What is your background? What made you decide to get your MBA?
I was an undergrad at the Naval Academy. After finishing up school there in 2000, I was in the Navy for five years as a surface warfare officer, or ship driver in layman’s terms. When I got out of the military I was job searching just like most veterans, and came across Orion through a college buddy -- someone I had gone to the Naval Academy with and was in the same company with. He was working in Orion at the time, and he introduced me to Orion and I’ve been here for the past seven years or ever since leaving the military in 2005.
As far as getting my MBA, when Obama had come out with additional guidelines for GI Bill monies or reallocation of funds towards GI Bill late ’09 and beginning of 2010, I didn’t know if I was eligible, so I filled out my paperwork to the VA and said "I think I’m not eligible per my understanding of the guidelines." But I said "Hey, I'll fill it out anyway and let them say 'no' if I'm not eligible". And actually it came back and, I was fully eligible.
So I said “Wow! Well, okay.” I’d always thought about getting an MBA. My old man was a class of ’70 grad from the academy. He got his MBA from UVA and I got to see where he’s at in his professional world and kind of what opportunities have been afforded to him and our family. I always knew I wanted to go and learn more about companies. In recruiting you learn a lot about companies, and how they hire and things like that. Of course, you understand a little bit about what affects their industries, but you don’t necessarily know how a company is formed, how does the day-to-day financials work, what is the DNA and lifeblood of a company and how does it make its decisions with kind of assets, liabilities, and that whole equation.
That was really the curiosity. I’d worked with lots of companies in all kinds of industries and placed military candidates into them, but I still didn’t know how those companies worked – what was behind the curtain, so to speak. So that really was my desire to get an MBA to learn more. Once I found out I had some GI Bill money available to me, I said “Wow! That’s kind of use it or lose it type of thing.” The economy was going through a bit of a recession at that time. I could kill two birds with one stone and be working towards an MBA while working full-time. That was really my motivation.
Once I had applied to a couple of places, I realized that USC had an Executive MBA program with a satellite campus down here in San Diego. So, my goal was to go to a Top 20 school. And with USC offering a satellite and not having to drive to downtown LA to go to school, I jumped at that opportunity seeing that was the best format for me in working full time and still living in San Diego.
How did your military background help you as you went through your MBA program?
My military background probably helped me the most with managing time and being able to work with lots of different types of people, different ethnicities, different types of learning styles, different types of communication styles, and really at the end of it, the different types of leadership styles. Everybody in an MBA program is upper tier, if you will, just due to the screening process -- they’ve already gone through and gotten their degrees. Now that they’re applying again, they have to pass a certain screening criteria to be part of an MBA.
So you’re part of an upper group of people who want to improve themselves, and you want to be able to engage with them and work with them on projects and just studying and things like that. So having that experience in the military of dealing with lots of different types of people and having changed jobs so many times in the military, seeing both good and bad leadership styles, you learn how to work with lots of different types of people from the military and that’s what really helped me out with the MBA as far as from a military background perspective.
How has your MBA helped you in your current position?
It’s helped me in becoming more understanding into what my clients face within their industries. Additionally, I know a little bit more about why decisions are made when you hear some news within a certain industry, why companies decide to go a certain direction, and how budgeting works, and how a company has an operating budget and then spends their money on a fiscal year. So really, again, the finance, the fiscal, I have a better understanding as well as a lot of the common buzzwords. I probably would not have discovered a lot of the terminology had I not gone through an MBA program; so, the lingo that you use at the highest levels.
What advice do you have for people who are considering applying for an MBA through the GI Bill?
Apply. It’s pretty simple. The VA is very good at getting back to you whether the answer is 'yes' or the answer is 'no'. They’re pretty good at closing the communications loop. If you think you’re eligible or you’re not, it’s worth 30 minutes of your time to fill out the forms and register. That way you can understand how much you might have available to you, which would help you decide how you’d want to apply it, depending on your additional finances.
The GI Bill doesn’t cover all expenses to a program unless it's a state program. So, there are some programs, like USC which is private, where they'll cover up to a state maximum. So, it'll help you to better understand what type of school you want to go to and how much additional resources you might have available to help pay for school. But at the end of the day, it lets you know how much the government’s going to cover for you which will help you with your planning.
What types of veterans do you think are ideal MBA candidates?
