Military to civilian: How ex-servicemen and women are changing hearts and minds in the business world

Military transition to business

As combat troops prepare to pull out of Afghanistan at the end of this year, and in the face of ongoing military redundancies, the number of ex-servicemen and women seeking employment is rising. With many facing barriers in the job market, Director meets a group of inspiring individuals trying to change hearts and minds in the business world

This month sees the launch of the inaugural Invictus Games – a Paralympic-style sporting competition for wounded members of the armed forces. Championed by Prince Harry, the event, which takes place from 10 to 14 September, will see 400 competitors from 14 nations gathering in London to compete in sports including athletics, swimming and wheelchair basketball. The games aim to generate wider understanding and respect for those who’ve served – and marks the start of a programme to support employment opportunities for those leaving the forces.

This push for support comes at a critical time for the military, currently undergoing a restructuring programme that will see the regular army reduced to 82,000 by 2018 – the lowest level since the Napoleonic Wars. Coupled with the drawdown of Afghanistan, the number of ex-servicemen and women looking for work is on the rise. But many service leavers, both injured and able-bodied, aren’t just faced with the challenge of transitioning into life on ‘Civvy Street’ – they’re also discovering barriers to employment.

In a bid to show commitment to the military community, charities and businesses came together at the end of 2013 to launch the Corporate Covenant – a voluntary pledge to provide concrete support for the armed forces. The document is designed to sit alongside the Armed Forces Covenant, the government’s own commitment to the services. So far, hundreds of organisations have signed up, but is it making any difference?

Director met up with some ex-servicemen and women, and the organisations that support them, to find out how these inspirational individuals, many of whom have faced considerable emotional and physical hardship, are using their military skills to help businesses develop and prosper…

Paul Findlay (pictured above right) community investment, colleague engagement manager, Barclays Bank

I joined the army when I was 16. I did three tours of Iraq with the Royal Signals then joined the Brigade Reconnaissance Force, and was deployed to Afghanistan. In May 2010 my Jackal [armoured vehicle] hit an improvised explosive device (IED). Doctors put me into a coma and when I came round after 30 days I had no use of anything below the waist – I was 24 and felt like my life was over. I got some use back in my left leg, but my right leg didn’t heal. In 2011 I had my leg electively removed and after some time recovering returned home to Scotland.

Barclays and the MoD were running a pilot course in Edinburgh, with the aim of teaching money skills. I attended and two weeks later they asked if I’d move to London and help run their Armed Forces Transition Employment and Resettlement (AFTER) programme, working for another ex-serviceman, Stuart Tootal.

My biggest fear was failing. I worked under Stuart’s guidance for 12 months. He gave me opportunities to prove myself in ways my CV didn’t necessarily indicate. After my placement, I was offered a position as head of security technology. I’d worked in technology in the military so the skills were transferable. I now work in community investment, which sponsors and provides money for AFTER. I found the change difficult at first. I’d never worked with women and I’d been in the army since leaving school, so it took time to adjust.

Coming into Barclays via AFTER has taught some individuals in the bank that not all military people are knuckleheads who run around with guns – we have brains and can add value. There are people who were more senior to me in the army who are now more junior to me in the bank, and vice versa. It’s skills and personality that matter. My advice to ex-servicemen and women is: never sell yourself short.

Stuart Tootal (pictured above left), chief security officer, Barclays Bank

I spent 20 years in the military and left to join Barclays as chief security officer in 2008. I realised Barclays had the resources to make a difference to ex-servicemen and women. AFTER is an idea we came up with in 2010, working with the MoD, the army, and service charities, to help ex-military personnel translate their skills. We’ve offered 127 work experience placements, and the programme has resulted in 53 direct hires in the last 18 months. We’ve helped over 2,400 people so far, through funding, training, work experience and employment.

There are no selection criteria. It’s open to everyone, whether that’s an unemployed homeless veteran or a commissioned officer with significant educational qualifications. Programmes like AFTER are important because they allow people to recalibrate into a different environment and help break the mystique of the commercial world.

Businesses should be doing more. We signed the Corporate Covenant last year, and have pledged our support to the armed forces. The talent service leavers can bring in is phenomenal – Paul’s a great example. These individuals have leadership skills, the ability to cope under pressure and can deal with complex planning. It’s great for the individual, great for society, and great for business.


