Steven Walsh shares unique perspective on the challenges of growing international business, whether it’s in South America, the Middle East, Europe, and other parts throughout the globe. I really appreciated his perspective and insight.
Today, this week, we offer and we welcome Steven Walsh to the podcast. Steve is a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps. He’s had a very interesting career path since getting out back in 1999. He served in various organizations and he’s worked in a variety of overseas roles which we will unpack much of that, I’m sure. So he is currently the Managing Director of Global Operations at Traxys. Steve, I just want to thank you so much for being on the show.
Aaron, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Awesome. Yeah. Well, why don’t we just kick it off by, you know, let’s take a quick tour of your upbringing. What was the young version of Steve like or the youngest version of Steve like? And what compelled you to join the military?
Yeah. My father and grandfather were both military veterans, although not career individuals. They both served. My grandfather during the First World War in France and my father during the Second World War in Korea. So I think I always had a military understanding or obligation. I grew up mostly outside of Pittsburgh. And when I was 17, I joined the US Navy. Within about six months, I got sent to the Naval Academy and at the Naval Academy, I played football. I was also on the parachute team my last two years which was a great benefit actually to my later services in Marine. Commissioned in ‘79 and spent 20 years in the Marine Corps, primarily in infantry special operations roles. Did a very interesting tour at Fort Bragg, did interesting tours in the Greater DC area, was a military advisor in El Salvador during the Civil War, counter-narcotics strike team leader in Colombia helping the Colombian military and then did a tour in Beirut pre-bombing, post bombing, and then finished up my active duty in 2004, 2005, getting recalled and did a year, 18 months in Iraq. So had a very interesting career.
Yeah, I would say that falls pretty much more in line with a very non-traditional career path is what it sounds like to me. And I I’ve noticed that every once in a while, you’ll run into some folks that just have very unique pathways through their career. And so, I mean, one, how does that even happen? And then two, I mean, what was one of the most memorable moments?
Well, certainly being able to lead Marines or lead allied forces in combat was by far the most significant accomplishment and honor that I think I’ve ever had during my time on active service. I have a lot of very interesting staff jobs as well. I ran the sniper instructor school for the Marine Corps for three years. I served on the joint staff as a strategic planner. But I have to honestly say taking Marines forward in combat and being successful in your endeavors is the ultimate achievement and should be the ultimate goal, I think, of any Marine.
Yeah, no, I think that’s awesome. And I just want to thank you for your many years of service. I think it’s terrific. So share with us then what was the journey like then when you got out of military, but then you’re talking about how you got recalled. So walk us through some of that journey. I’d love to understand your first steps after you separated, or I guess you actually retired. But so what was that like? Because you have a very interesting background, very interesting careers. So you were immediately doing foreign business. So how did that work?
Correct, yeah. About a year before I was eligible for retirement, so ‘98, I was working in J5 Strategic Plans and Policy on the joint staff and was focused on Latin America. I had a language capability at a foreign area officer designation. So I was working things in Columbia where I had worked before. Argentina, Chile, good stuff, doing military and military engagements. I was talking to a lot of my friends and they were all telling me that as you advance in rank – I was a lieutenant colonel at the time – you get farther and farther away from the action, you get farther and farther away from necessarily being an active participant in the solution.
And so I started doing informational interviews and made a decision to retire. And I was very curious on various possible civilian careers, and everyone eventually becomes a civilian, but I wanted to do it on my own terms. I didn’t want to be the disgruntled passed over guy that gets angry at the service and leaves and takes the first job he comes to. I want to be very planned and deliberate as I would encourage anyone to do. So I did a lot of informational interviews. And fortunately, about six months before I eventually retired, I did an informational interview with a global power company, AES. And just to kind of see what executives in the power industry did. I had an engineering degree from the Naval Academy, had picked up an MBA and finance along the way, and I felt that I wanted to serve in a recession proof industry and I thought power was one of them. Energy was one of them. And perhaps even telecommunications.
