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Why ex-Armed Forces personnel make great business people

This is Armed Forces Week and as both Reserves Day and Armed Forces Day are celebrated, veterans and Reservists are being encouraged to apply their hard-won skills to the small business world. 

Leadership and a positive “can do” attitude are just two of the skills honed during decades of military service that Michael Green says are crucial to his business success.

Michael Green, FSB Devon, Ex-ForcesMr Green, 62, joined the Royal Marines aged just 16 and left them aged 50 when he began the next phase of his life – in human resources.

He initially joined the corporate world as an HR manager, before deciding to go it alone as a consultant.

He says it is a common misconception that military life is just about following orders - he had been used to being much more involved in decision making.

“Actually when I got into the corporate world, a lot of people don't want you to have too much of an opinion! They want you to get on with the job. I found it quite restrictive.”

He set up his own HR consultancy - Endorse HR Ltd - six years ago and says the military's “can do” mind-set is a huge help when setting up your own business.

“You work very hard, usually work extremely long hours, you tend to get knock-backs and if you haven't got that toughness and that will to succeed, you can very quickly throw the towel in.”

He is far from alone in translating his military skills into business success on civvy street.

More than 1,300 start-ups from the military community have been helped by X-Forces Enterprise, which helps those leaving the service, veterans, their spouses and Reservists - set up and grow their own businesses and access funding.

The social enterprise was launched in 2013, when cuts to military personnel meant thousands were moving into civilian life, looking for new jobs at a tough time for the UK economy. 

Former service personnel looking for work can face misconceptions about their ability to adapt to civilian working, or fear they do not have the industry-specific skills needed. 

Reservists may find civilian employers are concerned about taking on staff who can be called away on military service.

X-Forces has helped many businesses - from photo booths and campervan restoration to carpentry and pest control - and says many are more successful than their civilian counterparts.  

Ren Kapur MBECEO and founder Ren Kapur MBE said: “Business ownership impacts the community in many different ways; job creation, 

wealth creation, individual purpose and wider societal benefits. This is why I’m delighted that we’re working more closely with FSB to help our beneficiaries to get the best engagement with organisations like FSB to ensure they have a good support system’’

 

Ren, who is an acting Reservist, advises those thinking of starting up on their own to seek good business advice and seek help to create a solid business plan and provide continuing support.

There are around 925,000 veterans of working age in the UK and the Government aims to increase the number of Reservists to 30,000. 

The Federation of Small Business (FSB) is among more than 2,000 organisations which have signed the Armed Forces Covenant – a promise to treat fairly those who have served their country. It is encouraging other small businesses to do the same. FSB offers support to all those connected to the Armed Forces to set up and run a business.

Mike Cherry, FSB ChairmanFSB Chairman Mike Cherry, himself a former Reservist, says the organisation already supports a significant number of businesses run by ex-forces personnel, and is working to increase that number. It recently started a new membership category specifically for those in the early stages of thinking about starting a business for the first time.

Back in Exeter, Michael Green, who is an FSB member, as well as the organisation’s area lead for Devon, says starting up your own business is not for everyone, but former military personnel should go for it – and not sell themselves short.

He advises those who feel they don't have relevant skills not to underestimate the value of the leadership and team-building experience they have developed.

And while it can be “a bit scary” to take the leap after years of being used to the security of the armed services and a regular salary, his advice is to start small, perhaps working part-time while the business gets established, set it up in a bedroom until it is clear that the business is going to work before taking the leap. 

“Do it on a shoestring for as long as you can, until you are as sure as you can be that it's an idea that might work.”