Every time I visit the US and work with US companies I am stuck by the number of ex-military leaders in senior positions. There seems to be something about their military experience that has become an essential part of their identity – when introducing themselves at presentations they invariably mention they spent time in the Navy, Air Force, Army or Marines (delete as applicable) as part of their career history. They wear it proudly as a badge of honour. Even in smaller or one-to-one meetings it seems to be something they inevitably drop into conversation. There are often clues in the memorabilia in their offices or the badges on their caps or jackets too.
I just don’t see the same thing in the UK – with the honourable the exception of my friend Matthew Quinn at Future Sales Factory. Are our ex-military types missing from these senior roles? Are they shy to boast about their military past? Or somehow ashamed of it? Or do they just see it as irrelevant?
My experience of ex-military types in the US is that they often bring great confidence, leadership, communications skills and clarity of decision making. Surely the British military must foster some of the same qualities, and we must have just as much demand for these in business?
I do know a small number of other people in business with a background in the British military. One is now at McKinsey and there are a few amongst the Saltire Fellowship alumni. However, in almost every case I know of their military background either because I knew them when they were still in the service, or I interviewed them so I know their whole CV.
Are we taking enough advantage of the skills ex-military personnel can bring to business? Are they there but just not as visible as in the US?