So I still hadn’t declared, if you wish, my intention to retire. I was coming up on the end of my three years. So I knew I was going to either take a set of orders or put in retirement papers. And I had both options available to me, which was good. So I finally did a series of interviews with AES, a global power company, and they needed someone to help run a piece of a distribution company. That’s energy distribution. So basically, the people that maintain the transformers from 12,000 kilovolts and below and bring the power to your house. Basically, the electric company. And they had one that concession in the Dominican Republic. They were looking for someone that was one, willing to move to the Dominican Republic, that spoke Spanish and had an engineering background.
Well, my only hands-on electricity experience was in El Salvador when I helped rebuild a geothermal power plant that had been damaged by the gorillas and then a rocket attack. It wasn’t distribution. It was on the generation side. But I didn’t know anything about energy distribution, but I figured I could learn. And I went through a series of interviews and they pitched me and said, “You’ve got the leadership capability, you’ve got the desire to learn a new skill set. Do you want the job?” And I signed up, I said, “Let me think about it.” Talked to a couple of my friends and then I went back to them. And on a handshake, no formal offer letter. It was a handshake with my then later became my boss, a guy named Karl Huber, a former captain in the Army. He was a lawyer and he spent his whole time in the Army Corps of Engineers, never wore a uniform and never left the United States, but a wonderful man.
And so I went back to Headquarters Marine Corps, gave a letter into the little old lady in tennis shoes who processes your retirement, told the monitor. He was a little upset, but we got over it. And 29 days later, I left the Marine Corps, had my retirement ceremony on a Thursday, took Friday off and started work the following Monday in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. And did a brief course of instruction on energy distribution with a friend of mine from Dominion Power who I had met a couple of years earlier. And so I knew all the terms and terminology. Then did a few online courses. So when I showed up, I at least had enough knowledge to be dangerous. After about three months, we took over the concession and my boss gave me one third of the existing concession, the footprint. So I had about 150,000 meters to service on the eastern half of the island. So I had seven commercial offices, about 250 people working for me, office personnel, line crews, stuff like that. And my job was to collect the money and to keep the power on to people.
Man, I mean, there’s so much that you just shared. And I think it’s important. One, I want to go back to something that you’d said. You spend a lot of time doing informational interviews. And I think that is such a secret weapon for folks when they’re looking to get out, looking to transition. It’s a different flavor, I think, of networking because you’re not necessarily interviewing for the purposes of securing the job. You’re really just trying to learn more about the opportunity or the company or the culture or whatever, right? But what happens through that, though, is you start developing these really cool relationships with people. And the next thing you know, they’re like, “You know what, we’ve got an opening, you’ve got the skill set.” Because they’ve asked about you, you’ve shared with them a little bit about your background and now all of a sudden, they’re like, “Why don’t we just do this?”
Correct. And the unique thing about informational interviews are I started 18 months out, a year out, before I was going to leave. So there’s couple of things in your favor. If you’re on active duty in the military, remember 99% of Americans have never served in the military. So they want to talk to you. A lot of them feel guilty that they never served, but they’re willing to talk to you if you show up and you’re an active duty and you want to learn about their business, they will give you an interview. The other thing is even if they wanted to hire you on the spot, you tell them right up front, “I’m not available yet. I will be in a year, but right now, or six months or right now.” So it takes away the pressure of you pitching them and asking them for a job because you tell them right up front, “This is not about me asking for a job from you. That may happen a year from now, but everything could change.”
So it puts people at ease. They want to be friendly. They want to be helpful to you. They really in many terms open the kimono up and show you the good and the bad side of their profession. And it allows you to, again, you put that into your thought process as to do I really want to be – for example, I spent three days with a friend of mine who was an investment banker working to Goldman. And I sit out with him for three days. It was amazing. And he did mostly trading, but had a very fast paced, hectic lifestyle. I realized after three days, I didn’t want to be an investment banker in trading with Goldman Sachs. Great company, but not what I want to do. So I checked that off my list. I like the finance part, but not living in New York and not being a trader and working at a trading desk. Happy work for him, but it wasn’t going to work for me. So that’s what informational interviews give you. It helps you focus your search on what you want to do.
