Monday, June 23, 2014 at 1am

Why I Brought My Military Uniform with Me to Business School

Why I Brought My Military Uniform with Me to Business School main image

My name is Ben Faw. I am a West Point graduate (class of 2007), a former infantry platoon leader, and a graduate of airborne and ranger school. Here is my take on what a veteran can learn at business school:

Rank never equaled respect in the military, and neither will your title in the private sector

Pinning the 2nd Lieutenant bar on my beret and shoulders as a junior officer was an incredible moment. However, I already knew any true respect from my subordinates would be earned through actions and care for their needs, and not through the rank shown on my uniform. The same principles apply in both business school and the private sector. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” In my own case, helping my soldiers clean bathrooms when they were exhausted from the sweltering heat in Iraq earned more respect than any rank or position ever would. In a variety of public and private companies and academic environments post-military, this same principle has echoed true for me. Serving others as a military leader has translated into far more credibility as a business leader and respect than flaunting position, rank, or past accomplishments ever could.

The ‘right time, right place, right uniform’ makes a difference in business school

While someone from the private sector might know Excel modeling and financial statements far better than a veteran, the self-discipline practiced in the military is rarely ingrained as deeply in people from other backgrounds. Malcolm Gladwell writes about the 10,000 hours it takes to become an expert in something; after the first few years of service, many veterans have already completed the 10,000 hours in self-discipline training. Whether you are going to a unit level meeting or the corporate board room, arriving a few minutes early dressed in the right attire goes a long way in building trust, credibility, and authority. I can still remember well a mission I was late for in basic officer training, and I was the patrol leader for the mission! That terrible feeling in my stomach after my commander woke me up around 5 AM is something I will never forget.

Fitness, health, and wellness create an edge for business leaders

Those early morning physical training sessions five days a week in the military were not a waste in the private sector. Instead, they built a habit and character trait that now becomes an advantage. Maintaining this fitness routine post-military provides more than just a beach body; recent research indicates it may lead to higher wages as well. Even if your health never directly impacts wages, the self-discipline and work ethic can shine through to potential employers in a positive way. Practicing healthy living can also help reduce stress and build the resilience and stamina needed for the challenges of the future. With long-winding career paths for many in today’s workforce, filled with ambiguity, every reasonable way to reduce stress is useful for a business leader!

Veterans are willing to serve based on the job, not the location

As you can see in the interactive image, veterans tend to take jobs all over the country after business school. This should not come as a huge surprise. In their military careers, veterans have been deployed in locations far off the beaten path, and continuing on this same trend of serving based on the job – and not on the location – is nothing new for them.

Leadership is incredibly transferable

While the functional training we received in the military is not very transferable for the MBA student, the leadership abilities are. Whether you are leading a military unit into harm’s way or guiding a team though the due diligence process for an investment with other business leaders, many of the same skills apply. Communicating and listening to others, leading by example, and treating all parties with respect matter. These skills were essential in the military, and they are still incredibly important in the private sector.

Learning doesn’t end when class is over

In the same way I learned from peers between classes in military schools, the most meaningful learning opportunities require in-person experiences and shared time together. The full-time in-class MBA experience provides both. The information you learn in the class at business school can potentially be obtained at a lower cost by buying the books, studying on your own, and watching the classes online. In reality, hours studying books will never be the same as the experience of learning from your peers both inside and outside of the classroom.

Resources are scarce. Learn how to manage them.

Just as the tasks in the military are never complete and there is never enough time, business school offers a reminder that we cannot do everything. From day one, endless mixers, social gatherings, and recruiting events beckon our time. Hundreds of classmates who each have an incredible story to tell and would be incredible additions to our network pass us by daily. However, you cannot get to know them all in a meaningful way, just like you can never prepare enough for that first combat patrol. We have to make tough decisions with our time and resources. We have to invest - thoughtfully - in the people and things that matter the most. Only then can we realize our potential as business leaders, and only then do we as veterans continue to make a difference in the lives of others.

A special thanks to Matthew Faw, Momchil Filev, and Walter Haas: You have each been wonderful editors in this writing process and more importantly dear friends, thanks for everything.

About Ben Faw

Ben Faw is an army veteran and served a year in northern Iraq. He is a graduate of army airborne and ranger schools. Right now Ben is in the summer incubator program at Harvard's Innovation Lab, and he formerly worked at RallyPoint Networks, LinkedIn, Tesla Motors, and UBS in their investment bank. Ben is a graduate of Harvard Business School and West Point. Follow: @btfaw, https://btfaw.tumblr.com

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Ben Faw is cofounder and COO of BestReviews, focused on arming consumers with confidence and clarity to make their purchasing decisions. Prior to Harvard Business School Ben attended West Point, and is also a graduate of Ranger, Airborne, and a variety of other military schools.

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