Hiring America’s Heroes: What Four Companies Are Doing To Hire Veterans

By Russ Banham

Chief Executive

Earlier this year, Chief Executive, in partnership with the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at West Point, launched our inaugural Patriots in Business Awards to honor the Best Companies with Veteran & Military Initiatives. The award recognizes outstanding businesses that lead our nation in supporting active duty military members, veterans and their families and exemplify the values of Duty, Honor and Country through their business practices and throughout their community and industry.

“Chief Executive and TLDG created this award to recognize the innovative and dedicated initiatives of companies big and small to support America’s veteran and military families,” says Marshall Cooper, CEO of Chief Executive Group. “In doing so, we hope to inspire more CEOs to improve or begin their own efforts.”

“The winners distinguished themselves by consistently improving their military support each year, and going beyond just focusing on hiring efforts,” notes Dan Rice, cofounder and president of TLDG. “Once a veteran or military spouse is hired, their support continued through mentoring, training, volunteerism, outreach, networking and more.”

Both organizations extend their thanks to the judges in this first Patriots in Business Awards: Nicholas Pinchuk, chairman and CEO of Snap-on Incorporated; Gen. Herbert J. “Hawk” Carlisle (ret.), president and CEO of National Defense Industrial Association; Michael Linnington, CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project; David Kim, founder and president of the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation.

Large Enterprise: Comcast NBCUniversal

Led by retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Carol Eggert, Comcast NBCUniversal’s Military and Veteran Affairs team is a fully-staffed organization focused on recruiting, hiring and cultivating veteran and military spouse talent. The team pursues this mission via a holistic, end-to-end approach that ensures that its branding, community impact and partnership efforts on behalf of the military community are aligned across the business.

Key features of the company’s wide-ranging veteran programs include 15 days paid time off each year for active duty employees on deployment for military training, in addition to regular paid time off. The employees’ benefits continue without change, safeguarding their families’ financial protection.

Comcast supports a relocation assistance program for military spouses, guaranteeing them a job interview when transferring to a location within the company’s geographic footprint. Outside these areas, spouses are referred to recruiters from partner companies. A generous transition package also is provided. Comcast also supports the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Hiring Our Heroes” corporate fellowship program, which provides service members the opportunity to gain corporate experiences before transitioning into the civilian sector. In 2015, the company committed to hiring 10,000 veterans, National Guard and Reserve members, and military spouses through the end of 2017. To get the word out about this ambitious hiring agenda, the company hosted an Employee Military Awareness Week each year, supported by a national communications effort. The hiring goal was met and exceeded. Since 2010, more than 15,000 members of the military community have joined its workforce. “We continue to hire and support this incredible community, as well as develop new partnerships to help us do so,” said Eggert.

Medium-Sized Business: Academy Securities

Founded by former U.S. Naval Officer and Naval Academy graduate Chance Mims, Academy Securities is the nation’s first and only post-9/11 disabled veteran-owned broker-dealer. More than half the ownership (58 percent) of Academy Services consists of military, combat and/or disabled veterans. Eighty percent of management ranks and 41 percent of employees also are veterans. All are encouraged to engage other veterans to apply for employment. The firm’s 2018 target for veterans as a percentage of total hires is 50 percent.

Academy Securities’ management team reviews all veteran employment applications. Many candidates are given training to take the FINRA Series 7 examination to become general securities representatives. After completing the program, they are eligible to become full-time hires. If job positions are unavailable, the firm assists applicants with interview preparation skills, internships and/or industry mentoring. It also encourages applicants to apply for jobs through its partner networks like the New York City Veterans Advisory Board, Veteran’s on Wall Street and the Veteran Mentor Network.

“We understand that the financial industry is first and foremost a service industry, but we also recognize the strength of military values and culture and continue to maintain them in our firm’s core values of teamwork, loyalty, and integrity,” says Mims, Academy Services’ CEO. “We want to be consistently recognized for our unwavering adherence to our core values and fellow veterans, as well as exceptional client service.”

America’s military veterans are some of the most skilled people on the planet, able to lead a project team through extraordinary challenges or deliver superior outcomes on mission-driven tasks. More than one million veterans will exit the U.S. Armed Forces over the next five years. This diverse talent pool has highly sought-after competencies, including discipline, flexibility, planning, technical, communications and problem-solving skills. And that’s the short list.

