VetConnect dinner brings veterans face-to-face with business

Transitioning from active military service to civilian life can be difficult for veterans, especially those trying to enter the business world. But, fortunately, many veterans naturally embody traits that make a successful businessperson, according to Lockheed Martin Vice President and General Manager Shan Cooper.

Cooper 89C 95MBA spoke Sept. 17 at Goizueta Business School’s second annual VetConnect dinner and reception. The event, hosted by the Emory Veterans Association and the GBS Vets Club, provides students — in many cases transitioning from military service to a civilian career — the opportunity to network with veterans that are now leaders in Atlanta-area organizations. Human resources representatives from many Atlanta businesses were also in attendance.

More than 35 businesses were represented at this year’s event, including The Home Depot, United Way, The Coca-Cola Company, Turner Broadcasting and Aflac. Retired Army LTG Ken Keen and Goizueta Dean Erika James also made remarks.

Cooper, the keynote speaker, is not a veteran of military service but interacts with them daily at Lockheed Martin. The global security, aerospace and information technology company, according to Cooper, not only helps veterans transition from military to civilian life, but employs a large number of former servicemen and women (currently 24 percent of the company’s workforce). Cooper stressed, however, it is not the nature of the company’s defense work that makes veterans desirable.

“Veterans will come into any company and succeed,” she said. “They are self-starters, they are motivated and they are dedicated.”

Although veterans learn many desirable work traits from time in service, Cooper acknowledged the transition to the workforce from the military can be challenging.

“Industry is about performance and demonstrated leadership,” Cooper reminded the audience. “Veterans have the qualities they need when they show up for work; what they need are company smarts.”

To help them obtain knowledge, Cooper noted the importance of putting systems in place to support the transition from active duty to industry — like those at Emory and Goizueta. Programs such as the VetConnect dinner help veterans assimilate back into civilian life and the workforce.

“We collectively — my industry colleagues and those in the audience this evening — need to do a better job of integrating veterans into the company culture,” she said.

“[Goizueta’s] Veteran club eases the social transition,” said veteran Leland Franks, a 2017 MBA candidate. “Coming out of the military, it’s an abrupt change in culture, so being able to have those guys obviously has a positive impact.”

Dan Burgess, an active-duty serviceman and also a 2017 MBA candidate at Goizueta, says although clubs can be useful for social transitions, they are equally important for networking.

“I think a lot of business leaders struggle to see the value from veterans because they haven’t had that very specific business experience” Burgess said. “But you’ll find [servicemen and women] who have worked in a lot of dynamic environments under high-stress, and we can take those skills and — once you teach us those hard business skills — we can put them together… Now you have an employee that’s even more valuable than someone who doesn’t come from a [military] background.”

Franks and Burgess appreciate business leaders like Cooper, who recognize what military experience can add.

“That is lack of entitlement,” Franks explained. “I come in without any sense of entitlement or feeling that I deserve this because I did something. I immediately look for where I can add value and what will be valuable to a company.”

“It’s the value… not our label,” Burgess added.

And, perhaps most importantly, the veteran’s clubs and VetConnect help define a path to success.

“If you don’t feel valuable, that’s the most stressful thing,” Franks said. “These help us not only by translating our resumes, but our value proposition.”

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