Yeah. No, it it’s amazing. And I think, I mean, you hit it on the head. So this is the classic issue that we run into here. So the audience, the people that are listening and watching, these are probably 99% made up of veterans, those that have already done the transition. And so one of the things that I’ve had this conversation multiple times with people is you get so focused on the mission, the Marines, or whatever your branch of service happened to be. You get so focused in on what you’re doing, it’s easy to all of a sudden look up and realize, holy crap, I’m six months away from punching out. I probably should start looking for a job. And then there’s that guilt element that some people feel because they feel like they’re not giving it all or giving it their all.
And one thing I think it’s worth mentioning. Because again, you made the point really, really well. And my take on that is the informational interview is useful pre-transition, but I also think it is just as useful for any stage of your career. So if you’re working in investment banking in New York or whatever your role is and you’re genuinely interested in say being a software developer, set up a bunch of informational interviews with software developers or software development managers or whatever. And so it’s a great way to network without putting that pressure on that other person. I mean, I really loved how you said that. Because when you’re interviewing a year out, there’s no way they’re going to hire you and there’s no way you’re actually looking for a job. So I think it’s a really, really great and very underutilized tool. I’d love to understand a little bit more about the international side of the business. So describe a scenario or describe a common misconception about international business.
Okay. My 20 years in Corporate America, the vast majority of that has been working overseas. In the Marine Corps, we used to refer to a lot of the places as shall we say a third world dung heaps, for example, that oftentimes Marines and military special operations folks wind up going into. In Corporate America, those are referred to as frontier markets. And so just a different terminology, but the challenges remain the same. I think that the folks that are willing to go and take over business leadership roles overseas in a foreign country will be pleasantly surprised when they come back to the United States and then take over a leadership role in a US business. Far easier to run a business in the United States than it is to run a business overseas. And I think that’s first and foremost.
I think the opportunities to hit it out of the park are certainly there overseas in any P&L role you have, but also the downside is there are opportunities or there are pitfalls that if you make a mistake, sometimes those mistakes can literally wind you in jail. And that you wouldn’t be put in jail for say in the United States for a business decision to do go left instead of right. But certainly and potentially, it could land you in jail. I can give you an example of that.
When I worked in Kyiv, Ukraine, I ran two big distribution companies for AES. We serviced about 1.6 million meters in the greater Kyiv area and then out in the western part of Ukraine as well, near the city of Ravenna. So the tax authorities would come by every month and ask for their tax payment, all legit. And we would wire money to them, fine. We collect a lot of money. We paid a lot of taxes. Well, one day, they showed up a week early and my CFO called me down to his office. And he says, “Steve, the tax authorities are here and they’re pressuring us to pay our taxes early, a week early.” And I said, “No, I don’t think we need to do that.” And I explained to them both in Russian and in English. We’ve always paid our taxes. It’s not a question of not having the money, but we’re going to pay them on time, but we’re not going to pay early. Because it would have required us to work some magic in the treasury and come up with some cash that we would have to take a line of credit on or something like that. But we could certainly have done it, but I said, “No. On principle, I’m not going to do that.”
Well, the next day, I have two policemen pull me over as I’m driving home and they give me the fifth degree. And the entire weekend, basically they’re SWAT team police following me around, stopping me constantly, harassing me. Now, it was kind of silly, but it was done purely because they were upset that I wouldn’t direct my CFO to pay the taxes early. That would never happen in the United States. And finally, I got so kind of fed up with them, I just said, “Okay. Why don’t you just go ahead and arrest me now? Put the cuffs on me and throw me in jail. And then I need to catch up on my reading and then we’ll start this up over the weekend.” Of course they refused to arrest me. And the following week, I went to talk to their boss. We got it resolved. He apologized.
But those types of things happen. They never happen in the United States but they certainly could happen overseas. You’re often faced with significant ethical challenges overseas that you may never encounter in the United States. And inevitably, people look towards the foreigner who’s in charge, and certainly if he’s an American. Because they want to see if you’re going to be able to make the hard call and you’re going to do the right thing. So that’s a big challenge from serving overseas amongst others.
Oh, yeah. No, I mean, that I think right there just kind of pulls the curtain back on some of the aspects of international business because the US Constitution does not apply to whatever country you’re working in, and so US tax code and all these other things.
Well, the US Constitution does not apply; the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act does.
