Dan’s focus and determination has allowed him to lead from the front both on and off the battlefield.

“My Transition” #23: Dan Alldridge — Marine ANGLICO to Senior Product Manager at Agena Bioscience

Dan certainly has not taken a traditional path in life. Going from USMC to biotech and MBA, he shows us that a major key to transition is being open to new opportunities.

The hardest part of my transition was dealing with a lack of clarity with regard to purpose and social bonds. For the past 6 years, the Marine Corps had given me the amazing opportunity to lead some of the nation’s best men into combat. I lived day-in-day-out with the focus on executing our mission. Suddenly, I was just some guy on the street, moving to a new city with no real social network there.

San Diego, CA— Dan Alldridge entered the marine Corps after 9/11 and became an officer in charge of over 320 Marines and Sailors. He deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan and served with the famed 1st ANGLICO. A combination of networking and leadership skills allowed him to thrive in the biotech field as well as complete an MBA. He now works as a Senior Product Manager at Agena Bioscience. Here’s his story:

DJS: Why did you join the military?

DA:

My bottom line for joining was out of a desire to serve my country. 9/11 had a significant impact on me as I was a senior in high school at the time. Although I pursued college initially, I was drawn back to a sense of service after a less-than-desirable internship during my senior year that made it clear I did not desire an office job. I’d be remiss if I did not mention my younger brother who spent the better part of his childhood reading and talking about the Marines.

9/11 had a significant impact on me… I was drawn back to a sense of service…

DJS: What were the most important skills or lessons that you learned?

DA:

Two things stand out for me.

1. Learning how to recover from failure: Before coming to officer candidate school (OCS), many of us candidates had never really failed at anything before. I believe that one of the most powerful things that happens at OCS and to some degrees in military training is that you are put in situations that forced you to fail. These situations were all about helping develop that mental toughness for dealing with failure, learning from it, and implementing your learnings in the future. I’m forever grateful to the drill instructors, mentors, and my Marines that taught me this valuable lesson.

2. Managing and leading through stress: Like the above, this was at the core of what training was all about. The next level of this lesson was found during my deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan where I was thrust into what I can only call utter chaos at times.

DJS: Did you know what you were going to do when you left the Marines?

DA:

I knew that I was getting out, but was a little unclear on what I was going to do. My initial plans had me going back to grad school full time to pursue an MBA. Beyond that, I did not have a real clear vision for what type of job or industry I wanted to work in.

DJS: Did you face any struggles?

DA:

The hardest part of my transition was dealing with a lack of clarity with regard to purpose and social bonds. For the past 6 years, the Marine Corps had given me the amazing opportunity to lead some of the nation’s best men into combat. I lived day-in-day-out with the focus on executing our mission. Suddenly, I was just some guy on the street, moving to a new city with no real social network there.

The hardest part of my transition was dealing with a lack of clarity with regard to purpose and social bonds…

DJS: Tell me about your initial job search process?

DA:

Although I was being accepted into full-time MBA programs, I still decided to float my resume around via my network. Wayne Woodard was one of the people that I talked to very early on in this process. He was leading up the Operations at a company in San Francisco and quickly became a trusted mentor to me. These casual talks soon turned into a firm job offer that led me to put grad school on hold and jump into the world of biotech with Ion Torrent.

DJS: How did you apply to and get accepted into University of Indiana’s Kelley School of Business for your MBA? Any tips?

DA:

The Kelley School came into play about a year into my time at Ion Torrent. While I was learning a ton about operations, I still had a desire to get some hard skills and broaden my business acumen. The big drivers for why I selected the Kelley Direct program was because of it’s tough curriculum and schedule flexibility. Some added benefits of the program were great classmates (who have significantly expanded my network) and some cool global consulting experiences in Brazil and Greece.

DJS: How did you land your current job at Agena Bioscience?

DA:

While I was still technically with the same company I started with, over 5 years I went from working as part of a roughly 100-person company to 50,000-person company through mergers and acquisitions. Late last year I decided I wanted to make a change and go back to a start-up. I pursued this path the same way my career started, via networking. I was meeting and talking with people to get little tidbits of information and see what opportunities were out there. One such meeting landed me having lunch with the CEO of Agena, which ultimately turned into a job offer a few weeks later.

DJS: Did you use any veteran networking strategy to land your current position? If so, how did you make those connections?

DA:

While my jobs have been landed via other methods, I do interact regularly with veteran transition organizations. At this point, I’m filling more of a mentor role for those looking to make the jump into biotech or life sciences. The great thing about being a veteran is that there are tons of great organizations out there that are good for general networking as well as industry specific groups. I would highly recommend to anyone that is transitioning to join one that is focused on the specific industry that you are pursuing.