Yet, more than one million U.S. veterans remain unemployed, somehow slipping through the recruitment net. Research suggests companies struggle to access this talent pool, despite recognition of its potential. In a recent study by Chief Executive and the State of Indiana of nearly 300 U.S.-based CEOs, 57 percent reported that their company considered hiring veterans, yet only 17 percent had implemented a program to support those efforts.

The good news? A growing number of U.S. companies are creating initiatives to more closely align military training experiences with employment openings and business needs. And the efforts are paying off. “Veterans are disciplined and accountable; they take ownership of their work, are very proactive in finding solutions to varied challenges, and don’t make excuses,” says Larry Hughes, vice president of training and diversity at 7-Eleven and a former Army officer who commanded two company units as a field artillery officer during his five-year service. “They also have advanced technical training and strong cross-cultural experiences. And they’re team builders who know how to resolve conflicts, motivate people and get the best out of them.”

On the pages that follow, we share some practical tips from companies and CEOs making a difference in the lives of veterans—while also making the most of a great opportunity.

Getting Started

Kevin Ryan founded the Service Brewing Company, a small brewery with a taproom in Savanna, Georgia, in 2014. Of the company’s 24 investors, 20 are veterans; and the majority of its 13 employees are also veterans. One is currently deployed in the National Guard and another is a former military spouse. “We’re always looking for veterans to add to our team,” says Ryan, a 1996 West Point graduate who subsequently served as an Army infantry officer.

In recruiting, Ryan aligned with two local military bases (Ft. Stewart and Hunter AAF) and Georgia Tech’s Veteran Education Program. He also reaches out to student veterans at Georgia Southern, as well as at the Association of the U.S. Army, the Military Officers Association of America, the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum and many other organizations. “Soldiers don’t often get to go to job fairs or have the ability to network successfully, so we need to get out in front of them,” he says.

Other companies employ a similar strategy. At 7-Eleven, field personnel nurture close relationships with military base transition office staff members. “We advise on-base soldiers on resumé building and job interview tactics, host entrepreneurial boot camps and invite exiting service members to attend our seminars on franchising opportunities,” says Hughes. “We’re also a regular presence at military hiring fairs.”

The company has hired more than 300 veterans and military spouses as field consultants in the past year, tripling the number of these hires since 2014. The position is a gateway to other jobs in the organization.

Companies interested in hiring military veterans and spouses can draw on a wealth of resources geared toward assisting veterans. Local Veteran Service Organizations, Student Veterans of America chapters at colleges and universities and web sites like Hero 2 Hired, Veterans Job Bank or Vetsuccess.gov are all great ways of proactively recruiting ex-military men and women. Companies can also seek out career fairs focused on veteran recruitment and programs like Google’s “Jobs for Veterans” initiative.

Once hired, veterans and military spouses are given the special treatment they need and deserve to make the best of their talents. La Quintawelcomes military hires with a special veteran or military spouse pin for them to wear on their uniforms or business attire. Through the hotel’s guest loyalty program, five million points were donated to several veteran-focused organizations like Operation Homefront and Armed Services YMCA. “Putting people first is embedded in our culture, and those who have a passion for people and service fall in line with these core values,” says Derek Blake, La Quinta vice president of marketing and military programs.

Starbucks provides veterans with a unique benefit—to gift their Starbucks College Achievement Plan to a child or spouse. The program funds tuition for an online bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University in 150 various degree programs. Starbucks also offers veteran-employees what are called Military Mondays, a program developed with the William and Mary Law School to provide free legal counseling to service members at its stores. “Military Mondays is now scaling nationally and growing to include other critical services such as financial literacy training and investment counseling,” says Christopher Miller, Starbucks veterans and military affairs manager.

 Citi, in partnership with Bring Them Homes, has been instrumental in providing transitional, supportive, temporary, and permanent housing for veterans and their families. “To date, the program has supported the creation of more than 3,500 affordable housing units,” says Ruth Christopherson, a Citi senior vice president and retired colonel, U.S. Air National Guard.

Matching Skills

7-Eleven, which joined other U.S. companies in a 2012 pledge to hire one million veterans by 2020, is well on its way toward achieving the goal. The company has hired more than 300 veterans and military spouses in the past four years alone. To align the resumes of veterans with needed business skill sets, the company has created a presentation called “Military 101” that translates military assignments into corresponding business tasks.