And a lot of people fail to understand that. So it can be applied any time to an American company, American citizen or others that are interacting. So that’s always a challenge as well. And there were numerous times where people would in the normal course of business expect that you are going to reward them personally (i.e. pay a bribe) and I would explain that that’s a violation. Even though if you did it, no one find out about it in theory and the host country wouldn’t care, you explained to them that that’s a violation of US law and that I would be at fault and in violation. And so you say you can’t do that. And sometimes they understand that, sometimes they don’t. You lose business because of it, sure. But that’s the nature of the beast.
Yeah. I’ve experienced that personally, probably nowhere near to the scale and size that you have. But I mean, without going into too much detail, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in some Asian countries that I’ve done business with, where it was expected that you are going to reward certain people. And I mean, to your point, it could cost you business and you just have to kind of come to terms with that. That okay, I mean, it is what it is. So real quick, just because, I mean, I’m genuinely curious. I imagine others that are watching, listening to this, maybe genuinely curious as well. So the company that you were working for when you were overseas, was that a US entity, was it a foreign entity? And so how does all that work?
It was a US entity. AES, at that time, they were a Fortune 200 company, global power company. They had operations in about 26 countries and had about 40,000 people company-wide. So I worked for them, again, primarily overseas. And in this one particular time, I ran all the operations in both Ukraine and in Kazakhstan.
Did business development for them in the Balkans and in the Eastern Europe region.
Kind of sounds once you got that taste or once you got that mark on you as being the international guy, they were kind of queuing you up for other potential possibilities. I mean, and then realizing too, I mean, you’re not in Spanish-speaking countries anymore, so you’d spend a lot of time in South America. So what was that transition like for you working in other foreign countries? Were you taking time – did you have to learn the language?
Yes. So I spoke a little Russian before and I did a deep immersion into the Russian language, a little Ukrainian, but primarily Russian. And that was the daily conversation. And if it got super difficult, I’d bring an interpreter or translator in and sometimes we ended up doing that, but that’s the nature of the beast. I think if you’re willing to take an overseas assignment, you have to kind of go all in. And I’ll use the military analogy of advisor. And I was an advisor in Latin America several times and in different countries. And you have to totally immerse yourself in the culture, the language, the whole experience. I use the same path. If you’re going to be a corporate executive overseas, you need to get into the language to the best of your ability, realizing the international language of business is English. So that helps a lot. But still, if you can’t go to a restaurant order off the menu in the host language, that sends a message to people. They’re like, you’re not really vested in this country here. You’re just kind of someone that’s here temporarily, which you may be, but you’re not interested in what our culture and how we do things. So that’s a big part of it.
Yeah. I mean, taking that and though it may not be perfect and maybe a little ugly, but just showing that you’re taking effort and making strides to really become a part of that community. Yeah. I think it definitely goes a long way and people, I think, are more willing to work with you or more willing to forgive any weird mistakes or any funny things that you find yourself running into.
Correct. I ran the AES operations in the Middle East living in Dubai after I left Kyiv, Ukraine. Did that for a couple of years and did the same thing. Learned a pretty good slug of Arabic, went out of my way to speak Arabic when I could. Almost everyone I interacted with were absolutely perfect English speakers, but they appreciated the fact that I would try to stumble through Arabic with them, understanding their host customs, went on my way to make sure I didn’t offend anyone, learned the culture. And I think that really helps. It certainly helps when you’re going to a power plant and 99% of the workforce are local inhabitants. If you can say hi to them, shake hands with them, speak a little bit of their local language, that’s huge. But that’s leadership 101 that both of us learned in the Marine Corps or the Navy. And I think those lessons really come to pay home in Corporate America as they did on active duty.
Yeah, for sure. No, it makes a world of difference. And right, I mean, we’re always – even in the current threat environment – working with our young Marines and helping get them trained or understanding the language and cultural concerns. I mean, when I was in, that was a huge concern. How do we interact with locals? What does that whole thing look like? And so making those decisions available to be made at the lowest levels. So you’ve got a corporal on the ground making some maybe bigger decision, but he’s been trained and he’s been empowered. And part of that comes with the local language or cultural awareness, maybe not a mastery of the language, but at least a better cultural understanding. So we covered it already, but I was just curious, I mean, what other aspects of international business do you think it’s important that people understand? So if they are maybe thinking about growing their business beyond the borders of the United States, what have you seen work and what have you seen not work when it comes to people trying to expand operations beyond North America or at least beyond the US?
