Recruited by the U.S. Army as a freshman in college, retired Staff Sergeant Beth Fynbo served from 1996-2006, working as a linguist in military intelligence in Bosnia and a broadcast journalist in Italy and Iraq. Today, she's one of the nation's veteran business owners.
Fynbo owns Busy Baby Mat, a company featuring a mealtime placemat that keeps baby toys from falling on the floor. Since launching the company in March 2019, Fynbo has patented and trademarked the product and seen a steady rise in sales.
She credits her work in the military for helping to make the company a success.
"Tenacity, determination and the ability to adapt and overcome are lessons instilled in me during my time in the military," says Fynbo. "You train and prepare for missions, but when 'go-time' arrives, sometimes you encounter unplanned events or circumstances. Adapting and overcoming is vital to any mission, and veteran business owners have that mindset."
Thanks to valuable skills they picked up in the military, many veteran business owners like Fynbo find success in the business world. I spoke to six more veterans and asked them to share their secrets for success.
Determined to Never Give Up
"I'm 100 percent certain my success can be directly attributed to my military experience," says Deanna O'Connell, owner of Red Kite Recruiting, a search firm specializing in the food industry. O'Connell served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1993-1997 and was discharged as a Corporal.
"I started my own firm in 2008 as a solo contributor/recruiter, growing the company from the ground up," she says. "Owning a small business can be very similar to military life for veteran business owners in that you need to be organized, self-motivated and driven to never give up."
Wes O'Donnell also found the persistence he learned from military service invaluable when building his consulting and speaking business focused on recruiting and onboarding veterans. He served in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Airforce from 1997-2007, honorably discharged from each branch as a Staff Sergeant.
"I left a very comfortable six-figure job at a large medical device manufacturer to open my own business," says O'Donnell. "Six months in, I was living off savings and had the sickening realization that I had just brought my family to the poverty line."
Like many veteran business owners, O'Donnell pulled from his military training.
"It was at that dark time that composure under pressure and resistance to stress learned from the military came into play," he says. "Veterans are uniquely suited to weather the extreme highs and lows common in entrepreneurship and to effectively deal with ambiguity."
Value and Respect People
West Point distinguished graduate Bill Higgs served five years in the U.S. Army with two years as a Captain and Commander of a Combat Engineer Company in the 1st Cavalry Division. During his time in the military, Higgs learned that people are the key component of any mission, including business.
In the Army, I had to think on my feet under extreme duress, and to always come up with a plan of action, instead of folding and crumbling. Military service teaches you the true power of harnessing your fear and negative emotions.
—Patrick Montgomery, retired U.S. Army Ranger and founder, KC Cattle Company
An authority on corporate culture, Higgs recently launched the Culture Code Champions podcast. He's also the retired CEO of Mustang Engineering, which he and two partners started in Houston in 1987 to design and build offshore oil platforms. Today, it has grown to a $5 billion company.
"When I started in the oil industry in 1979, it was a boomtime, but in 1982 the industry entered a severe 10-year downturn," says Higgs. "I was frustrated, because there was no sense of team or the camaraderie that I had experienced in the Army."
For that reason, when Higgs started Mustang Engineering, he and his partners aimed to be people and team focused as veteran business owners.
"We created a culture where people wanted to come to work and perform above average," he says. "Our success was built on a culture that valued and respected people."
Move Past Fear of Failure
For former Army Ranger and combat veteran Patrick Montgomery, his military training came in useful this past August 2019 when sales of his Wagyu hot dogs skyrocketed overnight after the product was highly rated on a food website. As a result, his company, KC Cattle Company, more than doubled the year's sales in just four days.
For Montgomery, the overnight success was just as nerve-wracking as it was thrilling.
"I figured out quickly that the upsurge in business could be detrimental to the company if I couldn't meet demand," he says. "I hit the ground running to figure out how to make it work. Most importantly, I embraced the challenge."
As a member of the 1st Ranger Battalion, which included two tours in Afghanistan, Montgomery learned to move past fear.
"In the Army, I had to think on my feet under extreme duress, and to always come up with a plan of action, instead of folding and crumbling," says Montgomery. "Military service teaches you the true power of harnessing your fear and negative emotions."
Superior Leadership Skills
Paul Trapp is a retired Lieutenant Colonel, who served from 1977-2009, including as chief of recruiting for the Army National Guard. In 2006, he and his lifelong friend Stephen Davis, who serves in the U.S. Army Reserves, decided they wanted to own their own business.
Trapp and Davis started Federal Conference, an event company that now executes more than 3,000 global events annually. (They also co-authored Prep for Success: The Entrepreneurs Guide to Achieving your Dreams.)
"One of the most important lessons we took from military service that we can credit our success to is knowing how to lead," says Trapp. "We learned when we served that providing leadership—versus management—is the key to success for veteran business owners."
Belief and Trust in the Mission and Yourself
Retired Lieutenant General Mike Ferriter served with the U.S. Army from 1979-2014 as a paratrooper and Army Ranger. His last job was command of all Army bases around the world.
He started the consulting and leadership company Ferriter Group in August 2014 to assist veterans and veteran business owners. More recently in June 2018, he became the first CEO and president of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.
"My military service taught me that I must believe in myself and my cause. For me that cause has always been taking care of people," says Ferriter.
"In my post military life, the cause is taking care of veterans by helping them transition to civilian life and start businesses," says Ferriter. "As the leader of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, my mission is to honor veterans and help share their stories of service and sacrifice to inspire others to do something bigger than themselves."
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