Having worked for many years in the £100K+ headhunting market, I’m often asked, “where can we find quality leaders that others might have missed?” The answer, sometimes, is in one of the country’s largest employers – our Armed Services. Some recruiters seem to shy away from ex-military people: I’d suggest they are making a big mistake.
Over the last 10 years there has been a marked decrease in size and scale of the UK military. This is in part due to cost management but also the draw-down from a protracted period of conflict and overseas deployment. During this period, service men and women have been delivering very difficult mandates created by politicians, where the strategic and operational deliverables have veered from difficult to almost untenable.
One of the interesting factors that has emerged in recent years is a pool of talent of men and women who have worked their way up through the ranks of the military and, having reached a natural break point, elected to leave.
This talent is often broad and varied. On leaving, some already have a chosen path; this might be one of the professions or the entrepreneurial route, whereas others are keen to go into industry. Through tenacity, dexterity and networking, veterans can now be found across all the major sectors of the UK economy. Examples include: running major decommissioning projects in the North Sea; Programme Directors of a major Housebuilder; COO of an Investment Management organisation; and more than a few who have gone into commodities broking.
The Armed Services teach people to be adaptable and flexible and develop an ability to work in a variety of challenging operational environments. On leaving, they are keen to maintain that momentum and whilst they might not have direct sector experience, they can bring, at the very least, strong programme and project management experience.
At Sandhurst and her sister military academies, cadets are taught always to work to get inside the enemy’s decision making cycle through creating their own OODA loop, (observe, orientate, decide, act). This basic facet of strategic thinking continues to develop through a person’s military career. If you combine this with real life experiences, coupled with a strong sense of discipline, drive and tenacity then companies/organisations will undoubtedly benefit from a talent pool who bring not only life skills but also an ability to adapt quickly to any commercial environment. Most senior leavers are also very worldly and prepared to travel to further enhance their careers.
In an uncertain macro-economic world, by considering hiring veterans companies could well benefit from the complementary and symbiotic skills they bring. These are ambitious people who work hard with the existing senior management to help build a business to adapt or meet its objectives.
Sometimes this might require a leap of faith as their profile might well appear unconventional compared to the broader commercial talent pool. However, these people served their country and did things and made decisions that put them - and others - in harm’s way. In some cases they quite literally have the ‘scars on their back.’ They are not seeking an easy life but rather a second career where they can find professional fulfilment through helping a business to develop and grow. Neglect them at your peril!
Charlie Johnston, Director – Paratus Executive