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Rough, Tough, and All Business: Veterans are Natural Entrepreneurs

Posted on November 08, 2013 at 9:46 AM
Tags: small businesses, veterans

What do Westinghouse, Walgreens, Wendy’s, Forbes and FedEx have in common? Besides the letters W and F, that is. 

Give up? Or maybe the better word here is “surrender.” (Pssst. That’s a clue.)

If you haven’t already guessed it, the outlandishly successful founders of these iconic companies all served in the U.S. military. Here’s a little dollop of history on this Veterans Day that touches on some business and military milestones.

George Westinghouse

George WestinghouseAn all-around genius, Westinghouse served in both the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War, enlisting in the army when he was just 17 years old. Later in life, he helped revolutionize the railroad industry, devised gas and electric systems for homes, was awarded more than 400 patents, and founded Westinghouse Electric Company, one of the nation’s most innovative and successful companies.

Charles Walgreen

Charles WalgreenThis pharmacist served during the Spanish-American War as part of the 1st Illinois Volunteer Cavalry. He contracted malaria and yellow fever in Cuba. The diseases vexed him the rest of his life, but it must have been reassuring to know he could stop by any one of his 110 stores (he’d established that many by 1927) for some comforting remedy.

Malcolm Forbes

Malcolm ForbesThe future publisher and billionaire was inducted into the Army as a private at the start of World War II and served in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany as part of the 334th Infantry, 84th Infantry Division. He earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Along with his magazine, he went on to become one of the world’s most recognized and respected names in business.

Dave Thomas

Dave ThomasThe fast-food magnate was a high-school dropout when he joined the Army during the Korean War. Thomas trained to be a cook and baker at Ft. Benning, GA, then was sent to Germany to be a mess sergeant. The lessons he learned while feeding 2,000 soldiers every day, helped him later parlay a single hamburger stand into 2,000 franchises.

Frederick W. Smith

Fred SmithThe founder, chairman, president and chief executive officer of FedEx Corporation, served as an officer in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. The multipronged transportation, e-commerce and business services firm boasted $44.3 billion in revenue last year and it has 300,000 employees worldwide. Can anyone say Booyah!?

These famous few entrepreneurs we've mentioned and many other veterans have said that their military skills and experiences were essential to their success in the business world.

Leadership. Management. Teamwork. Drive. Performance. Perseverance. It’s no surprise that the skills most prized on the battlefield are also essential in business organizations of all kinds.

And there are lots of veteran entrepreneurs out there who are putting those skills to work for themselves.

The 2.4 million veteran-owned firms nationwide employ 5.8 million workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And a recent U.S. Small Business Administration study finds that veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans.

So, what are these entrepreneurial veterans doing for a living? Here's a breakdown of the distribution of veteran-owned firms by industry.

  • 17 percent are in professional, scientific and professional services
  • 16 percent in construction
  • 10 percent in other services
  • 9 percent in real estate
  • 8 percent in retail trade
  • 7 percent in administrative support and waste management
  • 7 percent in transportation and warehousing
  • 6 percent in health care and social assistance
  • 6 percent in finance and insurance
  • 4 percent in arts and entertainment
  • 3 percent in wholesale trade
  • 3 percent in manufacturing

The rest are in a smattering of industries, including management firms, food services, education, forestry, mining and information technology.

Recognizing that they are natural entrepreneurs and have tremendous potential to become successful in business, the SBA offers several programs specifically tailored to veterans. 

Operation Boots to Business:  From Service to Startup

Designed for veterans transitioning back to civilian life, this program focuses on the basics of how to start and grow a business.  See more on this program.

Veterans Business Outreach Centers

Provides business training, counseling, mentoring and referrals for eligible veterans owning or considering starting a small business.  See more on this program.

Office of Veterans Business Development

Provides a wide variety of resources for veterans thinking of starting a business, including entrepreneurship training and more.  See more on this program.

Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities

Provides training in entrepreneurship and small business management to post-9/11 veterans with disabilities resulting from their service to our country. See more on this program.  

Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship

V-WISE enables female veterans to find their passion and to learn the business-savvy skills to turn their ideas or businesses into a growth venture.  See more on this program.

E200 Native America

This nine-month training includes approximately 100 hours of classroom time per participant and provides the opportunity for small business owners to work with experienced mentors, attend workshops and develop connections with their peers, city leaders, and financial community. 

Patriot Express Pilot Loan Initiative

This program provides loans up to $500,000 for veterans and members of the military community who want to establish or expand a small business.

Loan and Grant Search Tool

This online data tool can help you find government financing programs available to help start or grow a business.  Check out the search tool. 




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