Whitman’s New MBA For Military Veterans

Graduates of a related Whitman MBA program, in defense comptrollership (rear, L-R) Maj. Molly Weaver, Adam Beem, Greg Worley, Maj. James Weaver, Maj. Kristian Mroczko, with professor Will Geoghegan in front. Learn about Whitman MBA veterans

Graduates and their instructor from a related Whitman MBA program, in defense comptrollership (L-R) Maj. Molly Weaver, Adam Beem, Lt.-Col. Greg Worley, professor Will Geoghegan, Maj. James Weaver, Maj. Kristian Mroczko.

Here are the instructions for the task from hell: Do it without enough staff. Do it without enough resources. Do it amid chaos. And do it yesterday.

For members of the military, this type of job comes incessantly. And that’s why military veterans can make great entrepreneurs, say officials at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, who have just developed a new, accelerated, entrepreneurship-focused MBA program for veterans.

“Military service is one of the leading indicators of [business] success,” says John Torrens, assistant professor of entrepreneurial practice at Whitman, who will teach in the new program.


More than a quarter-million service members leave the military every year, the U.S. Small Business Administration reports. Nine per cent of U.S. small businesses are owned by veterans, and those 2.45 million companies employ 5.8 million people, with sales and receipts of $1.2 trillion, according to a 2012 SBA bulletin. Ninety per cent of veteran-owned firms are small, with fewer than 20 employees.

A U.S. military specialist team exits a Chinook helicopter at the start of an assault in Molla Dust, Afghanistan. Learn about Whitman MBA veterans

A U.S. military specialist team and NATO troops exit a Chinook helicopter at the start of an assault near Molla Dust, Afghanistan. – Ethan Baron photo

Veterans develop valuable skills during service, particularly in war, Torrens says. “They’ve got discipline. They’ve got a mission focus. They know how to operate and even thrive in chaos. If they’ve actually seen combat, there’s no order, there’s chaos, and they’ve figured out how to get things done.”

Although soldiers work in a highly regimented environment, they face the same types of pressures afflicting businesspeople: tight budgets, tight timelines, tight staff resources, Torrens says.


“They may be told by a commander: ‘Just figure it out.’ They do have to be very creative.”

Veterans are 45% more likely to be self-employed than people with no active-duty military experience, with former officers 56% more likely to be entrepreneurs than former enlisted personnel, according to the SBA.

Experience with the discipline and routines of military life prove valuable for entrepreneur veterans, whose competitors may not be up at 6 a.m. to begin the work day, Torrens notes. A 2012 SBA report states that “military service appeared to have provided business skills to a significant proportion (one-third or more) of both current veteran business owners and those planning to become owners.” Some 36% of entrepreneur veterans used technologies during active duty that were useful in their new businesses, according to a 2004 SBA report.


The full-time resident Whitman MBA program for veterans, starting in May 2015, will cost $72,414 in tuition. It will take 14 months to complete, compared to 18 to 21 months for Whitman’s “Defense Comptrollership” MBA/Executive Master of Public Administration degree for serving service members. The veterans’ MBA program will have the same content as the school’s regular full-time MBA program, says Whitman spokesman Kevin Bailey. School officials are hoping to enroll five to 10 students in the first intake, Bailey says.

Whitman officials believe the top five schools competing with them for veteran MBA applicants are D’Youville College Department of Business in Buffalo, N.Y.; The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business in Columbus, OH; University of the Incarnate Word’s School of Extended Studies in San Antonio, TX; Rutgers Business School in Newark, N.J.; and Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School in College Station, TX.

Whitman in 2013 surveyed 280 veterans and active military personnel, average age 46, and discovered that 41% were interested in business master’s degrees. When asked for multiple choices on the type of business education they wanted, entrepreneurship came out on top, with 58% of respondents expressing interest.

“They have these skill sets,” says Mirza Tihic, director of program support services in Syracuse’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families. “You teach them how they can adapt what they already have and they can implement it in their entrepreneurial work. The goal is to create entrepreneurial, visionary, and innovative leaders.”

Some soldiers lose a strong sense of identity when they finish serving, and starting a business can help with the rebuilding, Tihic says.

“You have a new title: you’re not a sergeant, you’re not a major, you’re not a corporal – you’re an entrepreneur,” Tihic says.

A 2005 SBA report says 72% of new veteran entrepreneurs planned to hire at least one person for the start of their enterprise. Because veterans who open businesses often hire other veterans or family members of soldiers and veterans, training ex-servicepeople in entrepreneurship has a ripple effect, Tihic says.

“It’s really empowering not only one individual through an MBA, but you’re empowering a community, and communities across the United States,” Tihic says.