Before the end of WWII, FDR signed the G.I. Bill for all the returning veterans. By the end of the war there were over 16 million who served during WWII out of a US population of over 130 million people, so veterans comprised around 12% of the our US population. Vets not only applied for this education and training opportunities, but their “gung-ho” attitude learned in training and during the war was applied toward their new life in America. Veterans made up about 49 percent of college enrollment in 1947 ( http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe40s/life_20.html ). This same “gung-ho” attitude is true for all veterans, including recent veterans of the first Gulf War I and those having served in the Iraq and Afghan wars.
Today, less than 1% (around 1.5 million both active and reserves http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Armed_Forces ) of today’s US population (315,000,000) are currently serving in the US military; and being a military veteran is one of the strongest indicators of who in this country is likely to start a business. Veterans are 45 percent more likely to start a business than none military, per the article How Military Veterans Are Finding Success in Small Business. It is because “military training develops organizational skills and risk-tolerance.” So as a veteran, what other aspects does one learn in the military that creates the best skills to excel as a business owner.
1. Service. Why is military training some of the best business startup training a person will ever receive? The #1 reason: Service. Service to a cause bigger than oneself, and the guiding North Star of both the military and businesses is the same: It’s all about serving others. For the military, it is serving your nation, for businesses, it is serving your customer. Henry Ford said it best, “A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits: they will be embarrassingly large.” Both the military and business focus on the customer and both solve problems with the amount of resources available. In the military, the nation taxes it’s citizens to pay for the military’s service of defending a nation. The slight difference in business is you’re solving the customer’s problem and they pay you directly for solving it. The focus of why does not change, it’s still serving your customer, the change is on how you serve.
For a veteran, when you leave the military, some service members may feel like you’ve lost something, been hit in the stomach, lost your focus, or even your “will to fight.” During a recent Sons of Guns TV show episode The Gun That Killed Osama, Chris Kyle of American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History fame revealed his sense of “loss” after leaving the service to another vet who agreed about those feelings. Some may feel a loss and sometimes it takes something specific or even time to get a new “mission” to take on. The key for any service member transitioning to civilian life is to find a new life mission.
2. Perseverance/Keep Hope Alive. There is always hope, especially if as a veteran you’re able to see that your personal talents, skills, and your purposely instilled military mission drive are some of your greatest resources. In most cases you’ve had more responsibilities than anyone else your age. All of these elements that are a part of you now have better prepared you for a new life in business compared with the rest of the civilian population. You just need to acquire some additional knowledge and skills to be successful. One thing is for certain, you have a strong foundation of service and skills. When you switched jobs in the military you get more training, the same thing happens in the business world. The difference is, when it comes to business learning and training, you have to take the initiative to get it. You’re now in charge of your own mission, your own destiny. You’re your own mission commander of your new life. Take charge like you’ve been taught.
3. Courage/Risk-taking. While in the military you may be putting yours or others lives on the line, in business it probably won’t be as dangerous, unless you’re a firefighter, police, or you pursue another career choice that’s risky for you or others. Whatever the case, you’re always mitigating the situation to prevent harm to yourself or others and/or the dollars and time that are at stake.
4. Teams. In the military, it’s all about teams of people with talents and skills. Most of the veterans I personally know have many of the skills needed to get into business, and in some cases do a better job than some of today’s business leaders are doing it. Why? Because the veterans have that higher calling, the call of “something bigger than yourself” that is needed in today’s business environment. So in the translation from the military vernacular to civilian it comes down to this the next point.
5. Service toward Military Mission = Service to Civilian Customer. The higher calling is being honorable in both fighting a just war, and, in ensuring that a customer is satisfied with the solution that you provide and is never in harm’s way with your product or service. Just as service members are sheepdogs protecting the sheep from the wolves, that same view is carried over into the business world. Sell no harm. The greater you are at being effective and efficient at getting the job done with your resources, the more you have to continue the fight in serving your customers.