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From Battlefield to Boardroom: The Surprising Connection Between Military Leadership and Acquisition


When embarking on our journey as VETtoCEO in 2012 to assist veterans and active military personnel transitioning into civilian life, we held certain assumptions about the correlation between military experience and entrepreneurial success. Our initial hypothesis was rooted in the belief that the resilience cultivated through military service uniquely equips veterans to thrive as entrepreneurs. However, as time progressed and we collaborated with over 8,000 veterans, guest speakers who were also veterans, and fellow veteran small business owners, a perplexing trend emerged, reshaping our understanding. Strikingly, those individuals who had been on the frontlines of combat units, the ones closest to the "tip of the spear," appeared to be the most risk-averse when it came to contemplating entrepreneurship.

The Paradox of Risk-Aversion

Contrary to the stereotype of military personnel being unflinchingly tough and adept at handling high-pressure situations, we found that people who served in combat units displayed a surprising reluctance when venturing into business ownership. SImply stated - they seemed afraid of the thought of it. In fact, it seems that the more badass a guy or a gal was- even SOF operators - seemed to be the most resistant to the thought of being an entrepreneur.

While resilience, decisiveness, and stress management hold true for many military personnel, there are distinct nuances within combat units that shed light on this phenomenon. Notably, the emphasis on collective effort and teamwork, ingrained in combat scenarios, is a defining characteristic. The notion of camaraderie and the knowledge that one is never alone in adversity are particularly pronounced in these units. In stark contrast, launching a new business is often an isolating and lonely experience.

Leadership and Preparedness

A central tenet of military service is the meticulous preparation that takes place before assuming leadership roles. Whether rising through the ranks to become a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) or entering as a junior officer, the journey is marked by years of experience, training, formal schooling, mentorship, and other preparation. Crucially, when finally entrusted with the leadership of a unit—be it a fire team, squad, team, or platoon—one crucial distinction emerges. The resources and "gear" of our team are already in place. There's no need to worry about missing paychecks or acquiring equipment; these aspects are ensured. Someone else already recruited our guys and trained them for their jobs. Nobody ever asked us what our credit score was before we assumed our role as the leader. As military leaders, our core responsibility centered on priming the unit for unknown dangerous challenges and ensuring they are better off than when we took charge.

The Acquisition Entrepreneurship Analogy

Interestingly, the landscape of acquiring an existing business draws a parallel to this leadership dynamic. Purchasing a business aligns with the experience of stepping into a leadership role where the team and resources are already established. Much like military leadership, acquiring a business means inheriting customers, suppliers, equipment, and a brand—everything needed to execute the mission. This likeness highlights the significant congruity between military leadership and the path of acquisition entrepreneurship, emphasizing preparedness and continuity over the daunting uncertainties of startup entrepreneurship.

Consider Acquisition Entrepreneurship

In light of these revelations, it's prudent for our fellow veterans to explore acquisition entrepreneurship as a promising career avenue. Recognizing the shared principles of leadership, preparedness, and team dynamics between military service and acquiring a business, the transition becomes less daunting. Rather than embarking on the solitary journey of a startup, acquisition entrepreneurs step into a role where their team and "gear" are already in place, mirroring the essence of military leadership. As we evolve our understanding of the intersection between military experience and entrepreneurship, the acquisition path emerges as a bridge, allowing veterans to channel their leadership skills into a thriving business venture.

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