Adam Libbey, left, consultant at Bishopsgate Financial, with the company’s founder and chief executive, Mike Hampson

Adam Libbey, consultant, Bishopsgate Financial

I got sponsored through university to join the army. After a year at Sandhurst I joined the Royal Welsh and did six years including two tours of Afghanistan. I left as a captain at the end of 2013. I’d achieved what I wanted and was ready for a new challenge.

Leaving the army was quite a daunting prospect because I wasn’t sure how my skills would translate. I can take a weapon apart but how was that going to help? I found out about the Advance Training Programme at Bishopsgate Financial through a friend who was also leaving. I joined the firm at Easter.

The first eight weeks involved getting up to speed with the basics of consulting. Bishopsgate also arranged for us to meet some ex-service leavers who are now working in the City. It was a chance for us to gather experience from them. It’s been an interesting learning curve.

The general skills you can expect from someone who has been in the military include reliability, a can-do attitude, and being willing to give everything a go – but there is also integrity, communication and people skills. Most service leavers are just looking for an opportunity.

If businesses can provide that, by bringing people in and teaching them the technical side of things, then that’s fantastic. Bishopsgate has shown faith in me as an ex-serviceman – and that’s a real confidence boost. My advice to service leavers is to do something you enjoy and have faith in your abilities.

Mike Hampson, founder and chief executive, Bishopsgate Financial

I had a career in the City and joined ABN Amro in 1997 as the chief information officer of the equity business. I was there for 11 years and left just after the acquisition by RBS. I founded Bishopsgate Financial in 2009.

I have always had a really good experience when working with people from an ex-military background so I decided to create a training programme to assist individuals coming out of the services.

We started putting the programme together in 2013. Service leavers have all sorts of skills they’ve developed in the military – leadership, communication, and discipline. We give them training around project and programme management, and other consulting skills. After that we deploy them into our project teams. We’re only in the first year now, but our plan is to continue to invest in further training so after two years they have caught up with people who went straight into the City after university.

We’re a small business and couldn’t afford to do this out of charity or for corporate social responsibility reasons. We’re doing it because we get exceptionally good talent and commercially it makes sense. The problem is businesses get locked into the box-ticking process. If applicants are a certain age and don’t have specific experience then they’re not considered – and yet these individuals have managed projects on a larger scale than we can probably present them with. Employers should be a bit more creative about the skills they’re looking for.

Equally service leavers shouldn’t underestimate their capabilities. They have a lot to offer that is much more closely applicable than people often give credit for.


Charlie Bowmont, left, co-founder of Capstar Chauffeurs, with chauffeur Danny Ward

Danny Ward, chauffeur, Capstar Chauffeurs

I joined the Royal Navy in 1975 when I was 16 and served four years as an electrical mechanic. It was difficult to find work when I left and not much has changed. My daughter recently left the navy after five years and she struggled to find employment. She has a medal for her time in Libya, but she’s not going to turn up to an interview wearing it. It’s daunting leaving because the military is a brotherhood. In the late Seventies, it was even harder to find work than it is now. I got an interview with British Telecom and the gentleman interviewing me was ex-army, so he knew how capable I was. But if the interviewer has no connection to the forces it will be tougher.

I found my current job through a specialist website for ex-military personnel. I thought Capstar Chauffeurs would only employ younger people, but the positions were open to all ex-military. I might be 55, but I’ve still done my bit for the country.

We need to educate, and we can do that by getting high-profile individuals to speak out. The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry are very supportive. Businesses could approach the military directly.

There are mass redundancies happening, which means lots of skilled people are available. The military teaches and develops skills including self-discipline and good timekeeping. My advice to service leavers is to have confidence. The training they have been given has set them on a path – they just need to believe they can succeed.

Charlie Bowmont, co-founder, Capstar Chauffeurs

After five years in the Household Cavalry, I went to work for Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) as a consultant and shortly afterwards met Rob Bassett-Cross, who’d spent eight years in the army.

Rob and I didn’t think there were enough opportunities for service leavers. The plan was to buy a couple of cars and employ an injured soldier each. In May 2013 we went to see the head of JLR and discovered he was keen to support us.

A number of charities put us in touch with people and we found two of our most experienced drivers on Gumtree. We now have five staff based in Middlesex, 12 full-time drivers and a pool of ad-hoc drivers.

