Veterans Find Camaraderie in the Classroom

This spring the first Master of Business for Veterans (MBV) graduating class made the transition from being military leaders to business professionals – thanks to an innovative accelerated one-year business program developed by the USC Marshall School of Business.

“There’s a recognition that leadership in the military is quite different culturally from leadership and management in the business world,” said James Bogle, who spent 23 years in the Army and is now MBV program director.

Professor and MBV Faculty Director Robert Turrill taught the MBV leadership class to identify and build on skills these students have already acquired from the military. In addition, students learn both professional and personal development – from quantitative finance skills to the nuances of networking – with a cohort of fellow veterans.

“My time at USC in the MBV has been, what I call, transition 2.0,” MBV ’14 graduate Mike Hall said. “Making the transition from military to civilian life can be challenging. I certainly experienced some setbacks. When I started the program, I knew this was going to be my shot to do the transition over again and do it with the support of the Marshall School and USC.”

The MBV program offers a variety of out-of-classroom support services including career guidance, networking, getting students involved in professional organizations and USC Marshall activities.

“It was beneficial having all of us transition together as a group,” Chloe Lee, another MBV ’14 graduate, said. “We got closer a lot faster. We’re used to calling each other out and giving candid feedback.”

She pointed out that it was not just their military background that helped the group bond. The MBV Class of 2014 had students from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines who ranged in rank from enlisted personnel to senior commissioned officers. But, as Lee said, “We quickly shed the ranks after the first class.”

“This group of people came together faster than any other group I know,” Turill said. “The dynamics are very strong. They are very committed to each other. They have a lot of fun with each other. They are highly mission focused. It’s extremely energizing and satisfying just to be with them.”

That camaraderie grew quickly. The MBV program is delivered every other Friday and Saturday with 26 full-day sessions, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., for two semesters.

Hall jokingly describes himself as a “full-time student in a part-time program” because he moved close to campus and took full advantage of USC resources by joining student organizations and attending USC Marshall events.

“I was in the Finance Club, the American Finance Association, the Consulting Strategy Club. I even started taking polo lessons,” he said. “Being able to meet other people, discuss different backgrounds, find out how people got to where they are, how they came to formulate their goals, desires and objectives in life, gave us the opportunity to broaden our horizons.”

His newly acquired finance skills helped him land a competitive internship at Goldman Sachs. For the last two months of the MBV program, he commuted from L.A. to New York to finish his degree while working. Now that the internship is over, he is pursuing an M.S. in finance at USC Marshall.

For MBV graduate Frankie Lugo, who is currently serving in the Air Force, the program opened his eyes to post-military career opportunities he hadn’t considered. After an in-class presentation from Disney Company that focused on their initiative to hire veterans, he reached out to them.

“I want to pursue a career at the Walt Disney Company. I’ve got some mentors over there and they’re hooking me up with all of the divisions trying to see where I could fit and where my skills could work,” Lugo said.

Lee gained communication and networking skills, which transformed her job prospects after an uneasy transition to the corporate world in 2010. She was recently selected for the prestigious Presidential Management Fellows Program.

“In job interviews, I wasn’t used to selling myself and selling the value I had,” Lee said. “I wasn’t used to the networking process or even how to write a resume. I wasn’t able to translate what value I could bring in the language people could understand who weren’t in the military. The program gave me a platform to learn all those basic skills and it really changed everything for me. I went from being forced to accept a job because I had no other option to being able to turn down jobs and find the one that was the right fit for me.”

Bogle sees a bright future for the MBV program: “I think we really hit the mark this year in terms of not only developing business skills, but really helping people transition to a whole new identity. It’s a very rigorous business curriculum, but it’s also a personally transformational experience.”