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8 Things The Army Taught Me About Running A Small Business
There is a huge segment of the veteran community that is recognizing that entrepreneurship, small-business ownership, and self-employment are the right choices for them after leaving the service. The numbers speak to this trend. The Small Business Administration found that as of 2013 more than 2.4 million U.S. firms were owned by veterans, representing about 9% of all American companies. Those companies employ over 5.8 million people and account for over $210 billion in annual payroll.
Clearly, business ownership is a place for many of us who have served and it certainly has been good to me over the last four years. While building my various companies, I’ve found a lot of things I learned, skills I gained, and common traits I gleaned as a 22-year Army officer come in handy and have prepared me for the challenges of building successful firms. In no particular order, here are a few of the ones that come to mind often.
1. Mission analysis is a continuous and evolving process.
We all know the old yarn that no good plan survives first contact with the enemy and business is no different. I am constantly looking at the business landscape, my competitors, the newest trends in the sector, and a host of other issues. You may find that the“revolutionary” idea that you built your perfect two-year long business plan around is meaningless on Day One after launch because you only did one analysis and didn’t keep it up.
2. Risk is a relative term as a veteran.
I was an aviator for most of my career, including two combat tours as an Aeroscout and Blackhawk pilot, so constant risk analysis was inherent. One wrong choice during a nap-of-the-earth flight with a load of Pathfinders in the back meant a horrible price. The choices we make as business owners can be difficult too and people could lose their jobs or a lot of money, but in the end, it’s not often they might lose their lives. So having an ingrained sense of what real risk means allows me to make tougher choices, faster than my competitors, without over thinking things. Because in the end, we all will still be around tomorrow.
3. Hire against your weakness, not your strength.
The best leaders I served under understood that having a staff made up of people who all thought the same, behaved alike, and acted as a chorus in harmony actually undermined the command. As a CEO, I hire people who have minds that function differently than mine, experiences I have never had, and perspectives I can’t possibly share, so we offer clients a range of options and approaches instead of just one answer. This has resulted in a team of people who think out of the box.
4. Check your ego at the door.
The fact is that if you want to be a successful business owner you have to be a little cocky, but you also have to do the hard work to get there. I have seen too many leaders go down in flames from unbridled egos while I served in the Army. I’ve seen an equal amount in business and nonprofits too. The contract that made you “Businessman of the Year” can disappear tomorrow and then you are back to square one. Confidence is good; “God syndrome,” not so much.
5. What the commander cares about is what everyone cares about.
I had the good fortune to be an Aeroscout platoon leader three times as a lieutenant. Each time I took over a new unit I had them stencil my name on the “hangar queen” aircraft. My last platoon had an OH-58 that had been down for six weeks and I declared I’d fly it on our first battle drill in two weeks. It made it and never went down for long again. Business is no different. Employees care about what you care about so pay attention and focus on what matters.
6. Always make a plan even if time is short.
Even when time is crunched and things are on fire, it’s important to take some time to develop a plan. The Army planning process is drilled into our heads from an early stage of our training, so being able to quickly develop a plan and execute it is second nature. Businesses often don’t do this. It doesn’t have to be a perfect plan, but taking the time to sit back, evaluate the options, analyze the targets, and come up with a path forward has been key to success in my businesses and client engagements over and over.
7. A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.
The corollary to the previous lesson is that you can also overthink things. While you are spending time analyzing every aspect of something, your competitors may be moving out ahead of you. Do the important parts and then move out. If you’ve got a good team and you know what you’re doing, you will figure out the rest. Being one step ahead of your competitors is as important in business as it is in combat.
8. Leaders eat last.
As a young cadet, one of the first lessons I learned was that as a future officer I would always eat after the troops and sometimes that meant I went hungry. As a businessman, the same goes for taking care of my employees. It’s hard to grow a business and there have been times when cash flow was down or accounts receivable were delayed as they often are, so I missed a paycheck while my employees got paid. It sucks, but that’s what comes with being a leader. You get to reap the rewards, but sometimes you also have to suck up the bad when things are tough. Taking care of your people is what matters.
Editor's note: A combat wounded veteran, Ryan served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device buried in the road. He works as the Wounded Warrior Project's national Combat Stress Recovery Program director.
On Nov. 29, 2005, my life changed forever. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army armor captain deployed to Taji, Iraq, when my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. On that day, I lost two of my soldiers, Sgts. Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, and I lost my right arm and left leg.
Fatal training accidents are on the rise. Now the families of the fallen are pushing lawmakers to do something about it
CAMP PENDLETON — Susan and Michael McDowell attended a memorial in June for their son, 1st Lt. Conor McDowell. Kathleen Isabel Bourque, the love of Conor's life, joined them. None of them had anticipated what they would be going through.
Conor, the McDowells' only child, was killed during a vehicle rollover accident in the Las Pulgas area of Camp Pendleton during routine Marine training on May 9. He was 24.
Just weeks before that emotional ceremony, Alexandrina Braica, her husband and five children attended a similar memorial at the same military base, this to honor Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a member of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who also was killed in a rollover accident, April 13, at age 29.
Braica, of Sacramento, was married and had a 4 1/2-month-old son.
"To see the love they had for Josh and to see the respect and appreciation was very emotional," Alexandrina Braica said of the battalion. "They spoke very highly of him and what a great leader he was. One of his commanders said, 'He was already the man he was because of the way he was raised.' As parents, we were given some credit."
While the tributes helped the McDowells and Braicas process their grief, the families remain unclear about what caused the training fatalities. They expected their sons eventually would deploy and put their lives at risk, but they didn't expect either would die while training on base.
"We're all still in denial, 'Did this really happen? Is he really gone?' Braica said. "When I got the phone call, Josh was not on my mind. That's why we were at peace. He was always in training and I never felt that it would happen at Camp Pendleton."
North Korea threatens to resume nuclear weapons and ICBM tests if US-South Korea military exercises proceed
SEOUL (Reuters) - The United States looks set to break a promise not to hold military exercises with South Korea, putting talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons at risk, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
The United States' pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.
Customs and Border Patrol denied a Marine vet entry into the US for his a scheduled citizenship interview
A deported Marine Corps veteran who has been unable to come back to the U.S. for more than a decade was denied entry to the country Monday morning when he asked to be let in for a scheduled citizenship interview.
Roman Sabal, 58, originally from Belize, came to the San Ysidro Port of Entry around 7:30 on Monday morning with an attorney to ask for "parole" to attend his naturalization interview scheduled for a little before noon in downtown San Diego. Border officials have the authority to temporarily allow people into the country on parole for "humanitarian or significant public benefit" reasons.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.
Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.