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Leadership
Hiring Veterans Delivers Big Business Value

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Forbes.com.

If I could do one thing this Veterans Day, it is this: help businesses see how veterans can help them.

With the U.S. military’s involvement in the conflict in Iraq drawing down significantly since 2011 and the one in Afghanistan drawing to a close as well, there are many more veterans entering the workforce.

Unfortunately, the U.S. jobless rate for recent veterans is substantially higher than the national average. These men and women have provided a vital service to our country – and many have risked their lives to help preserve our way of life. Don’t we owe it to them to help our veterans reintegrate into the workforce? Am I talking as a veteran? Yes, I am. I am proud to be a U.S. Army veteran, so I am understandably concerned about the unemployment statistics I see. But I am also speaking as the vice president of a global pharmaceutical organization. In my position, what I have observed is this: when hiring, many managers (across all industries) neglect to consider veterans as potential hires because they can’t read between the lines of a military resume to see the valuable skills vets can bring to the corporate table. When they read credentials like “supported battlefield operations,” “selected for elite security details to provide protection to visiting dignitaries,” or “mentored and trained junior staff on intelligence analysis,” the response is usually, “This candidate doesn’t have the skills we need.”

Yet, the military provides outstanding leadership and development training, often under demanding and stressful situations. Veterans are accustomed to managing diverse cross-functional teams and handling competing priorities and complex projects. These are men and women who learn fast and adapt quickly, and who know how to set expectations and hold people accountable. They are conditioned to maintain a superior standard of quality and often have a sense of discipline that redefines what we typically find in corporate America.

Isn’t that the kind of person you want in your company?

I can affirm that in the pharmaceutical manufacturing environment, we continue to see the benefit of hiring veterans. In our business, our work needs to be done in a specific way due to regulatory and compliance requirements. Time is often at a premium and emergencies can arise at any time. Our veteran hires take it all in stride.

Across industries, we need to challenge ourselves to translate the military experience to the corporate environment. There is a level of education, awareness, and openness needed to better understand the value of veterans and the skills they bring. Consider a few examples:

  • “Distributed, accounted for, and transported mission critical equipment and supplies to over 20,000 personnel.” Now there’s someone who understands project and supply chain management!
  • “Taught Unit Operations personnel fire mission processing and single-channel ground-to-air radio system digital and voice communications.” I think this person could handle training corporate personnel on technical matters or could manage our information technology projects.
  • “Generated $2.3 million in savings, exceeding original objective of $500K, through management of 100+ high value commodities.” Financial acumen with an appreciation of business impact? No problem there!

Obviously, not every position is appropriate for a veteran candidate as certain roles require very specific skills and capabilities. However, having veterans as part of the general pool of candidates is important – for your company, for the community, and for our country. My experience is that vets are usually quick learners and process thinkers who can develop business competencies quickly.

At Johnson & Johnson, we have a Credo that guides how we act. One line in that Credo is: “We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work.” We consider hiring veterans to be part of this commitment. These are people who are coming back to their communities. Our Credo asserts that we have a direct line of responsibility to them. After all, they believed they had a direct line of responsibility to us, and they gave 100% of themselves to fulfill that responsibility. Can we do less?


Courtney Billington is VP, Janssen Supply Chain, for the Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. Courtney oversees 30 manufacturing sites globally and has more than 23 years with J&J. He began his career in the United States Army as a Quartermaster Officer and retired after his service in Operation Desert Storm. .content

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