Well, again, if you have an existing business and you’re wanting to perhaps go overseas, one of the fundamental things that you need to understand is understand the environment. In a military terminology, they call it MET-T. Mission, enemy, terrain, time, what have you. In a business environment, you would really need to understand the local labor laws, the local laws as they relate to foreign investment. Is it better to do assembly setup? Or do you just want to drop widgets off on the shore? I advise several companies now on the side that are doing business overseas. And for the most part, I really encourage them to do a deep dive on their target audience or the target area before they’re going to put people, time and money out on the table or at risk to go forward.
Surprisingly, a lot of people just think that, we’ll show up and I’ll set up my stand and everybody will flock and they’ll buy it. Build it and they will come. That’s not always the case. So I encourage people that the overseas market truly is 10,000 times bigger than what say the US domestic market is. But you want to be able to do a very detailed and focused search on whether you have goods or services. And then ultimately, what is your competitive advantage? Why are they going to hire or buy from you versus hire or buy from somebody else? A lot of people fail to do that. They don’t do their homework.
Yeah. No. For some reason, I don’t know where that perception comes from. Because I agree with you. There’s this mindset that you can build it and they will come. It’s going to work. It’s almost like a foregone conclusion. And you’ve got a very well-seasoned perspective on that. Not even just in one continent. You’ve been all over the freaking place. And so, I mean, you have a very unique perspective on that. As we’re talking, you actually had me think about that there’s one other question I had for you related to the legalities of working overseas. And so you’ve set up an entity on foreign soil, but you’re not – so as you pointed out earlier, you could be prosecuted under certain law for any type of corruption, but what about legal recourse for the entity itself as it relates to just getting paid? And so realizing that the laws are different, I mean, if someone stiffs you or screws you over in an overseas deal, how do you deal with that?
Well, first of all, I think, again, we talked about understanding the environment. For those people that don’t have a tax or a department or a general counsel with 500 lawyers on retainer, oftentimes if you want to do operations overseas, you need to hire an expert. And for example, my sister, Dr. Janet Walsh, who’s got a doctorate in business, she operates a company called Birchtree Global based out of New York. And one of the things that they do is they go and help you set up businesses overseas. Either through the world trade council or just independently. And they use HR professionals because you’ve got to have a workforce. They use tax professionals because, again, it’s not how much money you make, it’s how much tax you pay. And they also have legal professionals, how to set up the corporate structure. So that’s the service that she provides.
Some people do that in-house. But whatever service and/or group of people you do, you need to get those strings nailed down very tightly. Because you can go overseas, like I said, put out your wares or hang out your shingle and it can run off the rails real quick because you haven’t done the upfront analysis and/or the foundation, if you wish, to set up business operations. Certainly, most countries there are, you know, if you have a disagreement, if someone say, fails to honor a contract, you can take them to court.
In some places, you’ll be in court for years and there’ll be no resolution. Other places are pretty, pretty quick. Many times companies will have a dispute clause in a contract where they will take the dispute to basically another country. It could be under New York law, for example, United States, or under British law. So they’ll have a governing law or an authority that would make the final decision on a dispute. That’s all well and good. So you have a dispute and you go before a judge in New York because that’s what the contract says. And the judge rules in your favor. That’s 50% of the battle. The other 50% of the battle is recovering from the other side, the other party. And many times you can get a judgment against someone, but you never get any money back that they owe you because you can’t find it or you can’t get an enforceable decree to go after their assets. So it can often be complicated. Big thing is know who you’re doing business with, know your customer.
Yeah. No, that’s good. That’s really good insight. I’d like to share something else with you because I’ve done a fraction of international business previously and I’d love to understand your perspective and your opinion or position or experience dealing with foreign agents. For those that aren’t as familiar and you’ll probably explain this way better than I can. But for companies that don’t actually have a foreign entity set up and the whole taxable structure and legal formation, they’ll partner with an overseas agent that helps do a lot of the functions you’re talking about. So payroll, they take a cut, they take some type of slice off of an hourly or day rate or some contractual thing that you work out, but what’s been your experience dealing with that kind of a setup?
