Beyond Barracks

Disabled veterans parlay military experience into business

Back Web Only Jul 14, 2015 By John Blomster

Boardrooms and battlefields may seem worlds apart, but Mark Eckert finds that they run parallel.

Eckert served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1983 to 1989, traveling the world before suffering an injury to his torso during training. Upon returning to civilian life, the veteran infantryman found the skills he had gained in the marines translated to the business world.

Eckert is the business development director and founding member of Global Blue DVBE, a statewide IT consulting company that, in the last four years, has grown into a multimillion-dollar enterprise with more than 100 employees. He says his time in the Marines coupled with the unique state programs available for vets helped pave his current path.

“The military toughens you up and seasons you to the degree where you have some emotional intelligence where you know, ‘I don’t need to panic about this, and if I stay focused and stay calm, use my head, I’ll get through it,’” Eckert says.

Disabled veterans and their businesses can take advantage of state programs that help jump-start their ventures. And in many cases, the skills they have gained through training and military experience — leadership, discipline, procedural problem-solving — give them a leg up on the competition.

In California, a business can earn the Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise designation if it is more than half-owned and managed by disabled veterans. Once certified, the business can take part in the state’s DVBE Participation Program.

The program mandates that 3 percent of the State of California’s outsourced contract dollars be allocated to DBVEs. This means DVBE’s get to pitch for these projects before civilian ventures do, and their bids are given special consideration within that 3-percent threshold.

But as any entrepreneur knows, there is more that goes into starting and growing a business than skills and raw talent. And if one doesn’t know how to execute the various aspects — staffing, marketing, permitting and the all-important elevator pitch — his or her business will be at a great disadvantage.

Those details were the focus of global consulting firm Deloitte’s Impact Day in Sacramento last month. Part of the international tax, audit and consulting firm’s local outreach day featured a curriculum for disabled veteran business owners to start, grow and market their respective businesses.

It is a concept that Julie Quinn, the managing director of Deloitte’s Sacramento office, says is essential for anyone, not just veterans, to be successful in the business world. She says the veteran population in particular is in a unique position as a result of their training and the benefits afforded to their businesses.

“In the service, our service men and women learn so many different skills and capabilities, and it starts with discipline, leadership and working in teams at the base level,” Quinn says. “What’s interesting here is hearing the creativity of how they take that experience and their specific job within the service and want to use that in civilian life.”

Deloitte partners with the California Department of Veterans Affairs to connect the company with veterans across the state. CalVet also helped fine-tune the curriculum when Deloitte first developed it.

Veterans from all eras were in attendance, including those who had served as far back as the Vietnam War. The transition from military jobs to  a full-scale private-sector operation is not an easy road to navigate, and Deloitte’s curriculum at the company’s Impact Day addressed many of these issues:

This year, it focused on creating a marketing plan, presenting to investors and taking advantage of contract opportunities with the state and federal governments. CalVet brought in state and federal contracting resources to directly connect with attendees. Valuable face-to-face opportunities like this are major reasons why this particular Deloitte Impact Day, now in its third year, has been such an appealing resource for vets who attend.

Eckert was at the event and though he is much farther along, having started two successful companies in the past 20 years since leaving the Marines, the value of such services remains clear to him.

“There’s not necessarily someone standing there when you get out of the military to tell you, OK, if you’re going to be a businessman, here’s what you have to do,” he says. “But those types of resources are out there if you look. Stay focused and don’t lose your mind and use these elements that you’ve learned in the military: Slow down, think, use your brain and just don’t panic.”