A number of famous veterans have also been successful entrepreneurs. Sam Walton created Walmart after doing a stint in the Army during WWII. Dave Thomas founded Wendy’s after his time in the Korean War. Malcolm Forbes took over a small-time magazine after being wounded in combat in Europe, and made it into a very big deal indeed.
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One thing about these three men, however, is that they all became entrepreneurs at fairly young ages after brief (but clearly intense) stints in the service. Yes, they served, and ably. But the civilian careers that made them famous were their first careers, with the military serving as only a brief diversion.
Who, then, do the career-military retirees look to when they want proof that an older vet can start a successful business? Is there any evidence that an older vet starting over after a full career in the service can succeed as an entrepreneur? Does a 50+ veteran have a chance to build a thriving business?
The answer to all of these questions is “Yes.” Retired career military can, and have, started successful businesses as their second careers. The following article briefly highlights three of them.
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At the end of 2014 a 90-years-young woman began making headlines. NBC, the Huffington Post, NPR, and a host of other news outlets couldn’t stop talking about that fact that Barbara Beskind was a hot commodity in Silicon Valley at the beginning of her tenth decade. They were all in awe of the fact that, in an industry where 30 is considered over-the-hill, this woman was a popular employee of the design firm IDEO.
What is often relegated to a mere one or two lines in the article are the far more significant events of her life. Major B. Beskind founded the Princeton Center for Learning Disorders, the first independent occupational therapy firm in the U.S. after a 22 year long career in the Army. Starting in mid WWII, her career had revolved around the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers from WWII on up to Viet Nam. The firm she started in 1966 was a natural extension from those experiences.
During this time she wrote a clinical text, invented new therapeutic tools, and served as a location for six-month residencies for O.T. students for several major universities. Even after retiring from the business she founded, Barbara continued to innovate. In her letter applying to work for IDEO the plucky 90-year -old stated “Currently, I am in the process of designing a series of products to benefit seniors.” Since hiring on with IDEO she has been working on integrating senior needs into IDEO product design.
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West Point graduate Joseph Kopser dedicated two decades to the service of his nation. A cav officer in the Army, he rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel before retiring with a Bronze Star, a stint working at the Pentagon, and an idea.
During his time working at the Pentagon he’d discovered a nagging problem. Though he was living only five miles from the Pentagon, his commute could be significantly variable depending on the time of day, or the day of the week. He looked around for some sort of tool or device that would enable him to learn the ideal means to get around using all of the resources available at that time, but found nothing.
Joseph founded RideScout in 2011, debuting its first smartphone app when he retired from the Army in 2013. The app provides the most efficient routes available for commuters by examining the availability and efficiency of everything from bike routes to taxi services, and finds available parking for vehicles for dozens of cities throughout the U.S. and on into Canada. Since its founding, RideScout has won prestigious awards from Rice University, the Open Global Forum, and the Huffington Post.
In 2013, Phyllis Newhouse’s IT company earned $8.3M in revenues. She founded Xtreme Solutions, Inc. in 2003 after a 22 year army career as an NCO. Drawing on her experiences in the service, Xtreme Solutions provides end-to-end IT services and cyber security solutions to private and government sector entities.
Xtreme Solutions has been successful enough to make headlines of late. In 2014 alone the company received several recognitions, including a “Top Business for 2014” designation from DiversityBusiness.com and a listing amongst the top 5,000 fastest growing companies from Inc. Magazine. These awards are well deserved. The company has grown by 44% every year since 2010.
Phyllis’ success is all the more remarkable when one considers her background. An African-American woman with ten siblings growing up in a modest home in North Carolina and suffering from a service-connected disability, few would have predicted her million dollar rise. But Phyllis refused to let any of that slow her down. “I don’t use that as a crutch,” she stated during an interview last year with EY. “It’s your work that speaks for you.”
These three veterans may not have quite the brand name recognition of a Sam Walton or a Dave Thomas. They do, however, have a clear record of success at starting a business after dedicating decades of their life to the service of their nation. Late-comers to the entrepreneur game, they have not allowed the delay to prevent them from becoming industry leaders and job providers, and thus provide the example that other careerists, officer and enlisted alike, can look to as they begin their own pursuits as business creators after a military retirement.
James Hinton is an Army veteran who hangs his Stetson and spurs in Idaho. He spends his time writing on veteran’s issues and trying to teach his daughters how to march.
Read Jamie’s story about returning to college as a veteran.