Military Transition: The Accidental Entrepreneur

Posted by Kathleen Smith

May is National Military Appreciation Month. Each week this month we bring you articles that honor our nation’s vets. Our fourth post is by Fred Wellman, Lt. Col. U.S. Army (retired), currently President Scoutcomms.

I hate being in the majority. I have always avoided going with the crowd or doing things like others. Yet a year after retiring from the Army I found myself smack in the majority of former service members and leaving my first job after the military. I dropped right into the middle of the toughest job market in decades and worked tirelessly to find a new position to support my family with little success after positive interviews with easily a dozen top companies who simply didn’t have jobs to fill.

After one particularly pleasant interview the fellow veteran Chief Operating Officer of a growing communications firm walked me to the door and asked me what my goals in life were. I explained I would like to find a firm that I can grow to be the leader of, or start my own company, but I just didn’t feel like after 22 years in the Army and one year at a small agency I knew yet what “right looked like.”
He burst out laughing and said, “Let me tell you a secret. None of us know what the hell we are doing.  Everyone just makes it up as they go and you learn from your mistakes. If you are waiting to see what ‘right looks like’ you will never start.”

The next week I decided that no one was going to ‘save’ me and my family so I launched my own public relations consulting firm focused on helping the big firms, businesses and non-profits operate in the complex aerospace, defense and veterans sector. We won our first contract a week later with a firm I had interviewed with only days before launching our business.  Just six months later we have over a half dozen clients and a pipeline I wouldn’t have dreamed of when we launched.

So, I have joined the growing ranks of veteran entrepreneurs which a recent study found is a fairly common event for those with active military experience. The Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy found that those with military service are fully 45% more likely than those who don’t to be self-employed, and retired officers are even more likely to be entrepreneurs.

I am my own boss and discover on a regular basis that my military experience is incredibly valuable and translates directly to the issues you face in small business. From strategic planning and making tactical decisions to dealing with stress. Hardly a day goes by I don’t draw on my years of leading soldiers in uniform.

Remarkably I have discovered that ‘right’ looks like whatever I think it does. So far it’s worked out most of the time. When it hasn’t, I learn from it and move to the next mission just as I did as a soldier in a unit and a pilot in a cockpit.  Just another lesson I have taken into business with me learned in the toughest school in the world—the U.S. Army.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 23, 2011 12:00 pm

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