Topics:   Board Composition,Corporate Social Responsibility,Leadership

Topics:   Board Composition,Corporate Social Responsibility,Leadership

August 7, 2019

Military Community: A Fit Force for the Boardroom and Beyond

August 7, 2019

The military community offers a wealth of valuable experience to corporate America.

As a retired general who spent 35 and a half years in the Air Force and 15 years on corporate boards, I know that Fortune 500 company leaders don’t always appreciate the value of military experience. Veterans often have trouble breaking into the civilian workplace because of the significant difference in culture, and they can have challenges adjusting to the corporate experience once they get hired. Skilled military spouses also encounter hesitant-to-hire employers afraid that the family’s next duty station is less than two years away.

A key to bridging this business-military divide is translation. Companies and the armed forces frequently view skills and the military lifestyle through different lenses. Realizing this gap and knowing how service experience can be applied in the civilian sector are the first steps toward building a military-friendly, and more importantly, a military-ready workplace. It also helps to learn the strengths of the services.

From Command to Corporate Oversight

Top officers, whose daily contacts range from young enlistees to senior personnel, can quickly navigate the shift to the boardroom.

My last military job was leader of the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), responsible for research and development, science and technology for weapons systems used by the Air Force, and other services. When, for instance, you launch a satellite, each component has to work every time.

As you can imagine, this command is an essential role. AFMC oversees a research laboratory, test centers, and sustainment operations throughout the United States. This command put me in frequent touch with civilian corporate leaders and prepared me for my boardroom transition. But like any military command, it required people, teamwork, and leadership to get things done, and done right—crucial experience that translates to any company’s success.

In addition, the armed forces use repeated training to test leaders’ readiness under battle conditions. These exercises acclimate officers to making decisions under stress and prepare them to give clear, honest, timely feedback. Then they analyze performance in after-action reviews. These are all skills that are critical for success in the boardroom.

The best officers recognize their strengths and weaknesses and look to fill gaps. That is why NACD’s Battlefield to Boardroom program is so valuable: It gives retired officers a resource to quickly develop skills to complete their corporate transitions. But the basic material to be an excellent director already exists within veteran officers thanks to their acquired skills.

Opportunities to Hire Veterans

Like officers shifting to board roles, those who transition from the armed forces to civilian life have the training and maturity to be valuable employees.

About 200,000 service members leave the military every year. Veterans bring leadership, camaraderie, commitment to teamwork, and expert skills to the civilian workforce, yet more than half pursue different career paths than their military specializations, according to the Institute of Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF). Another factor is that veterans’ work skills may not translate easily to the non-military job market. 

That means both veterans and potential employers require extra preparation and education to ensure a successful relationship. In fact, an IVMF survey found that 43 percent of veterans leave their initial civilian job within the first year. But that high turnover rate isn’t inevitable.

I have been privileged to serve USAA for the past 14 years as a board member and seven years as chair of the board. Our mission is to facilitate the financial security of military families, and one way we do that is by preparing employers to hire veterans.

We have worked with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program, along with the Disney Veterans Institute and their Heroes Work Here Summits. Fostering veteran employment is also possible through supplier diversity. Our supplier diversity program plans to spend $20 million annually with companies owned by veterans, disabled veterans or military spouses.

Unique Challenges for Military Spouses

Spouses face work barriers all their own. The short-term realities of military life, including frequent moves, can make finding jobs difficult for military families, but there are many ways your company can support hiring of these valuable members of our workforce.

One is to join the Hiring 100K Military Spouses Campaign. This three-year effort is meant to draw attention to the 16 percent unemployment rate for military spouses (that’s four times the national jobless rate). Hiring Our Heroes also just launched the Military Spouse Fellowship Program, a six-week fellowship that provides professional training, networking and hands-on experience in the civilian workforce. Another is to participate in Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zones, where employers, educational institutions, and community resources collaborate to improve opportunities for spouses. San Antonio was the first zone, but your board could work with your company’s executives to make the growing list even longer.

Your participation and support of hiring our nation’s talented veterans—both in the boardroom and beyond—can make a lasting difference for the military community’s financial well-being. Consider the strategic benefits of providing your business this exceptional talent when examining your company’s workforce performance and strategy.

Lester Lyles is board chair of USAA. He serves as co-chair of the 2019 NACD Blue Ribbon Commission examining the future of board leadership.


Angel Martin August 15, 2019

Great article Gen. Lyles! Thank you for your service to USAA. I always enjoyed the opportunity to see you in the building. Many thanks for your service to our country.