“My Transition” #34: Shane Wentz — US Army to Global Director of Continuous Improvement
In many ways Shane has taken the road less travelled… and doing so has paid off big time.
I think the biggest thing I have learned that I wish I had known back then was that while your resume is important and a network is critical, you need to diversify your network.
Louisville, KY— Shane’s unique path through the Army as a leader of Continuous Process Improvement has served him well in the civilian sector as well. Upon retiring from the Army after 20 years, he has worked for some of the top companies in the US, including: Siemens, Nike, and Radial. His no-fear approach has made it possible for him to pursue his passions.
DJS: Why did you join the military?
I joined the Army for three major reasons. First, during my senior year of high school, the first gulf war kicked off. I had always been patriotic, but seeing the news coverage of American military and their allies defeating the Iraqi military brought out a desire to be part of something bigger. Secondly, my parents got divorced my junior year in high school and it really impacted me. I had always planned to go to college, play football and baseball, graduate and then stay in Ohio and start a career and a family. Between the Gulf War and my home situation, all of that changed. Finally, I went on several college visits my senior year. During one of those visits in which I was recruited to play football, I went out with several football players. I woke up the next morning after a long night of drinking with the team and was told I had signed a letter of intent. Later that day I walked into the Army recruiting office and the rest, as they say, is history.
… seeing the news coverage of American military and their allies defeating the Iraqi military brought out a desire to be part of something bigger.
DJS: What were the most important skills or lessons that you learned?
Wow, there were so many lessons I learned during my twenty years in the Army. I think the biggest lesson was that you don’t succeed on your own. Teamwork is something that was emphasized from the day I arrived at Basic Training, through all the military schools I went to and by every leader I had in the Army. When I began my journey as a leader, about 4 years into my career, I relied heavily on the leadership skills that had been drilled into me from my first days in the service.
“… you don’t succeed on your own”.
I think the other lesson I learned that has really helped me since my transition into the private sector was that you have to be patient while also knowing when you have to make things happen versus letting things happen. One of the sayings I despised in the Army was “hurry up and wait.” Whether it was waiting in line at the dining facility or waiting at a small base in Iraq for a ride in a helicopter to another base, waiting is something that is second nature in the service. However, you also learn that though patience is important, you must jump at opportunities when they present themselves.
… though patience is important, you must jump at opportunities when they present themselves.
Throughout my career, in both the private and public sectors, I have made choices that aren’t always the “safe” choice. However, I truly believe that success is a combination of being in the right place at the right time while working hard and jumping at opportunities when you have the chance.
DJS: Did you know what you were going to do when you left the Army?
I was fortunate enough to know what my next job was going to be prior to transitioning out of the Army. I was offered a job as a contractor doing lean six sigma in Kuwait supporting the Army. I spent approximately 5 months in Kuwait working on various continuous improvement initiatives prior to accepting a GS14 position as Director of Continuous Improvement at the Army Human Resources Command.
The contractor job was a lot of fun and I got to work from a base in Kuwait I had been deployed to when the Iraqi war kicked off. During my deployment, I lived in a tent and then in a big open bay in a building, this time I was in a luxury apartment with maid service, a pool and an SUV to drive back and forth from the base. Besides learning a lot and having an opportunity to work with some great people while helping the Army, it also showed me that civilian life wasn’t as bad as some had made it out to be.
… civilian life wasn’t as bad as some had made it out to be.
DJS: Tell me about your initial job search process?
I spent a lot of time working on my resume and networking. I went through at least 20 iterations of my resume before finally “getting it right.” Actually, I still look at my resume every month or so and find tweaks to make. I sent my resume to probably 30 people to review and give me feedback. I think it was openness to feedback and getting different perspectives that allowed me to get a quality resume that helped open some doors for me in the private sector.
I sent my resume to probably 30 people to review and give me feedback.
Networking involved talking to a lot of my contacts, asking them for advice and asking them for any contacts they had that may be able to assist me. Before long, I had established a significant network that was sending my resume out and contacting me about opportunities. Fortunately, working in continuous improvement, I had a skill set that was in demand so I was being contacted by recruiters based on my LinkedIn profile. I was fortunate to have a mentor that emphasized LinkedIn as a great resource, therefore I spent a lot of time on my profile and once again had a lot of people in my network review it and give me feedback. Even today I have recruiters contact me regarding job opportunities based on my LinkedIn profile.
… I was fortunate to have a mentor that emphasized LinkedIn as a great resource…
DJS: Did your military skills transitional well into other jobs?
During my last five years in the Army I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and have some great mentors. I was part of the Army roll-out of lean six sigma and earned my black belt and master black belt certification in lean six sigma before I transitioned. That really set me up for some great opportunities as I left the Army.
Following my work as a contractor and then government employee, I got a call from a recruiter at Siemens asking if I was interested in a continuous improvement job with them. Though I had a great job as a GS14, I knew if I was going to make the jump to the private sector it needed to happen then. Looking back on the decision there were so many reasons at the time for me to stay in the government however I really wanted to work in the private sector and then consider one day taking that experience back to the government as a government civilian again.