Obviously those that have already gotten their Bachelors. So officers are kind of a no-brainer in that regard because a lot of them have already gotten that check in the box in order to become an officer and be commissioned. That's not to rule out enlisted candidates at all, especially the ones that have gotten their degrees while serving. At the end of the day, square one is what do people want to do?
It makes no sense to go spend money on an education if you don't know how you want to apply it. My old man asked me the same line of questioning when I told him I wanted to get an MBA. He goes, "What do you want to get your MBA in?" and I said "Well, business." He goes "What types of business: finance, marketing, business administration? There are lots of different flavors of an MBA." So, I didn’t know. He goes "Okay, so what school are you going to? Why are you going to go to that school? What is that school known for?"
You need to map out what you’re trying to accomplish a little bit which can be difficult, because you’re not sure. That’s the reason why you’re going to go to school, to be exposed to more. That's why there's nothing wrong with investing in yourself.
But as far as candidates, those that want to achieve a higher level of X and that could be a job within a vertical market that they’re already in, or a certain field where an MBA is needed for that job or for that level that they’re trying to access. Being a recruiter for the past 7 years, MBAs aren't necessary for some of the jobs that I think people believe that they are. You're never going to lose in investing in yourself, but try to understand where you want to be and then reverse engineer yourself back to "Okay, what do I have to do to accomplish that?", and if an MBA is going to help you leverage that, great, go forward with it. But if not, look at what you’re trying to accomplish first and realize what is a common thread to people in that space, and if an MBA is.
What can veterans do to make the transition from military to MBA easier?
Start reading while they’re serving. Don’t wait until you get out to grab The Wall Street Journal or try to understand certain concepts. You can Google pretty much anything. Obviously the purpose of education is to be guided or directed by instructors, but as far as how to make that transition to an MBA, start reading up on the areas that interest you and start teaching yourself a little bit on the types of things that pique your interest that you want to learn more about.
The other thing is Excel, Microsoft Office products but specifically Excel. If they’re not familiar with Excel, start practicing very rudimentarily, maybe with their own finances -- “Hey, what do I spend in a month on all my bills” -- and start being a little bit more proficient with Excel.
And reading, again, get some of the more popular books that are out there and start digesting information on your own, because you’re going to get that in spades; quite a workload once you start your MBA. Kind of conditioning yourself.
How often do you come across job positions that require an MBA?
For our firm, we don't come across too many jobs that require an MBA, because most of our candidates are leaving the service for the first time. So, there's more entry level positions. However, we do place candidates with MBAs into maybe a tier above entry level; more middle management, depending on what the customer or the client is looking for or the job functions that are needed.
If you’re transitioning from the military, you have to start off somewhere in the first job. That first job usually doesn’t require an MBA unless you’re going to go into finance planning, so again, it kind of stems from that. If you’re going to be a doctor, you've got to go to med school. If you want to be a lawyer, you got to get your law degree and then you have to pass your board – same thing as a doctor. So, if you want to become a financial investor, or an equity trader, you have to get your MBA, then pass your Series 6 or Series 7.
But I’d say it’s probably about 20% of the jobs that require an MBA and MBAs are never a detractor for sure. They’re always an enhancer. So, if they’re ever going to make it to the next level as far as a career path, most companies want to see an MBA somewhere in there in order to make VP, Director, more of an executive or C-level position.
What are some of the most popular job roles for military MBAs?
A lot of operations, analyst positions, general manager or the head of a specific business unit. So, when you look at a lot of companies that hire pretty exclusively military; some of your traditional Fortune 500s like Procter & Gamble, and GE, they’re hiring people that head up a specific profit and loss role within whatever division.
So, I would say the positions that will have P&L responsibility and that could come in, again, at different job titles project manager, product manager, analyst – those types of roles.
Finance is definitely another area but that’s also a little bit exclusive to geographical regions like New York City, Chicago, and the San Francisco area which are more money hubs as far as the financial market skill than let’s say Tucson, Arizona or Tulsa, Oklahoma. Those are a little bit more compartmentalized just due to the fact that that’s where those industries have hubs. You can probably include Washington DC in that.
What advice do you have for military MBAs who are looking for jobs?
Try to figure out what you want to be when you grow up.
The most powerful asset you have when you finish an MBA program is your personal network; those relationships that you forged in the military as well as now, those relationships you forged through your grad school. You leverage the power of your alumni association, but in order to really harness all of that, you have to be able to tell people how they can help you. Just sending a resume to somebody saying "What do you think?" doesn’t help anyone know how they can unlock doors or refer you places, because they don’t know where to send your resume, and their interpretation of where you might be a fit might not be what you’re looking for.
