When you walk off the base, or the battlefield, you come away with certain lessons forever ingrained in your mind.
As veterans who go on to own and operate small and medium-sized businesses can tell you, the discipline and skill set that helps them make a difference in uniform is often the same that keeps them focused on their companies’ bottom lines.
Bennett Grove and Christian Byler are two U.S. veterans with a track record of success. Grove served in the Air Force from 2003 to 2009. He's a full-time firefighter and the owner and CEO of Junk Dawgs and Moving Dawgs, with 17 employees, based in Indianapolis.
Byler served in the Army as a helicopter mechanic. He started a mortgage company right out of the military, but when the market crashed in 2007, he switched gears. He's now the owner of Luxury Auto Service, a car-repair shop specializing in European vehicles in Jackson, Tennessee.
Here’s what they had to say about the lessons they’ve learned in the service, and how those lessons apply to business today.
What skills have you been able to transfer to your business?
Grove: My experience in the military provided me with a strong work ethic that has prepared me for the daily grind of being an entrepreneur. As a member of the Armed Forces, you learn not to make excuses and always answer the bell. As a business owner, there are early mornings and late nights, but the work ethic you learn in the military prepares you for the hard work.
Byler: I served in the Army and my business partner, Rex McMahan, served in the Navy. Both of us were helicopter-repair specialists. One of the first skills we learned was attention to detail. As helicopter mechanics, our work had to be right because errors could get people hurt or killed very quickly. There is no second chance when a failure happens during flight. Self-discipline is another skill I learned that has translated into successful entrepreneurship.
What about navigating the bureaucracy of business? What has your time in the military taught you about the frustrations of supply chains, administrative slowdowns, and how to react to them?
Grove: As a service member, you have to be prepared for things to change at a moment’s notice and still maintain mission readiness. This kind of military experience prepares business owners to adapt to the ups and downs, so when they start to see a shift they can spring into action and right the ship.
Byler: My unit in the Army was seemingly last on the list for equipment and funding, so in order to be effective at my job I had to take personal initiative and leadership to solve the problems. If I waited until everything was just right, it would never have gotten done. What you have to do is plan accordingly. I know that when I have 10 Audis on the shop schedule, I can’t wait until the day before to order in supplies, or rely on local parts stores. I have to plan in advance, have the parts in time to ensure they are correct and be able to reorder if necessary. Customers do not care about your logistics problems. They just want their vehicle work completed and their car returned when promised. It's my responsibility to make sure they never hear an excuse about why that didn't happen.
In the bigger picture, is there anything about being a veteran that you think changes the way you approach life and work in general?
Grove: Being a veteran or former service member is different for all those who have served. However, for me, personally, serving our country has instilled within me a sense of pride, honor, and the desire to go out and earn what I want out of this life. When you are part of something bigger than yourself, it forces you to change your outlook on life and work. Veterans and service members seem to live without a sense of entitlement and are more eager to work for what they want.
Byler: My business partner and I don’t take things for granted as veterans. In America, it’s a right and a privilege to own a small business but it isn't that way everywhere in the world. We consider it a matter of honor to execute our responsibilities with excellence. That is something else we learned while serving: Pride in a job well done, doing the right job the right way. Trust is not a given; it is earned every single time we serve our customers. We always strive to execute with excellence everything we do, and at the end of the day we are proud to sign our names to what we did.
These are lessons we might all take to work with us, small-business owners or not.
Read more articles on veterans.
James O'Brien, PhD, covers business, technology, social media, marketing, the profession of writing and news. His new book on writing, The Indie Writer's Survival Guide, is available at Amazon.
Photo: Getty Images, Courtesy Moving Dawgs