Getting the right licensing was difficult. The application process for drivers takes about two weeks, but it can be four months to receive the licence. We were getting calls from charities about fantastic individuals, and would have employed them immediately, but couldn’t because they needed a licence. To combat the problem we decided to pay three drivers throughout that four-month period, even though they couldn’t earn us revenue. It was a great long-term investment.

One of our employees, Dan Richards, left the army after losing his arm in a motorbike accident. He applied for 360 jobs without getting an interview and ended up getting depression. His mum contacted Help for Heroes, who got in touch with us, and he has since rebuilt his life. It’s down to the private sector to identify these extraordinary people who have so much to offer. But getting a valued qualification under your belt is important – it proves to employers that service leavers can do more than just run around in camouflage.


Deloitte partner Chris Recchia, left, with consultant Ed Addington

Ed Addington, consultant, Deloitte

I was commissioned into The Rifles in 2006, and on a tour of Afghanistan in 2009, I was involved in a blast. It left me with serious injuries and after significant time in hospital and rehab at Headley Court, I had to end my military career and look for employment. I began thinking about what my military skillset aligned with. I’d commanded men in battle, but where did that put me? I did a master’s degree during my recovery but I didn’t have industry expertise.

I also had a serious operation to put a metal frame on my leg – and still had quite significant mobility issues, but was in a position to do a work placement in the summer of 2012. At the time Deloitte was developing their Military Transition and Talent programme, and it gave me great insight into the company. I was discharged in January 2013 and since then have been a full-time employee.

I was massively concerned about the transition because the military is not only a job, it’s a way of life. The advice I was given was to transition into a structured environment – and a company like Deloitte offers that. I could use my military skills in a civilian work environment.

There needs to be a move to recognise the value service leavers can bring to companies. There should be incentives for businesses that are willing to support a service leaver through their transition.

My advice to ex-servicemen and women would be to meet people who are completely unconnected to the military and hear what they do. It’s easier to search for employment once you have a feel of where you might fit. I understand that lack of experience can be hard – that’s where the support of companies comes in.

Chris Recchia, partner, Deloitte

I joined the army when I was 16. I commissioned from Sandhurst in 1994 and joined the Royal Artillery. In 2000, when I was a senior captain, I left and joined Arthur Andersen, which later merged with Deloitte.

Three years ago, because of the intensity of operations and military redundancies, I was receiving more calls from people leaving the services who wanted advice.

I couldn’t help that many people on my own so I thought we could create a programme at Deloitte to assist individuals transitioning from the military into commercial life. We set up the Deloitte Military Transition and Talent programme in 2012. One key component is Insight Days, which teaches how to translate skills; service leavers have a plethora of skills to unlock – leadership, management, and integrity. We run four a year and have had around 800 people take part.

This year I hired 20 people into the business via the programme. There have also been a number of more senior hires – individuals who’ve done 15 or 20 years in the military, and are bringing real value.

We signed up to the Corporate Covenant in 2013, which is a commitment to support our forces. I’m also a non-executive director on the board of the Armed Forces Community Directory, focused on bringing organisations together to look at how we can better work together on this challenge. Ex-servicemen and women who transition are incredibly adaptable.


Founder of LIOS Bikes Steve McCulley, left, with Linda Walton, head of grants at Help for Heroes

Steve McCulley, founder, LIOS Bikes

I joined the Royal Marines when I was 18 and during a 17-year career served in most conflicts – Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Sierra Leone, and Iraq. I also did two tours of Afghanistan, and was injured in 2011 while serving as a major.

It was the third time I’d been blown up on that tour. The first time, I was in a vehicle, the second time, a goat set off an IED and splattered itself all over us. The third time I was more unlucky. I spent three weeks in a coma, two months in hospital and was moved to Headley Court for rehabilitation. I spent two years there.

I didn’t want to follow the well-trodden path into the City. I used to cycle at national level for the marines so I decided to set up a bespoke

bike business, but needed accreditation training, which Help for Heroes paid for. Linda, head of grants, wrote to me wishing me good luck and to get in touch if I had further requests for support. I asked if the charity could assist with any of the start-up funding – and they did. I registered the company in February 2012, but I took a backwards step. I had lots of shrapnel in my chest and it started moving – I had severe internal bleeding. The doctors pulled out about 15 pieces, and removed a large amount of my lung. I was in hospital for a month. I managed to officially launch LIOS Bikes in August 2013.

