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MBAs In Uniform: Former Military Troops At Top Business Schools

Military leaders populate about 8% of all US MBA programs. But how are former troops finding the transition to business?

Wed Feb 4 2015

Michael Petit and Lindsey Melki are the new military veterans. They come from NYU Stern, a business school based in New York that has been drawing a large grouping of former armed forces members. Data from educational network Military MBA show that military leaders populate about 8% of US MBA programs.

Lindsey came to the high-ranking business school after a career piloting Blackhawk helicopters over Iraq and training thousands of US soldiers, many of whom may soon enter the civilian workforce.  

“Coming to Stern is the first step I’m taking as I prepare to move into the corporate realm,” she told NYU Stern’s website. “I feel the army has given me the leadership experience I need. There are other areas of business in which I still have a lot to learn.”

Lindsey is particularly interested in the social side of business. She is excited about the potential to explore a management position at a foundation that helps veterans.

“My story and theme is to serve and give back,” she said, “and I want to go into an area of business that allows me to do so.”

An MBA is her route to a new career but there is much more to the qualification than academic achievement. “My classmates have some really amazing life stories, and I have a lot to learn from them about their lives and business experiences,” Lindsey said.

Data compiled by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, a research centre, suggest that a growing number of US military personnel are to return to life outside of the armed forces, a result of troop withdrawals and budget cuts.

Jana Stern, associate director of admissions at the W.P Carey School of Business, said: “In the wake of recent government spending cuts, we have seen members from all branches and levels of military service turn to higher education.”

But as they leave the service, an increasing portion are turning to business education to transition back into civilian life. An MBA program is a valuable opportunity to embark on a new career in business management.

“My time overseas was intense, jarring, perspective changing, maddening and inspiring,” said Michael, who applied to NYU Stern while serving oversees in Afghanistan. He conducted his admissions interview by satellite phone.

“It was a great challenge; it was a great privilege,” he said of his time in the military. But transitioning back to life in the US left a void. “You lose a sense of purpose,” said Michael, who graduated in May.

He added: [I'm happy to] not have to worry about… Whether the people you lead will live to see the next day, but you wonder how you can still answer the call [of] service and leadership.”

The Stern Military Veterans Club helped to provide a missing sense of community. It's about connecting applicants, students and alumni, Michael said.

An MBA has clearly been beneficial; his next mission is within the investment management division of Goldman Sachs, the leading Wall Street investment bank.

Many veterans are finding a value in attending business schools. Jason Perocho, a former US Navy pilot, plans to do battle with entrepreneurship. “An MBA allows an individual with a military background to translate their leadership skills into effective tools of management,” he said.

An MBA student of Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, Jason feels there are skills gleaned during service which are transferable to a business environment.

“I would recommend business school to any military personnel who desires to transition into [civilian life],” he said. “I have found the time invaluable to develop the quantitative [skills] and refine the qualitative skills necessary to lead a civilian workforce,” he added.

There are a wide range of careers available. Sara Neher, dean of admissions at Virginia's Darden School of Business, said: “Military students go into all types of jobs after graduation. We have military alumni in technology, operations, general management, consulting and finance – including [at] JP Morgan, McKinsey and Amazon.”