I think a foreign agent operation works well. You have to have the right foreign agent. Someone that is trustworthy, reliable, that is not going to violate – again, we went back and talked about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – that’s not going to conduct business as usual in the country that that’s the way everyone does it. Well, that could certainly run a file and blow back on the individual itself. But having someone on a retainer that is in a contract that’s legally binding, that agrees to follow not only US rules but your intentions and directions to the letter is invaluable. There’s lots of very good foreign agents out there that can really help you grow the business. There’s also a lot of people that would just love to take your money and do nothing in return.
Right. Yeah, yeah, no, that’s true. That’s true. Well, I appreciate your perspective on that. I was just genuinely curious. Well, I know your list of problems that you’ve had to deal with is not short because that’s part of the reason that you were the guy for the job. I mean, a guy with a foreign background, US military, had a very successful career, and then you jump into the civilian space and you’re just knocking all these different assignments and just doing a bang-up job. I’m sure you’ve got a long list of these examples, but yeah, I would love to understand what is one or a few sizeable problems in the business that you’ve had to overcome and how did you get through it?
Probably the biggest challenge in business I’ve found whether it’s running one in the United States or operating overseas is getting the right people in the right seat on the bus. And that’s a very popular business school phrase where people will talk about getting the right person in the right assignment. And sometimes you have to make some tough calls to do that. Remember that when people hire you, they’re going to hire you for one of two reasons. Can you make the company money or can you help save the company money? Or a combination of the two. They’re not going to nor should they hire you for any other reason but that.
If you use a sports analogy, if you’re the quarterback as the one with the P&L responsibility, the leader of the business or the leader of the business unit, then it’s up to you as the quarterback to put the people in the right positions on the field to score a touchdown. And oftentimes, and I saw this time and time again, you had people in sales job, for example, and they were introverts. They would never succeed because it just wasn’t in their nature and their personality. So you move that person say to a back office job working as a comptroller or in the treasury department where they don’t have to go out and interact with strangers all the time. They hit it out of the park. Again, here’s the perfect example. I’ve had a guy, both very capable individual, but he was in the wrong seat on the bus. So that’s probably one of the biggest challenges. Get the right people.
The other thing is I firmly believe that most people want to show you initiative. They want to show you how smart they are. They want to show you that they can take the ball and run with it. Again, a sports analogy. Oftentimes people in control, they try to micromanage or they don’t give people the authority and the responsibility to go out and do things on their own. And again, we both learned that in the military. A lot of business leaders have never learned that and they don’t empower their people to get stuff done. And I see that also as a big obstacle to success.
Well, yeah, I think empowerment is huge. It has the potential to just breathe life into a team and helps people discover what they’re made of. It helps them perform, I think, at their very best when it’s in the right situation, which goes back to your first point, which is getting people on the right seat in the bus. And so are there any tools or any methodologies or anything that you use in helping assess that? So let’s say you just took over a role in another branch of another country and you’re walking in and you’re figuring out who’s who in the zoo and what do we to do? And it may be a very informal thing that you do or maybe very formal. I have no idea. But is there anything that you kind of walk yourself through each time that you kind of inherit a new team or a new assignment?
Yes. I always try to show up early in the process. Perhaps even before you’ve taken over, a formal turnover, to get an idea of what the immediate needs are, what the immediate crisis are, and hopefully identify two or three people that at least after your initial impression and maybe catching a little bit of their background on paper, you can probably rely on to act as a fire brigade. I think that’s important. Because business is not going to stop just because the senior individual changes out. The business is going to continue on. And if you have this low while you “learn the job” or you learn that people or stuff, the business is going to suffer. You’re going to suffer as well. You’re not going to be able to be as effective as you could be.
That say, as you get deeper into the job, you’ll probably be more effective. You’ll be able to move people around. You’ll be able to give people certain extra responsibilities. Other people, you’ll take away responsibilities and you may even have to fire some. And that’s okay. Sadly, a lot of people have a hard time terminating employees, which I kind of find that unusual. As a former Marine like yourself, a Marine officer, you realize, you know, in the military, you got to make some tough calls. Oftentimes you make tough calls knowing that you can put people’s lives at risk.
