At a time of growing political factionalism and fragmentation, one U.S. institution maintains the trust of the public: our nation’s military. Eight in 10 Americans believe the U.S. military works for the public’s best interest.
However, this trust, while encouraging, is ultimately insufficient. It’s one thing to say we trust the men and women of our armed forces; it’s another to actually put them in positions of trust.
Each year, thousands of service members return home to their families, and many of them transition to civilian life. They bring their leadership skills, work ethic and resilience with them.
As business leaders — and as patriots — we have a duty to invest in these remarkable individuals. U.S. military veterans have experiences and skills that make an enormous positive impact on American businesses. We know because we see it happen at PenFed every day.
One of the greatest advantages veterans bring to the table is their leadership skills. Thanks to years of intense training for high-stakes situations, veterans know how to react calmly, courageously and effectively under pressure and in times of crisis.
James lived through this experience firsthand on the day of the Sept. 11 attacks. When smoke from the Pentagon was visible at PenFed’s headquarters 8 miles away, everyone was horrified: PenFed had a branch inside the Pentagon, and no one could reach their friends and colleagues.
James’ military training as an Army pilot prepared him for the situation. He quickly jumped into action and recruited co-workers to walk 8 miles to the Pentagon to account for all the employees and see how his team could help. With James’ leadership, the branch reopened just one day after the attacks.
As General Nicholson knows from his career commanding thousands of troops, including the entire U.S. force in Afghanistan, high stress and complexity produces exceptional leaders. These are the brave men and women you want on your side, in business situations both ordinary and extraordinary.
Charlie Miles, a former Marine, plays an important role on our HR team at PenFed. Charlie scouts out the best and the brightest in the military community. He attracts service members, veterans and military spouses to work across the credit union. Thanks to his keen eye for talent and remarkable people skills — honed by his many years of work as a Marine officer — we’ve dramatically escalated our military hiring and received recognitions and designations as a top military employer.
Veterans’ skills and creativity also translate remarkably well to entrepreneurship. In fact, veteran entrepreneurs tend to out-earn non-veteran entrepreneurs. Yet oftentimes, they lack support from investors who could take their startup off the ground. In 2017, for example, 42 percent of veteran-owned businesses applied for financing — but 47 percent had to apply three or more times. Less than half got the backing they need.
This funding gap is why we’re strategically investing in veteran entrepreneurs through our Veteran Entrepreneur Investment Program (VEIP). Abe Kamarck, a former U.S. naval aviator, funded a new sales team and increased production at True Made Foods — his self-owned startup that makes healthy, vegetable-based condiments like ketchup and sriracha. Now his products are in hundreds of stores across the country, including major grocery chains.
What’s more, investing in veteran businesses like True Made Foods has benefits beyond these entrepreneurs’ families and their communities. These innovators pay it forward: Veterans are 30 times more likely to hire other veterans, creating a cycle of support and employment.
Whenever American lives are attacked, we need our military service members. Now, they need us. Let’s remember those who heard the call of their country and responded. And let’s respond to their call for support as businessmen and businesswomen as they transition to civilian life.
James R. Schenck is president and CEO of PenFed Credit Union and CEO of the PenFed Foundation. Retired Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. is a former four-star general in the U.S. Army and president of PenFed Foundation.