What I Learned in the Marines: Helping Veterans Become Entrepreneurs

What I Learned in the Marines: Helping Veterans Become Entrepreneurs

I’m a Marine, and I’m a banker. My military service made an invaluable impact on my life and armed me with the skills I need to overcome almost any circumstance.

But there’s no straight line from the armed forces to the business world. It took time and effort to adjust to life outside the service and inside a completely different industry.

Many of my clients are also veterans, and I see many of them going through a similar experience. They’re starting new businesses, blazing a new trail for themselves as entrepreneurs. Through my work at Pinnacle and with a nonprofit called Bunker Labs, I have the honor of helping them find their way as business leaders and apply the lessons they learned in the military to their new lives.

These are the issues we most often work through together and the lessons we take from our service to help solve them.

Don’t assume your company’s finances are easy.
A small business is a complex endeavor, especially when it comes to finance. It seems simple enough: Money comes in, money goes out, and the goal is to have some left over. The complexities are in the details. When and how does the money come in, and for how long do you have it? How much of that is going to debt? How does your cash flow change when you adjust a price or a due date? What advantages can you find in those adjustments?

Lesson: Just like in the military, careful planning pays off. Don’t be afraid to dig deep into every detail and play out multiple scenarios to see which outcome you like best. A good accountant or financial advisor can help. Once you start to see results, you might need to adjust quickly or adapt to changing circumstances, something every good soldier, Marine, sailor and airman can do. But the biggest lesson you should bring to your finances is discipline. You learned it then, and now is the perfect time to use it.

Managing personnel does not work the same way as in the military.
In the service, managing a team can be pretty simple. You’re in charge, people are assigned to you, everyone does what you say, and if they don’t, they suffer the consequence. For business owners, things work a little differently (to say the least). Many vets I work with struggle to recruit effective employees who stick around. When they do build out a team, motivating them can be a challenge.

Lesson: You can actually learn a lot from the organizational structures of the military. A clear hierarchy leaves little doubt who’s in charge, and clear expectations from the top keep people focused on what’s important. Another lesson that translates well is keeping people connected to your mission and values. The more they identify and see themselves in your company, the better employees they will be. Just remember that you will encounter a much different work ethic than you did in the service. Punishment can’t be a motivator here. Instead, work hard to make people feel valued and let them have fun.

When you need help, your fellow veterans will always be there for you.
Organizations like Bunker Labs are dedicated to helping veterans find their footing as entrepreneurs. It’s a terrific organization with a vital mission that helps our service members and our economy. And it exists only because of the dedication we as veterans have to our brothers and sisters from the service. We’re closer than family, so when one of us needs help, we will always answer that call. All you have to do is ask. Unfortunately, that’s something many veterans – sometimes too stubborn and proud to appear vulnerable – are hesitant to do.

Lesson: Rely on each other. Look for veteran-owned businesses and ask about veterans at the companies you work with. Hire veterans when you need to staff up. Never be afraid to forge a new connection over your shared bond of military service. You’ll often get a warm handshake and a fair deal. Then, when the time comes, you’ll pass that on to a vet who needs your help.


Jimmy Moncrief is a financial advisor at Pinnacle Financial Partners’ Broad Street office in downtown Chattanooga, TN. He can be reached by phone at 423-386-3424 or by email at Jimmy.Moncrief@pnfp.com.

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