The best way you can tap into your network and utilize it to your full advantage is if you know you want to be a private wealth manager, now when you send your resume and when you market yourself within those communities, you can say "I’m trying to accomplish this role. Are you currently looking for that or do you know who might be looking for that you can refer me to?" Now, they know how to help you, and that’s really probably the most critical thing. I used to get resumes all the time from my classmates and the first thing I always say to them – the classmates from USC – is "Okay, great. I know you. I see your background. What are you trying to accomplish? Because, I don’t know who to pick up the phone and call based off of just looking at your resume. I need to know what you want to do so that I can help you." And sometimes people don’t know that’s probably the biggest hurdle for most of them. But trying to define what they’re trying to accomplish, and so that way their network can help them, is probably the biggest thing.
They don’t know the name of the game is to network; to get out there, to tell people you’re looking. And to be completely honest, hey I’m not quite sure exactly what it is – the specific job. I’m just trying to see what’s out there and learn what other people are doing. So, I kind of treat that as I go out there and interview people, go buy them lunch, go network and see what other people are doing, and how they got to where they are, and that can help at least cross some things off of your list, and maybe it gets you closer to zeroing in on exactly an area you want to focus on.
Why do you think more companies are looking to hire military MBAs?
I see it as a selection process. The military is not God’s gift to the world. Obviously companies have been in existence without military, but the military is the second largest talent pool entering the workforce every year. So it’s your most abundant source.
The other thing is that the military typically does – and this is a very broad stereotype -- is that they get real world experiences at a very young age. They’re being thrown into the fire. So, most corporations aren’t poised to hand off that much responsibility as far as people’s lives, capital, equipment, money at age 22 and 23. So, you get a little bit of the trial by fire at an early age. And again, the attention to detail, sense of urgency, duty, honor, courage, commitment – all those things kind of intangibly apply to most military people getting out. Again, the caveat is there are federal prisons for the bad eggs. I’m talking about more than 20% if you will.
So those experiences coupled with higher education, typically went to people who are going to be successful in life, and that’s where I think really what they’re trying to get after is where is another source of talent, because they’ve gone through the military ranks, because they’ve gone through an MBA program, they’re declaring pretty much to everyone in the world “I want to be successful. I’m willing to work towards that.” And again the military is a very measurable environment that people come through as well – it kind of shows that they’re really dynamic in the sense of they could be put into a lot of different roles and they’re going to succeed because they’ll find a way to leave their way out of it or to apply their leadership to succeed. I think it’s really that the companies are going after the intangibles military brings to the table coupled with the higher level education. You could say with the current economic crisis we’ve gone through in the banking industry has caused employers to hone in on people’s ethics. I’m not saying military people don’t lie, but typically they subscribe by joining the military and dealing with the rigors that the military had to offer that you’re getting at a much more ethical group of people, who are willing to maybe do the right things under certain circumstances where you could easily point a finger and say “Hey, that didn’t necessarily happen with some of these subprime mortgages and mortgage-backed securities and things like that that led us into a little bit of the problem that we came in with what happened in ’08 and ’09.
Is there anything else that you wanted to add?
The other thing I’ll probably leave everybody with is that getting an education is always worth the investment because you’re investing in yourself. But I would more so challenge most military people if they’re getting out and they’re looking at getting an MBA, don’t make it a passive process. Make it "What am I going to do once I have this now?” So, I always challenge them “How are you going to change the world after you get your MBA?" Hopefully, it's for a proactive goal or directive versus "Okay, I got my MBA. I’m still doing the same thing I’ve always done and nothing’s changed." So, be that ambassador of change, because corporate America definitely needs it.
I’ve interviewed a few CEOs when I was finishing my MBA. We had a leadership project and I interviewed the CEO of General Motors, the CEO of AMGEN which is a biomedical company, and the former CEO of Pepsi – all of them happen to be naval academy grads and classmates of my father. But my point is that they have risen all the way to the ranks, came from the military, and they all echo the exact same thing. Corporate America needs ethical leaders, and the military is a direct link to their success. They say that it is not by coincidence. Corporate America is ready for them to take over responsibility. Don’t just get the MBA or the check in the box, do something with it, and assume greater responsibilities, because not only corporations but also our economy, and our government in all facets will benefit from that.