‘Veterans Bring A Faster Return On Investment’

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CSX and Salute Mission Critical, winners of the sixth annual Patriots in Business Award, share strategies on successful veteran and military initiatives.

With skilled talent still hard to come by, ready access to a huge labor pool teeming with highly trained, leadership-proficient skilled workers might sound too good to be true. But that’s exactly what the leaders of CSX and Salute Mission Critical—the two companies honored with this year’s Patriots in Business Award, presented by Chief Executive and Thayer Leadership—say their companies have gained from employment initiatives aimed at supporting active-duty military members, veterans and their families.

“You find out very quickly that beyond the social benefits of bringing veterans into meaningful roles, there are financial benefits for the company in terms of the transferable skills related to the leadership development, problem-solving and critical thinking they bring to the company,” says Erich Sanchack, CEO of Salute Mission Critical, a Michigan-based data center services firm founded with a mission of closing the data-center talent shortage gap by hiring veterans in need of careers. “The pipeline of talent out there is very thin, especially in our market space, so it just puts us at a step up from a workforce development perspective. Veterans we hire seem to naturally gravitate to the structure, the culture—it’s no coincidence that they tend to bring in a faster return on investment.”

Joe Hinrichs, CEO of CSX, echoes that sentiment, noting that it’s no accident that one out of every five employees at one of the world’s largest rail-based freight transportation companies have served in the military. “There’s a lot of discipline and teamwork associated with what we do,” says Hinrichs. “The traits and attributes associated with a successful military career, experience working outdoors with big equipment and as a team together to accomplish a mission—those are things that correlate nicely to being a part of the railroad industry.”

We asked each of this year’s winners to share strategies from their experiences developing successful veteran and active-duty employment initiatives.

‘Look past the military specialty’

Erich Sanchack, CEO,
Salute Mission Critical

True to its mission, Salute Mission Critical has a lengthy track record identifying transferable skills and helping former members of the military transition into data management industry roles. But CEO Sanchack, a former Marine Corps officer who took the helm from Salute Mission founder Lee Kirby, a retired U.S. Army colonel, understands that résumés listing military positions and roles can be difficult for private sector HR departments to interpret.

“You have to look past that military specialty at what that role—gunnery, infantryman—really means,” Sanchack explains. “Because they were trained in leadership, in problem-solving in the field, in critical thinking, so those responsibilities are much more transferrable than you might realize. The military trains people on quick decision-making in small-team, complex working environments. They’ve been living that, so when they get into an enterprise environment, they naturally will gravitate to: What is it you’re trying to achieve here? What are the goals? What’s the strategy? And they naturally will help drive toward that.”

‘Collaboration is key’

Joe Hinrichs, President and CEO, CSX

A dedicated military recruiter and and the practice of incentivizing employee referrals in a workforce that includes more than 3,100 veterans are critical components of CSX’s success in hiring military members, veterans and their families. And its strong partnerships with five nonprofits—Blue Star Families, Operation Gratitude, Operation Homefront, Wounded Warrior Project and First Responders Children’s Foundation—play an equally important role in building and maintaining a successful initiative, says Hinrichs.

“Collaboration is key,” he explains. “Our partners help us learn, grow and connect with people. They also also provide an avenue for our employees to volunteer, to contribute, to give back, which helps build the culture and camaraderie of service and teamwork that we want here at CSX.”

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