“It certainly is an environment that I’ll try to foster in any organization that I lead going forward.”
In Smith’s work in Afghanistan, the possibility of troops getting blown up or shot meant every team member’s input would be considered by those charged with making choices, regardless of rank or experience.
EVEN THE LOWEST GETS HEARD
“Just by nature of the job sometimes there are these situations in which you don’t have time to gather all the facts, because time is quite literally ticking down,” Smith says. “In those situations it’s necessary for somebody to make a decision. Everybody had the ability to pipe up, because it could be the most junior guy on the team who has no experience who has the idea that can save everybody’s lives.”
Beaudette found a similar collaborative approach on the submarine USS Alaska, powered by a nuclear plant and carrying 24 nuclear ballistic missiles. “In the nuclear Navy in particular we are so limited in the number of sailors we have that there’s no choice but to empower every person that’s operating the nuclear power plant – to speak up, to be trained equally, and to be prepared to combat a potential disaster. It’s built within the culture, at least in the submarine Navy, that every single person has a voice.
“A good leader is an officer or an enlisted sailor who knows that they can only be successful with the support of every single person on the team – that forces this flat structure on a very, very basic and intrinsic level. From an operational standpoint every single person is valuable, and I think that’s one thing about our leadership style that we’ll bring with us to the civilian world.”
That said, the friends are looking forward to the independence of work outside the military. “That lack of oversight is something we’ve never had and we’re really excited about,” Beaudette says.
For many veterans, a degree program provides an avenue for reintegrating into civilian life, Allen says. “It is just a great transition period, instead of jumping into a corporate job that a headhunter finds for me,” Allen says. And the change, now underway, is head to toe: most recently, Allen and Beaudette were stationed in Hawaii. “We went from flip flops and board shorts to proper business casual – it’s been a transition,” Allen says.
AIMING FOR THE NEW-VENTURE WORLD
The three MBA candidates are all focused on entrepreneurism – Allen is looking ahead to possible work in an energy startup; Beaudette says his Navy career familiarized him with the energy sector, but he’s not married to it; Smith is looking at biotech and medical devices.
The men recognize that not only are they a bit older than the average MBA student, they’ve been working in a government entity, while many of their peers have more experience with entrepreneurship and innovation. “I’m also open minded to see what sort of things my classmates are going to be interested in,” Beaudette says. “A lot of these guys have been thinking about innovation possibilities for a number of years and we’re kind of coming in later in life.”
In general, veterans in business school today are looking toward a broader variety of fields than they were five or 10 years ago, says Maryellen Reilly Lamb, deputy vice-dean of admissions at Wharton. In the past, most veterans in MBA programs tended to gravitate toward management consulting and banking, following a clearly defined path from B-school into traditional business, Lamb says. In recent years, however, more veterans have been heading into different sectors such as energy, and into different roles, such as operations – and have been laying down new paths attractive to veterans.
MBA A SMOOTHER TRANSITION THAN FROM ‘FOXHOLE INTO A BANK’
Wharton’s intake of veterans has remained consistent in recent years, Lamb says. “They are a group we are highly interested in and we work very actively with around their transitions,” Lamb says. In the classroom, veterans add particular value by exposing other students to types of leadership less familiar to people from a business background – such as leading when both huge amounts of money and people’s lives are at stake, Lamb says. “To hear their (veteran) peers talk about situations they’ve been in puts a different lens on what leadership is,” Lamb says. “It really shows in a very different light how leadership skills can be learned and expressed. It changes the way you think about teamwork; for a lot of our veterans, teamwork means something very different than it means for someone who came from the corporate world, and the civilian students get to experience that and understand it better.”
At Harvard Business School, senior business administration lecturer Scott Snook, a 1987 HBS MBA, former U.S. Military Academy professor, and decorated Army veteran, sees a two-year, full-time MBA program as a much smoother transition from military to civilian life than going “straight from a foxhole into a bank.” J.P. Morgan, he says, hired many veterans immediately after their service. “It’s hard to keep them,” Snook says. “I don’t think it’s necessarily an easy transition.”