Access to grants is hugely important. It’s not just the money, it’s the value the charity adds with introductions to other people who can advise and mentor. The Royal Marines and Help for Heroes have been very supportive. But I did find the transition difficult. I’m used to asking people to do something and it being done, and that doesn’t necessarily happen now.

I would advise service leavers who are sick, injured or wounded to get in touch with Help for Heroes as they can offer advice. Even if the charity can’t help they may know people who can.

Linda Walton, head of grants, Help for Heroes

As well as grants for individuals, we provide funding to external organisations, charities or not-for-profit organisations that offer services we’re unable to. For example, delivery of in-patient support from organisations such as Combat Stress.

Our grants are for the wounded, injured and sick or anyone with a service-attributable injury, meaning those who have come to the end of their time in the forces and have been discharged, and a few years down the line discover they have a mental health issue, for example.

There has to be an established need. The easy decisions are the ones where people have been injured in conflict. They might need a piece of medical equipment, which isn’t supported under the NHS such as an orthopaedic bed for back injuries.

When Steve requested further funding we went through a due diligence process. We wanted to see his business plan and forecasts. It’s crucial that grants are available and to be able to assess them on a case-by-case basis. Help for Heroes offers an employment scholarship, where we assist smaller organisations to fund the cost of employing a wounded or sick individual in their first year because we know they’ll need time off for medical appointments.


Stuart Nicol, founder of Reboot Ventures and trustee of Heropreneurs, left, with Nicki Stanton, founder of Nicki Stanton Consulting

Nicki Stanton, founder, Nicki Stanton Consulting

In 2004, I joined the Royal Air Force, aged 26, but after eight years started to feel frustrated. I was offered a job with a charity that helps ex-soldiers with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and I handed in my notice with the military in 2012. I was nervous about leaving because I’d agreed to take a large drop in salary. After working for the charity for a couple of months, I discovered they couldn’t afford to pay me. I thought I’d made a huge mistake.

I’d worked in industry before joining the forces so I thought the transition wouldn’t be that hard – but I went from being in a social environment to being cut off. I wanted to set up a business but had no idea where to start. I eventually came across an organisation that taught digital marketing.

I had hardly any money at that point, but paid for a training package. Nicki Stanton Consulting was set up in April 2013.

I discovered Heropreneurs online. I was excited because it’s a charity for ex-military running businesses. At one event, I met Stuart, a Heropreneurs trustee who also runs his venture capital investment business, Reboot Ventures. Initiatives like Heropreneurs, which is for start-ups, and Reboot Ventures, which provides investment for more established businesses run by ex-military personnel, are crucial. It’s not just the capital investment, it’s the mentoring and coaching. My advice to people leaving the forces would be to connect with as many people as possible – it will instil more confidence.

Stuart Nicol, founder, Reboot Ventures and trustee, Heropreneurs

I served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders for six years and the reserves for four. Then I did a master’s in finance and have worked in venture capital for the last 15 years.

In 2012 I was working for a company called Octopus Investments, when I had my idea for Reboot Ventures. In my portfolio there were a lot of businesses with someone at senior level who was ex-military – and many of them were outperforming their peers. I set up Reboot that year, with the idea of investing in commercially proven ex-military entrepreneurs or firms employing ex-military personnel.

We’re trying to raise a target fund of £50m. We then hope to invest between £500,000 and £5m into high-growth businesses that are making a profit or have enough sales to prove they’ll be profitable within three years. Alongside Reboot sits Heropreneurs, a charity helping ex-military entrepreneurs, like Nicki, who don’t quite fit the criteria for an investment from Reboot. The plan is to build an endowment so in time we can offer £10,000 to £50,000 investments in debt or equity into smaller businesses to help boost their growth. If Reboot makes a profit then Heropreneurs will receive a percentage.

We visit military units and speak to people about business. There are hundreds of jobs to choose from, but people should also think about working for themselves. If you want to launch a business it’s better to spend two years working for someone else, save some money and build a network. This isn’t about creating military elites who go into commerce, it’s about returning citizens to society and using their strengths.

About author

Hannah Baker

Hannah Baker

Hannah Baker is deputy editor at Think Publishing. Previously she worked as a features writer and sub-editor for Director magazine

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