You don’t have that in Corporate America for the most part, but you do have tough calls from the standpoint. You got to from time to time terminate people or sell off a division knowing full well that people are going to lose employment. And that’s hard and that shouldn’t be done callously or it shouldn’t be done without a lot of research and justification. But in the end, you got to be able to make tough calls. And I think that is one of the things that military veterans have over a lot of civilians. It’s that we’re used to making the tough calls. But when the tough call needs to be made, be decisive, don’t waffle about it, make the call and move on.
Make the call and move on. I like that. Don’t dwell and linger on it. I think that’s good. So what advice would you give to someone who’s wanting to pursue a career similar to yours?
Well, again, in a nutshell, I would say, do your homework. Do your informational interviews before you make the move, whether you’re still on active duty or whether you’ve maybe left active service and now you’re transitioning from one job to another. Do your homework. A lot of people think, oh, I can do anything. Well, that’s not necessarily true. You need to be well-schooled. You need to be constantly ready to learn some new skill sets. And sadly, a lot of military veterans aren’t. So they get stuck into what is perceived as military veterans’ jobs, which oftentimes aren’t the best fit for them. Well, I’ll put them in charge of security because he did a tour in the Army and he knows how to guard things. Well, come on. Most military veterans, yeah, they could all guard something, but woefully not the best use of their skill set. They can do all sorts of other things. They have the leadership ability to get people, to get stuff done.
So make a list, what things you might want to do, informational interviews. And then if you have to reinvent yourself, learn a new skill set, get a new qualification, don’t be afraid to do that. Some people are, oh, I’m tired, or I don’t want to move. Those are all understandable, but they also come as limitations. When people say, “Gee, I’d like to go do that. I’d like to behead of that business unit.” Well, okay. Are you willing to go anywhere and do anything to make that happen? “Well, no. I’m tired of moving or I don’t like to travel.” Well, then that may not be the job for you because that’s the price you’re going to have to pay to be successful. If you say that, what is successful?
The skills you learn as a military veteran, the hard skills – how to fly an airplane, drive a tank, operate a nuclear reactor, what have you. They’re all well and good. But in reality, the skills that are truly valuable as a veteran going forward in the business world are good old fashioned leadership. Getting a diverse group of people, some of which that you may not necessarily want to associate with, but you have to like you did in the military. Get them all together on the same bus, heading in the same direction and get it across the finish line successfully without getting anybody killed or injured. Those skill sets – the ability to understand various points of view, adapt to the culture, push through adversity, show up, do whatever it takes to be successful. Those are the true, true skills that veterans have in the corporate workplace. And quite honestly, they’re in desperate need of those skills. So I would encourage everyone that is thinking about doing something different, do your homework, buck up, take the step, you’ll be successful.
Wow. And I’m just going to pull the string just because I can. But what makes you say that? And I agree with you. I’m just curious. What makes you say that Corporate America is in dire need of that skill set?
I’ve seen this time and time again that oftentimes in Corporate America, we have people that aren’t willing to make difficult calls, aren’t willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. And I don’t mean breaking the rules or violating some ordinance or something, but I’m talking about what do we need to be successful? Does that mean the boss needs to show up at unexpected times and see unexpected things to correct deficiencies? Well, that would make what it takes. Does that mean that you may have to forego that month-long vacation you were planning because the business needs your personal attention? Or people in the business need to know that you’re not doing this remotely, your hands-on, you’re backstopping them, you’re taking care of them, you’re giving them opportunity.
Many people aren’t willing to do that. Yet they want the title and/or they want the paycheck. Well, to me, if you want the title and you want the paycheck, that comes with a lot of responsibilities and you can’t pawn those off on somebody else, you’ve got to do them yourself. And people deserve to see the boss. They deserve to have a boss, know it’s going to back them up, hold them accountable, but at the same time, give them the opportunity to grow. And that’s what military veterans bring to the table.
Love that. I love how you said that. I think it was awesome. And I hope for those that are watching, listening, you’re taking copious notes because I’m telling you, Steve, there’s just a lot of really, really awesome truths and lots of really good nuggets that you’re throwing out here. And I’m grateful for the experience that you’ve had and being willing to share this with me, but also with the wider audience. As we wrap up, I try to make it a habit or make it a point of handing over the last segment back over to the guest. If there’s anything that we didn’t get time to cover – I could talk to you for forever – realizing time is short, but if there’s anything that we didn’t get to that you’d love to share or any final parting shots, I would love to hand this back over to you.
