’ll never quite carry those values how they do, but they may just teach you more about your company, and propel more growth, than you could have imagined.