Transitioning from the Military to the Corporate World with a “Ship, Shipmate, Self” Approach
Vetforce executive advisor J.C. Collins shares his background as a Naval officer and how the lessons he’s learned apply to his career at Salesforce.
Not many people know as a kid what they want to do with their life, much less pursue it as an adult. However, J.C. Collins, SVP, COO of Industries & Partners at Salesforce, knew at the ripe age of 11 that he wanted to join the military. After going to school at the Naval Academy and serving in the U.S. Navy as a logistics officer, J.C. now brings his leadership and values garnered through his military experience to his role at Salesforce. J.C. was recently named “One of the Most Influential Channel Chiefs of 2019” by CRN, but he will tell you more notable is his role as an executive advisor for Vetforce. (Vetforce connects military community members to free training, certifications, and career opportunities within the Salesforce ecosystem. The program is available to active duty, reserve, guard, veterans, and military spouses.)
I had the chance to sit down with J.C. to hear about his time in the Navy, what lessons he brought back to his civilian career, and why hiring a veteran is a pretty safe bet.
Tell us the “highlights” story of your naval career. What were some key experiences that helped shape who you are today?
I was a logistics officer in the Navy and spent two years aboard a guided-missile cruiser based out of San Diego. Though every day was not exciting, one of the highlights for me included the opportunity to lead a small boarding team that searched and seized ships in the Arabian Gulf that were breaking UN sanctions.
Subsequently, I spent five years forward-deployed as the logistics officer with various SEAL teams. Various experiences, including deploying to Iraq early on during the war, certainly impacted my perspectives today.
What career and life lessons did you learn in those 11 years? How have those translated back to your career?
It can be a challenge to summarize eleven years, but I’ll try to highlight a few salient points.
In the Navy, we push pretty hard on the mentality of “ship, shipmate, self,” which is a good structure for making decisions even in the corporate world. Is the decision I’m making what’s best suited for the overall organization? For my colleague? Solving for your own benefit is the last piece of the decision matrix.
Sometimes in military situations, you need to make the best possible decisions with imperfect information. It helps you make tough decisions with a higher level of comfort with ambiguity.
Additionally, I learned the importance of being able to delegate accountability without losing responsibility. Autonomy should be leveraged as a great motivator for teams, but ultimately I need to be responsible for ensuring mission completion.
I feel all of these lessons are highly transferable for military professionals to the corporate world, and even offer an advantage in many situations — military professionals will often demonstrate a strong bias for action in the face of challenging situations.
Vetforce Fast Facts
How did you launch your civilian career? What led you to Salesforce?
I got out of the Navy in 2006. At that time, there were a lot less resources for veterans to transition into the civilian world compared with today. I had been in the military since I was 17, so it was a great unknown for me — I had never done a résumé or an interview. I started to explore job opportunities, but I didn’t have a good strategy and didn’t understand how my skill sets transitioned to the work world. Ultimately, I went back to school to understand opportunities and to structure my jump better. It really opened my eyes to how complicated it can be for people who are trying to figure out how the rest of the world lives.
Joining Salesforce was truly serendipitous for me — I connected with a former manager who had entered the company, and I followed a similar path. Obviously, I could not be more pleased than being at a company that is such a value-driven organization; however, I am cognizant that we can’t rely on the same luck for every veteran — consequently investing in programs like Vetforce becomes even more important.
Do you think the job market and reentry into civilian life has gotten better for vets since then?
While the internet existed in 2006, organizations weren’t as savvy as they are now about how to connect with veterans. At the same time, veterans weren’t as knowledgeable about the opportunities that existed. There’s been lots of progress and today, there are many groups like Vetforce that are focused on veteran transition. I do think it’s better, but we still have along way to go.
“People think courage only exists on the battlefield, but it really shows up every day in the decisions you make.”
— J.C. Collins
What kinds of things does Vetforce do to aid in veteran transition? Why are programs like Vetforce so important?
Vetforce was founded in 2014 and was meant to drive awareness of veterans in the community. But since then, we’ve generated a program that’s able to offer actual job training for veterans and their spouses through Salesforce Trailhead and provide a platform to engage both systems integrator partners, independent service vendors and customers to find new talent.
It’s a scary adjustment to go into the civilian world and to not understand what it takes to translate a veteran skill set into a new role. Having programs like Vetforce puts vets in a better place to succeed and creates an amazing sense of community — something that vets are often looking to replicate from their time in the military. It’s truly critical for the healthy transition of veterans. To date, 17,000 military community members have joined Vetforce, and that number is growing every day. With the recent launch of the Vetforce Alliance, an initiative of the Vetforce program aimed at accelerating the hiring of veterans and spouses for Salesforce roles, military community members who complete Vetforce training and earn a certification will qualify for automatic interviews with a few of our partners and customers.
What would you say to anyone considering hiring a military vet?
There’s a predictability of what you’re getting with a vet. You’re getting someone who knows how to work hard, take action, make decisions, and drive things forward. They may not have a deep knowledge of your specific business or vernacular, but they’ll have a can-do attitude and willingness to learn. It’s easy to hire someone with 20 years of experience in the field you want. But hiring someone from a different experience set who brings a distinct perspective may actually drive your business forward in new ways.
What advice do you have for young military vets?
The things you learn in the military do apply in the civilian world. Your ability to take those life and leadership lessons and transition them into a civilian career will make you more valuable than you understand, so have confidence in your abilities. You don’t need to relearn the skills and level of maturity you already acquired in the military. It’s really about learning some of the new jargon and cadence that exists in a corporation — that’s the real trick.
Like many corporations, the Navy has a set of core values: honor, courage, commitment. That means showing up with integrity, being dedicated to the cause, and having the fortitude to make big decisions. People think courage only exists on the battlefield, but it really shows up every day in the decisions you make.