Sure. I think you should prepare for any transition, whether it’s your initial transition from the military to civilian life – and remember, everybody becomes a civilian sooner or later – or if you’ve already left active service and maybe you’re starting one career path and you decide this is not for me, I’m going to make a 90-degree turn and go do something else, you really, really need to do your homework. You need to do the self-study. You need to speak to everyone and anyone that you can find to really make a determination of the landscape and the opportunities and the pitfalls that will be facing you. So many times people fail to plan. That said, the first plan doesn’t survive contact. That’s a very popular phrase. And to some degree, that’s true. But at the same time, you want to be able to plan. You want to be able to understand the opportunities and the pitfalls ahead of you. You don’t want to be going into something as a knee-jerk reaction.
I saw too many people get upset, either in Corporate America or the military, when they left, they didn’t get promoted. They didn’t get recognized. And they jumped and went someplace else and took the first opportunity that was presented to them. Most often, they missed out on other better paying, more responsible opportunities because they were angry or they failed to plan. The analogy that you used about ‘hey, six months, I’m going to be out of the military. I have no idea what I want to do.’ Shame on those people. You should have at least two or three things I think I want to do that and I’m going to try one for a year. Now, if that doesn’t work out, I’m going to try something else. But to go out there and just kind of stumble around and hope someone else offers you a job or career path that may sound interesting, that’s a recipe for disaster and it’s never going to lead to success. Plan your transitions. Whether they’re from the military to civilian life or from one civilian job to the next, plan those transitions as diligently as you would have planned any military operation that you ever participated in and you will be successful.
Well, Steve, again, I just want to thank you. Thank you for taking time to visit the show. Thanks for spending so much time with me and thank you again for just sharing so many great words of wisdom. Really do appreciate it.
Thank you, Aaron. Best of luck to you. Thank you so much to all your stuff that you’ve done for both our veterans and our nation.
Man, what a fun and exciting conversation. I really enjoyed Steve’s perspective. I haven’t had a lot of folks on the show that have international business experience. It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. I thoroughly enjoy international business. It’s been something I’ve really enjoyed doing. Steve has made a career of it doing it for now, probably over 20 years at this point now. And so I really appreciate his insight and his perspective. For those of you that work in international business, I’m curious what your feedback is to this. And those that are curious about international business, I think this kind of gives you a little bit of an inside peek at how some of that is done and some of the things to think about and look out for.
One thing I really loved about the conversation was talking about the importance of informational interviews. And I think it’s something that we so easily gloss over, and I’m thinking about this selfishly, just even on the outside. So for me, I did not take as much time on my transition. I knew what I was going to do post transition, but I didn’t take the time to do 20 or 30 informational interviews. And I think if you’ve got the time to do that before you get out, it’s great. But I think it’s even more beneficial when you are out and maybe you’re contemplating a career change. Maybe you’re thinking about moving to a different city. Maybe it’s a company within the same industry. Or it’s a complete change of direction. It’s basically networking if you’re really thinking about it. But reaching out to someone and saying, “Hey, look, I’m not applying to the position. I just am genuinely curious about what you do, what this industry’s all about. I’m just trying to learn more about it to gauge whether or not this is a move that I would consider doing for myself.”
And so again, it deescalates, takes away a lot of the tension that people may feel and some of that apprehension in speaking with you. But then at the same time, you’re going to start to forge a relationship. And if it’s something really speaks to you and really jumps out and you’re like, man, this sounds exactly what I would love to do, then maybe a develop a great relationship with that person. Maybe then three, six months from now, a year from now, those opportunities may present themselves.
So anyway, hope you enjoyed the interview, the show. Again, would love your feedback. If you haven’t subscribed, please subscribe. And also, I would encourage you, if there’s elements of the show or if there’s certain interviews that you really like, share them out. And I think it could really help a lot of different people. So anyway, again, thank you so much. And we’ll talk again soon. Yeah.