“It ensures our recruiting team has a firm understanding of how military experiences and skill sets translate into roles within our team, and enables our transitioning veterans to be set up for success,” says Dave Strachan, chief of staff and a former Army officer. 7-Eleven CEO Joseph DePinto also is a former Army field artillery officer and West Point graduate.

Other companies tout the extraordinary range of abilities that soldiers attain over their own military careers. “People don’t think of veterans as having finance, operations, HR, IT or project management skills in a business context,” says retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Carol Eggert, a recipient of the Legion of Merit, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart and head of Comcast NBCUniversal’s eight-person Military and Veteran Affairs organization (see sidebar). She says that misconception is fueled by a lack of understanding of the breadth and scope of leadership positions in the military.

Many companies are doing just that, creating an array of programs designed to match military community skill sets with business needs.For example, Citi, cofounder of the Veterans on Wall Street recruitment initiative and corporate sponsor of Military.com’s mobile app, launched Citi Salutes to centralize its 17 military veteran employee networks under the oversight of an executive steering committee. The firm also created a Veterans Recruiting Toolbox for recruiters.

Dow Chemical implemented a program where four or more years of military service meet the company’s minimum job requirements. The company also is running a pilot Military Engagement Program, in which a current employee-veteran coaches service members and military spouses through its hiring process.

Many companies, including 7-Eleven, Starbucks and Comcast, are corporate partners in the Hiring Our Heroes fellowship program. The 12-week operations management internship is designed to provide the skills needed to succeed in the civilian workforce. “We make an offer of employment to fellows who complete the program,” says Strachan, citing 7-Eleven’s recent hiring of a dozen graduates.

Smoothing Transitions

For many veterans, their first job in the private sector can be dislocating. The management structure is different, the vocabulary of business is arcane and the processes are atypical. Easing the transition of this talented group of employees improves the chances of retaining them. A 2016 survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that 44 percent of veterans left their first post-military job within a year.

Job vacancies at the Black Knight, a fast-growing company of 5,000 employees, are being filled with veterans at a 10 percent rate. For good reasons, too, since the company pledges full-wage continuation and medical and dental benefits to employees called up for active duty in the Reserves or National Guard. Returning employees are placed in the same position, or another position they might have attained had they remained continuously employed. “We’re ensuring their career paths remain productive and promising,” Circelli says. “You need to make hiring veterans a priority and then have the dedication to fulfill that commitment.”

At construction giant. Cushman and Wakefield, a military transition roadmap helops veterans acclimate to the corporate environment. Deloittesponsors the Career Opportunity Redefinition and Exploration Leadership Program, helping veterans and active duty service members identify their unique strengths to better direct their careers. Every Deloitte business has a partner, principal or managing director as a Champion for Military and Veterans. GE partnered with the U.S. Army Reserve Medical Command in a pioneering externship program providing eight months of biomed and imaging training to Army Reserve biomedical technicians.

Another Opportunity

According to research compiled by Blue Star Families (BSF), 43 percent of military spouses are unemployed, compared to 25.5 percent of civilian spouses. Eggert suggests employers shun this talent pool for outdated reasons. “Employers know they often need to relocate,” Eggert explains. “This makes no sense in an era where Millennials are job-hopping every three or four years.” Comcast not only proactively recruits military spouses, but also helps those forced to relocate find jobs elsewhere in the organization or with other employers through its partnerships with different veterans coalitions.

Booz Allen Hamilton welcomes military spouse employees with personal emails from other military spouses at the vice president level and has developed a specialized handbook for their use. And Starbucks is a member of the Defense Department’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership program, composed of more than 360 employers vetted and recognized by the Defense Department as portable career options.

Certainly, companies looking for skilled, hard-working and motivated employees would benefit from giving more thought and effort to hiring veterans and military spouses. “Every branch of service espouses specific core values like loyalty, dedication, respect and integrity,” says Eggert. “Military personnel live by these values, forging people with remarkable character, self-reliance, tenacity to get the job done and leadership.”

Service Brewing’s Kevin Ryan is certainly happy he’s hired so many vets. “One of the first things the military teaches you is to take orders—you’re given a task and you do it,” says Ryan. “Working in a brewery is a physically demanding job. You’re pulling and pushing and shoveling all day long, and then putting on your best face to pour a draft for a customer. I’ve never heard a single complaint.”

Russ Banham is a Pulitzer-nominated financial journalist and best-selling author.