In the military, there are repercussions for not doing your job.
But in the civilian world, that’s not always the case, said Chris Petty, an Army veteran who spent five years in corporate America before opening a franchise business.
A recent study out of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University shows Petty isn’t the only veteran who turned to business ownership after growing dissatisfied with the civilian workforce. According to the findings, published in the report “Bridging the Gap: Motivations, Challenges, and Successes of Veteran Entrepreneurs,” that’s actually one of the top reasons veterans decide to start their own businesses.
“For a lot of veterans, they want a different type of structure,” said Rosalinda Maury, director of applied research and analytics at IVMF and co-author of the report. “The civilian workforce operates (differently) than the military does.”
Some of the 85 veteran and military-connected business owners who participated in the IVMF study said the civilian workforce was too disorganized compared to the structure they’d grown used to in the military. Others craved less regimentation and more flexibility.
One Navy veteran told researchers the military was “structured and conservative,” and entrepreneurship was a way for him to blossom and be more independent, according to the report. Another interviewee said the civilian sector lacked discipline, and “it was always a battle with trying to get organized.”
In either case, participants “felt entrepreneurship was a way for them to actually work hard and see some results,” said Nyasha Boldon, IVMF research program manager and co-author of the report.
These reasons resonate with Petty, owner of Budget Blinds of Lexington and Chapin in South Carolina. He knew being his own boss would provide more flexibility than he previously had as a financial advisor after getting out of the military. But as a former captain, he was also discouraged by how much he saw mediocrity rewarded, he said, and felt human resources often handled problems with “kid gloves.”
“That’s probably where you get a lot of the veterans that they get frustrated with it,” he said.
The IVMF report is the first in a series of studies on veteran entrepreneurship that Maury and Boldon have planned. As the number of veteran-owned businesses has risen, especially among racial minorities and women veterans, one of the topics they plan to explore more in depth is how much dissatisfaction in the workforce stems from discrimination.
According to the study, other top reasons veterans pursued business ownership were financial and personal independence and work-life balance and flexibility. Some also started their own businesses to combat struggles finding gainful employment.
All veterans who spoke with researchers said the military had impacted their business activity, whether for positive or negative reasons, according to the report.
“Thus,” it states, “military service greatly influences most veterans, either sending them down a similar civilian path or one drastically different.”
Natalie Gross has been reporting for Military Times since 2017. She grew up in a military family and has a master's degree in journalism from Georgetown University.