Tuesday, November 11, is Veterans Day in the United States, when Americans traditionally take time to honor the men and women who have served in the nation's armed forces. Many veterans return home with new or enhanced skills that can be highly valuable in the business world. Yet life can be difficult for these vets as they try to reintegrate into civilian life through meaningful work. VOA's Adam Phillips reports on one corporate program for veterans in which everyone seems to profit.
On July 8, 2004, Army Sergeant Robbie Doughty was traveling in a military truck convoy in northern Iraq.
"… And just as soon as we hit the Samara bypass there, the vehicle I was riding in was struck by a roadside bomb. And the shrapnel basically caused me to lose my right leg above the knee and my left leg below the knee," he says.
Doughty spent the next five months at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center hospital in Washington, D.C. He endured repeated surgeries and hundreds of hours of arduous physical therapy. Finally, he walked out of the facility on his new high-tech prosthetic legs and returned home to Paducah, Kentucky. But after 13 years in the Army, Doughty had little experience of civilian life, and, like many veterans, his employment prospects were uncertain.
Meanwhile, a magazine article about wounded veterans praising Doughty's courage and stamina caught the eye of Michael Ilitch, the founder of Little Caesars pizza delivery chain. Ilitch was reminded of his own experience as a young vet with an uncertain future back in 1959, and he was deeply moved. He telephoned Doughty's home and left a message.
"… And I had no idea what this was going to be about," Doughty recalls. "And a few days later, I spoke to Mr. Ilitch, and that's when he said he wanted to offer me the opportunity to open up my own Little Caesars franchise in Paducah. And of course I seized the opportunity and rolled with it!"
That was three years ago. Doughty's pizza franchise was so successful, Ilitch asked his company's management team to design a program to help other veterans become franchisees. The program they devised offers qualified vets huge discounts on the purchase of a franchise. It also includes training, support and other benefits worth nearly $70,000.explains the program's multilayered rationale.
"First of all, it's great to give back to the veterans who have given so much to us," Scrivano says. "So really, just thanking our veterans for everything that they've done. Giving veterans an opportunity to be their own boss, to own their own store and be in business for themselves gives them a sense of pride.
"[But] in addition, it's a good business proposition. So it's a 'win-win' for Little Caesars and for our veterans. Veterans bring a lot of benefits to Little Caesars [such as] strong personal commitment. They take initiative. They have high levels of integrity, working with a team [and] leadership qualities. So there are a lot of things that veterans bring that fit really well with our business model."
Inspiration, Motivation Key in War and Business
Veteran Robbie Doughty says in business, as in war, leadership is fundamental.
"Our definition of leadership in the military is being able to inspire and motivate people to do things that they otherwise might not do," Doughty explains. "And you take that… into a business [and] instead of an 18-year-old private in the Army working for you, you have a 17-year-old high school student. They may not want to sit there for five or six hours and put pepperonis on pizza. And you inspire and motivate them to do the job and to do it well."
Doughty says whether they're squad leaders or small business owners, all effective leaders are also, in some sense, psychologists.
"You have to figure out what makes that person tick. What does it take for Private Doe to get him to accomplish this task? And it's the same thing in Little Caesars," he says. "I figure out, are they motivated by time off? Are they motivated by more money? In the military, I might put them up for a citation, or they may expect to get to go on leave at a certain time, or whatever the case. It's the same, just different conditions. If you reward them the way they want to be rewarded, they'll work for you any day of the week."
Attention to Detail Pays Off
Among the other 45 vets who've benefited from the Little Caesars Veterans Program is retired U.S. Navy Petty Officer Tricia Evans of Valdosta, Georgia. She says that during her five years of service, she learned to be a team player and to pay attention to detail, and that both skills have paid off in her pizza business.
"If I could be specific, you have to make sure you have sauce to go on the pizza. You have to make sure you have dough to put the sauce on," Evans says. "All these things have to work together, and they have to flow. It's definitely a learning process."
There are a growing number of business opportunities geared to vets. American Corporate Partners, a nationwide mentoring program, pairs returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with employees from some of the nation's leading corporations, who offer career counseling and support. The government's Center for Veterans Enterprise is actively recruiting other companies to give economic opportunities to veterans, while helping their own bottom line and making good use of the valuable skill sets veterans can bring to the workforce.