When Flight Lieutenant James Wilthew sat drinking tea with his RAF colleagues in a rug shop in Afghanistan in 2003, little did he realise that he was being inspired to start his own business.
He’d been serving in Mazar-e-Sharif, part of the old Silk Road that is renowned for its handmade Afghan rugs.
He regularly chatted to Rafi, the owner of the shop, and ended up buying a few of his rugs.
He later sold some of them when he was back in the UK to help pay for his wedding.
Fast forward a few years, and James opened The Afghan Rug Shop in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, which today is a thriving business.
“Having done a full-time military career I didn’t think about starting a business then,” says James (pictured), who initially became a civil servant after leaving the RAF. “But having worked part-time, it gave me time to think and start some research”.
James’s story is included in a new report from FSB, which says the entrepreneurial and workplace talent of Britain’s military veterans isn’t being fully realised.
The report, ‘A Force For Business’, published ahead of Armed Forces Day on Saturday (29 June), recommends an enhanced support package for those transitioning out of the armed forces, including a greater focus on the option of self-employment and the key skills needed to succeed in enterprise.
FSB’s research suggests there are around 340,000 small businesses in Britain owned by service leavers, nearly four-in-five of which have grown to take on employees.
Meanwhile, more than one-in-ten small businesses has hired a military service leaver in the last three years. Employers told FSB the benefits of doing so can include resolving skills shortages, improving team performance, and providing fresh perspectives and creative ideas.