The great thing about being a veteran is that there are tons of great organizations out there that are good for general networking as well as industry specific groups.

DJS: Tell me about what you do on a daily basis?

DA:

A day in the life of Dan: I am still early to rise and usually start my day with a nice workout before heading into the office. For me, this starts the day off on the right foot. Once I’m in the office, it’s a hodgepodge of meetings, market research, and big sky thinking. I run the company’s instrument and software product lines, so I spend a lot of time talking to people on our commercial and R&D teams. Throw in some fire-fighting of customer issues and I’ve got a pretty full day at the office.

DJS: What was your initial training like?

DA:

Trial by fire and learn as you go, which is typical of start-ups. This was like my time at Ion Torrent when I first made my jump into the corporate world. I relied a lot on my hard skills gained through my MBA, but common-sense goes a long way. I also leveraged my colleagues in other departments for tribal knowledge.

For those of you reading this and have not yet made the transition, this is an area that you’ll want to think about. Typically, established companies will have some sort of on-boarding process and training plan for you to follow. I know that this was the case when I was at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Typically, established companies will have some sort of on-boarding process and training plan for you to follow.

DJS: What skills from the military translated into your job and made you successful in your current role?

DA:

The soft skills that I learned in the Marine Corps really help me survive daily. The two that stand out the most are leading through influencing and precision communication.

Leading through influencing: While direct management is never easy, one of the nuanced skills that has helped me along is the ability to influence people outside my chain of command.

Precision Communication: During my time in the Marine Corps, I interacted with generals, Iraqi mayors, numerous Allied service members, enemy foreign fighters, grieving local populace and many others. Each person has their own personality and communication style. To be effective in the civilian or military world, you must quickly learn how to tailor your message to your audience. I work daily with people from 5 different continents, so for me to be an effective product champion, I must ensure I’m effectively getting my message across in a way that will motivate and influence those people.

To be effective in the civilian or military world, you must quickly learn how to tailor your message to your audience.

DJS: What was the hardest piece of transition?

DA:

I miss the bond I had with the Marines I served with. While I still stay in touch, I certainly miss the daily social bond that I had. That family-like atmosphere is truly hard to replicate in the civilian world.

I miss the bond I had with the Marines I served with.

DJS: What one piece of advice do you have for anyone reading this?

DA:

Never say never. Joining the Marine Corps and being a leader in biotech are two things that were not on my “planned” life narrative when I was growing up. Be open to the opportunities and unique situations that life puts you in.

Be open to the opportunities and unique situations that life puts you in.

Bio

Dan Alldridge served in the US Marine Corps from 2006–2012 as an Artilleryman and Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC). He served in combat operations with 2n Bn, 11th Marines from 2008–2009 in Al-Anbar Province, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and with 1st ANGLICO in 2011 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He has worked in biotech since 2012, with Ion Torrent (now Thermo Fisher Scientific) and currently works at Agena Bioscience.

Top resources

MVP Vets — This is a great organization for those looking to get into MedTech or BioTech. Tons of free resources and opportunities for mentorship. *Note: site currently down

Headstrong Project — Tackling the hidden wounds of war head-on. Headstrong Project provides “Cost-free, bureaucracy-free, and stigma-free treatment for the hidden wounds of war”. This played a big part in getting me mentally back in the game.

This picture was taken at Cape Wrath in Scotland during a NATO training exercise. One of the best training experiences in my military career.
This is my FCT (Firepower Control Team) at our makeshift patrol base in Afghanistan. Some of the greatest Marines I ever served with.
School doesn’t always have to be a drag. This was taken after wrapping up a consulting trip in Athens with the Parthenon in the background.
Triathlon has become my stress outlet. Brother (Tom) and Mom (Barb) pictured.

Are you interested in sharing your story of transition? Or are you a military transition specialist who would like to share some tips? Send me an email at MilitaryTransitionStories@gmail.com

The goal of this series is to bridge the military-civilian divide in three ways: 1) Highlight the incredible skills and value that military veterans of all generations and backgrounds bring into the workplace. 2) Help transitioning veterans understand their true value and therefore aim as high as possible in their employment and educational goals. 3) Discuss the common struggles, pitfalls and indicators of success in veteran transition, in order to provide better transition assistance from both military and civilian sides.

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David Smith

David Smith

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Hubby & daddy. USMC veteran. Marketing professional. Entrepreneur. I like mountains, whisky, travel and mischief. Live in Norway. Insta: @americanvikinginnorway