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Military leaders speak about life from the battlefield to the boardroom at Cal State San Marcos

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While educational and life experiences are most often applied to career development, panelists at California State University, San Marcos on Wednesday showed there is a specific correlation between military knowledge and business leadership.

Three military and business leaders spoke about transferring their service experience to the private sector at a seminar held by the Center for Leadership Innovation and Mentorship Building (CLIMB) during the “In the Executive’s Chair” course.

Jeff Campbell, former CEO of Burger King (NYSE: BKC) who spent two years as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, moderated the discussion titled “From the Battlefield to the Boardroom.”

The panelists represented a range of career phases following active duty.

James Tiffany, who served in the U.S. Army in Korea, Vietnam, Colombia and Panama, said he is “deep in the transition” from the military to private sector. George Reed retired from 27 years as a military police officer in May, while Lt. Col. Kent Rideout still has 18 months of service.

Campbell said the discussion is relevant to people who are anticipating careers in business because the military has to be a school of leadership due to the responsibilities they face including handling lives and countries’ survival at stake.

“I think I probably learned as much about leadership, if not more, in my two years in the military as I did in my 30-plus years in the (restaurant) industry,” Campbell said.

The correlation between the military and executive leadership has been studied in the past. Reed spoke about a report published in June 2006 by Korn/Ferry International and the Economist Intelligence Unit called “Military Experience & CEOs: Is There a Link?”

According to the report, military officers are over-represented amongst the ranks of CEOs in the United States. They constitute 8.4 percent of the CEOs in the S&P 500, while only 3 percent of U.S. adult males served as military officers.

The report also said executives with military experience have an average tenure of 7.2 years compared to four and 4.5 years for all S&P 500 CEOs.

Reed, now an associate professor at the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego, compared the military to a “large, multi-global corporation.”

He said the army has 240,000 soldiers deployed in 80 countries and has 17 major business units with a hierarchical organization structure.

“Military problems would be familiar to any businessman,” said Reed of succession planning, strategy and resource allocation.

He also recognized the differences in missions while there are no profit margins in the military.

Tiffany, who has been in the incentive travel business since 1973 and currently serves as director of meetings and events for Carlson Marketing, said brother- and sisterhood is missing from the private sector.

“I did not find brotherhood in corporate America,” Tiffany said. “If there is any one thing that I think is missing, is concern for your fellows.”

He added it is one of the reasons why he started own company, Lovejoy-Tiffany & Associates Inc., which was acquired by a public company in 2000.

Rideout, a professor of military science for the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps at San Diego State University, said knowing oneself was an important aspect to his development and important in business leadership.

“I think that people want to look at you and they want to see who you are but I also think you need to know who you are,” Rideout said.

He added, “When you’re the leader of an organization, whether you know it or not, your personality becomes your employees personality.”

An executive’s understanding of oneself affects the way they lead a company.

The panel also applied military euphemisms such as “first in the shot line and last in chow line” and “never walk by a mistake.”

In essence, these phrases mean to lead by example, which is a characteristic past executive speakers have cited to be a model of good leadership.

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