*At the time of this interview, Eric was the Head of Veteran Talent Acquisition and Development of JPMorgan Chase
You returned to civilian life after serving for over five years in the U.S. Military. How did you go about your job search and eventually land the job at General Electric?
When I knew I was transitioning, I identified various Junior Military Officer (JMO) recruiting firms and programs. I initially participated in one of the conferences with JMOs that brings together companies looking to hire. It gave me great exposure to a number of different industries and companies, and then in parallel to that process I had a former colleague who went to GE Capital, and so I had interviews set up there. I was able to compare that opportunity to what I had seen at the JMO conferences. What I liked about GE, aside from the opportunity itself, was how much they invested in leadership.
Once you joined the company, were there any surprises or challenges in your transition from the armed services to the corporate world? How did you address them?
One of the challenges many veterans face is the sense of purpose in transition from military to corporate America. While in the Army, I had significant leadership, I was responsible for a large amount of equipment both in terms of magnitude and dollar value, and I was faced with intense situations. Although very important situations arise in corporate America, there is a challenge to find that broader sense of purpose. Your responsibility for the security of the nation is no longer there. In the corporate world you have to find the connection between the contribution your team makes to the broader economy or community or whatever is most relevant for the firm.
I approached this challenge by continuing to focus on understanding the broader strategy of the company and how my role contributed to that objective, and it helped me to focus on leading cross functional teams and continuing to get exposure to different parts of the company. While I possessed some skills that were immediately transferable, I had to be a ‘student of a new game,’ if you will. When you start out in the military, you have to learn tactics, techniques and procedures, similar to the way athletes might study film and put in deliberate practice. In transitioning to corporate America, I had to be a student again in a way, learn the ropes and build a personal brand and a support network that allowed me to deliver value, but also be challenged.
You touched on the fact that you had skills coming out of the military that were immediately transferrable to the professional world. Can you tell us some specifics on what those were for you, or what they generally are for veterans entering the corporate world?
Veterans are performance-oriented – they focus on delivering results, and in doing so have the ability to work under pressure, in intense scenarios, and they develop very strong teamwork, leadership, and problem solving skills, all of which I definitely saw in myself during my own transition.
What pushed you to pursue an MBA in 2000?
I thought it was important to get some experience in corporate America before going to back to get an MBA in order to get more perspective on how to apply that additional knowledge and skills. Also, after spending almost 6 years in the Army, the MBA helped close the gap with the rest of my peer group who spent those years growing and learning in corporate roles.
How did your role at Bank of America come about?
I had a great experience at GE, where I was exposed to a variety of roles that provided stretch and growth experience; however I was ultimately given an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. At Bank of America I joined the Wealth Investment Management business, where I was able to leverage the operating experience I had gained both in the military and especially at GE. From a strategic planning perspective, I earned my Six Sigma Master Black Belt while at GE, which enabled me to come into a role at Bank of America and build a team from the ground up. This flexibility enabled us to deliver results beyond what had already existed in the environment that I initially joined.
You mentioned being able to try new roles during your time at GE, and from your resume I can see you have experience in strategy, operations, and human resources. What caused you to seek out positions in various functions and industries?
I spent what I view as my formative years at GE. While I was there, I was exposed to the company’s leadership development culture. They value ‘growth enhancers,’ some of which include identifying career accelerators, training programs, and leadership development programs. The Six Sigma program that I participated in was part of this. Another ‘growth enhancer’ that they emphasized was functional breadth. I learned over time the importance of gaining exposure across functions in order to grow into future roles. For example, at that time my goal was to eventually take on a P&L role, and getting a breadth of functional experience was important in order to get myself there. So my breadth of functional experience comes partly out of having learned the value in this exposure, but is also due to GE’s willingness and eagerness to offer stretch opportunities and help employees grow into them.
You’ve mentioned the term “stretch” roles or opportunities a few times. This certainly isn’t a concept unique to veterans, but do you think it’s something that they face more often given that they will enter the workforce without any industry-specific experience?
I think particularly in terms of veterans entering an opportunity, there’s the immediate fit which is critical to success, and then also the consideration of what is the initial or next step from a path perspective beyond that point. For example, I walked into a financial services role in GE Capital not necessarily with a deep financial services background, but I definitely had cross-functional leadership and project management. I entered into the Six Sigma program, which enabled me to be relatively technically proficient. I was able to work in a variety of cross-functional leadership opportunities in a project-oriented manner that gave me exposure to the business and allowed me to quickly ramp up and become much more proficient. In some regard, I think it’s fair to call that somewhat of a stretch role, but it also makes sense when you’re thinking of it in terms of the kinds of roles that allow veterans to gain exposure to multiple aspects of the business. Many times when veterans transition they don’t know the right path forward. Development programs that exist in certain firms allow exposure to different functions or different lines of business which can help individuals quickly identify what resonates with them or what the right fit is for their skills and interests.
How did veteran recruiting become a focus in your career?
