Why Veterans Make Great Entrepreneurs

National initiatives like Joining Forces, which entails a challenge from the White House to the private sector to hire or train more than 100,000 veterans, have spotlighted veterans and the huge role they play in the success of their companies. Major companies like Honeywell, Siemens, and Wal-Mart have rolled out hiring plans specifically targeted to toward veterans. And veterans arent just finding success as employees, they’re excelling as entrepreneurs.

In fact, recent statistics from the Small Business Administration, Census Bureau, and Department of Veteran Affairs reveal that veteran entrepreneurship is on the rise, with 13.2% of veterans being self-employed, nearly a whole point higher than for non-veterans. These veterans are being aided by a variety of programs and incubators, such as the Center for Veterans Enterprise (CVE) and various veteran entrepreneurship bootcamps.

One of these veterans is James Reese, NATO Mentor for Afghan Ministry of Defense and Owner of Reese Logistics Consulting. We sat down with James and asked him about his military career and how it comes into play as an entrepreneur. James spent 21 1/2 years on active duty as an Ordnance Officer.  In the Army Reserve, James served in a Civil Affairs unit and graduated from the Civil Affairs Officer Advanced Course.

“This experience and education helped to prepare me to be a mentor to the Afghans out in the field and to the Ministry of Defense,” James explains, “In my military career, I was exposed to people of different cultures who did things different ways, and I learned to respect those differences.   As you travel around the world, you find that most people want the same basic things:  peace, security and an opportunity to raise a family and enjoy the fruits of their labors.”


We asked James what military skills have been the most useful in his civilian career, and his answer is one that makes veterans attractive to companies ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500: planning, negotiating and visualizing results. “You have to  plan to succeed, or you will plan to fail deliberately or through default.   The best plans are worthless unless you can sell them, and thats where negotiating comes in,” says James. These words of wisdom are ones that non-veterans should keep in mind, as well, as they travel the road of business ownership.  James continues, “Being able to visualize the end state you desire is necessary to both planning and negotiating with your stakeholders.   You have to have a vision first.”

The “warrior ethos” has helped James salvage many scenarios that seemed hopeless. “The military teaches you to be audacious an audacious plan can help break you out of a ‘checkmate’ situation.   And then theres that negotiating skill . . . when things look their bleakest, you can frame things for your superiors or stakeholders, so that they see your solution as a viable alternative when everyone else has thrown in the towel.  Bottom line:  you never, ever give up while you still have breath!”

This power of this ethos is also evident in a study out of Boston University that found that companies run by veteran CEOs perform much better under harsh economic conditions relative to the companies’ performance in good times. Ray Fisman, in his article “Captains of Industry”, interprets this by writing, “Once you’ve spent time managing a platoon (possibly under enemy fire), the stress of managing a company in a downturn is modest by comparison.

Ultimately, military entrepreneurs have a certain “can-do”spirit that enables them to succeed when others might give up. James sums it up best when he says, “I think military service gives people a leg up over those who have never had to really move fast, or accomplish a mission no matter what.   I would not trade that for anything.”

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