One of the things along the way that I found important is to deliver results in the near-term while also finding adjacent opportunities to gain exposure to different parts of the business and build my network. While at Bank of America I had the opportunity to become part of the Military Support Affinity Group. At JPMorgan we call it “business resource groups,” but it was basically a volunteer additional role that I took on and a leadership opportunity. It started in the Northeast and expanded for a period of time across the national effort to support veterans and those that support veterans in Bank of America. It was an additional duty but also a rewarding experience. West Point trained me to be a leader of character committed to a lifetime of service to the nation, so it was just one of the ways that I could give back to the community from a service perspective. Even though at the time I wasn’t actively serving, I attempted to continue to contribute to the cause of the military and veterans in general.
And then I fast-forward to an opportunity where the role at J.P. Morgan arose. Since 2011, when the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs was established here, there’s been a deliberate effort to continue to focus on the employment of veterans as well as various strategic initiatives and small business support. The opportunity to make a transition to J.P. Morgan and do this work as a dedicated role seemed compelling and it’s how I ended up where I am today.
As a veteran yourself, you likely can offer a unique perspective in your current role as Head of Veteran Talent Acquisition & Development at J.P. Morgan. Can you tell us about how this has played out over the last year, and what your role entails on a daily basis?
My team is primarily comprised of veterans or military spouses in some cases. Generally it’s helpful to have the awareness and be able to translate between the experience of being in the military and then transitioning. I transitioned several years ago, but I have still been able to relate to those that are more recently transitioning from the military. I would say a unique value I brought in addition to this is that although I am a veteran, I have spent several years in corporate America transitioning between various roles. This has given me an insight that is helpful as I now spend time coaching and developing teammates. For example, we have a rotational development program, so I spend some time coaching and discussing what next steps might be appropriate, and in doing so there’s a balance involved between the veteran experience and also knowing how to navigate a corporate environment or a matrixed organization.
My particular role comprises primarily two dimensions: veteran talent acquisition and veteran talent development. On the talent acquisition side, there’s a dedicated team of veteran sourcers that identify, engage and attract talent to the firm and they partner closely with our line of business recruiting team to hire veterans. Veteran talent development includes a couple of programs that exist within J.P. Morgan. There’s a Military Officer Executive Development Program, which is a junior military officer rotational program, where we hire recently transitioning officers into roles as full-time associates, but they rotate through three different twelve-month rotations in the firm with the expectation that they roll into mid-management and create future bench strength for the firm. The other existing program is the Military Veteran Internship Program, a twelve-week internship where we attract a slightly broader range of veterans and give them as much exposure as possible in that time period, with the expectation that there is a potential full-time employment opportunity upon completion. From the firm’s perspective that enables a ‘try-and-buy’ model if you will, which is great, particularly in some roles that are more difficult to take an immediate risk on making a full-time hire. As far as how we look at success, many firms have focused on the hiring aspect in the early evolution of many of these efforts. I think we are evolving much more into a full life cycle of understanding performance and retention in addition to the hiring. Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about where the opportunities are and which types of roles allow veterans to thrive more so than others, but we’re all learning every day in that regard.
What do you think of the scope of the Veterans Recruiting program at J.P. Morgan as of today? Are there any areas that you think could use some development?
It’s a continuous learning environment, which is important. We’ve been able to compare veterans to non-veteran counterparts and we’ve learned that these development programs create environments that allow veterans to perform better and we have much higher retention rates. As an example, we’ve found over time that the cohort nature allows veterans to have a sense of community as they go through these programs and there’s also a bit more structure from an induction, onboarding and acclimation perspective. From an acclimation perspective we are piloting a program that we’re calling Pathfinder. It partners newly transitioned veterans joining the firm with slightly more seasoned veterans who have been through the transition process to help them acclimate in a sponsorship type of environment. The expectation is that as a veteran is hired they have to have a veteran sponsor help them through those challenges. In the subsequent years it evolves into more of a mentoring program where there will actually be not only veterans, but executives who take on a mentoring-type role for those veteran hires.
Overall, I think there’s a lot of importance in the idea of expectation setting. This might have to do with the sense of purpose issue that I mentioned, or it could be something like how a veteran may have led a thousand-soldier task force in pretty intense environments and they’re going to come to corporate America and become an individual contributor with no team. It’s not saying that it’s better or worse, but the differences from an expectation perspective need to be clarified. Similarly, on the hiring manager side, there are a lot of opportunities to better prepare hiring managers for what veterans bring to the table as well as their potential opportunities for improvement that might require some coaching and development. That is a commitment on behalf of the hiring manager, to understand where they might best be able to accelerate performance and help improve the long-term retention of those veterans.
Do you have any key advice for veterans looking to enter the corporate world?
I think one of the most important things is to always build the network and leverage the network in order to gain multiple perspectives on what opportunities might exist and how those opportunities fit into their criteria for success. Second is to quickly recognize the need to transition to that notion of being a student of the game, whatever that game might be. Clearly they are transitioning away from the military and we appreciate their service to the nation, but that gets them in the door and now they need to deliver results. Somewhere along the way someone told me you’re only as good as the results you delivered yesterday. The results and performance speak for themselves, but you have to continue to find the opportunity to add value, however the firm or company determines that value.