DJS: You got a full education while in the military. How did you manage this and what advice would you give to other service members about education?
When I went into the Army I made a promise to myself and my family to go to college. I was always that guy expected to go to college after high school, so going to the military shocked a lot of people, including my family. My first duty assignment was Germany. As a young 19-year-old who could legally drink in Germany, I had a lot of fun but also started on my Associates Degree within months of landing in Germany. I finished my AA during that first tour in Germany and then took some time off before finishing my Bachelors.
I actually began and finished my MBA during two different deployments. It was a lot of work and I definitely missed out on some things; but it was well worth it. The deployments would consist of 12-hour days and then I would work out and then back to my bunk for homework. Fortunately, we had internet access during both deployments so I was able to do my MBA online.
Once I retired, I decided to go back to school and earn my PhD. I have a passion for teaching others so I hope to one day leverage my PhD and experience in the Army and private sector to help others accomplish their dreams.
When I went into the Army I made a promise to myself and my family to go to college.
The best advice I can give any service member with regards to college is “just do it.” You are going to have to MAKE time for your degree and it isn’t going to be easy. However, if you have time to go out on weekends, work out or travel then you have time for college. It’s easy to come up with reasons you can’t complete a degree while in the service but you owe it to yourself to find a way to do it. Private sector employers are looking for highly qualified veterans to become part of their organizations but a degree is often non-negotiable. Regardless of your training, service, IQ or work ethic; employers want that piece of paper that shows you can finish things.
The best advice I can give any service member with regards to college is “just do it.”
DJS: What did you enjoy most about working at Siemens and Nike?
I had a lot of fun, worked with some amazing people and learned so much at both companies. At Siemens, I started as a continuous improvement manager and grew into the role of Director of Business Excellence for North America for their Rail Automation business segment. I traveled a lot, met great people and had the opportunity to spend some time in Germany. When I was in the Army I lived in Germany for six years and learned to speak the language so I had a lot of fun practicing my German with Siemens employees in Germany.
Nike was a fun company. I’ll never forget my first summer at their Beaverton, Oregon world headquarters. When meetings ran late into the afternoon somebody would open a refrigerator and grab a cold, adult beverage. They also had something called “summer hours” which meant on select Thursdays, they called them “Thirsty Thursdays”, you left work early and met on one of the athletic fields to meet athletes or have a few adult beverages with co-workers. I met some of the smartest people I have ever worked with and learned a lot about collaboration in a heavily matrixed organization. Getting free and discounted Nike gear wasn’t bad either…
They would have “summer hours” which meant on select Thursdays, they called them “Thirsty Thursdays”, you left work early and met on one of the athletic fields to meet athletes or have a few adult beverages with co-workers.
My wife wasn’t happy as my Nike shoe collection at one point reached 38 pair! I had the opportunity to spend time in Japan working with our employees over there on driving a lean culture. For a continuous improvement practitioner, spending time in Japan doing lean is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The organization was extremely collaborative so I really focused on working with various groups and finding ways to influence them to use continuous improvement across the organization.
DJS: How did you land your current job at Radial, Inc?
As I mentioned earlier, the continuous improvement career path has been extremely rewarding and opened a lot of doors. While I was at Nike I was contacted by a recruiter at Radial about a Global Director of Continuous Improvement role. The recruiter had found me through my LinkedIn profile, said she was extremely impressed and wanted to talk about an opportunity with a relatively new organization.
Nike was a great company but I had gone from Portland to Memphis with Nike and chances are, if I stayed for any period of time, I would have to go back to Portland. My wife is from Chicago and I am from Ohio and the west coast just wasn’t a good fit for us. During the interview process with Radial I became extremely interested in the position because it was a brand new role, would be responsible for rolling out continuous improvement across the entire organization and my boss was a former continuous improvement practitioner himself and as an Executive Vice President would give me complete support in pushing continuous improvement from the top down. In addition, after doing continuous improvement in such large organizations as the Army, Siemens and Nike I wanted to get an opportunity to roll it out in a smaller organization.
DJS: Tell me about what you do daily basis at Radial?
No day is the same in my current role. I am based in Louisville, Kentucky but spend a lot of time traveling between our 25 fulfillment centers. A lot of my day is spent collaborating with our senior leaders about how best to roll out and sustain continuous improvement across the organization. In addition, I spend time training our leaders and hourly associates on continuous improvement, visiting various sites and sit in on meetings to determine how we can improve our processes that in turn will make the company more profitable.
A lot of my day is spent collaborating with our senior leaders about how best to roll out and sustain continuous improvement across the organization.
The fact that I could develop and roll out the Radial Continuous Improvement System is exciting. Rarely do continuous improvement practitioners get an opportunity like the one I have presently. The part of the job I like best is traveling to the different sites, meeting our great employees and helping them make the organization a little bit better every day.
Changing a culture is difficult and studies show that most organizations who role out continuous improvement fail. At Radial we are working to defy those odds and role out continuous improvement in a way that will empower our employees with the tools, knowledge and support to improve the processes they do every day. It isn’t about building a huge continuous improvement team that swoops in and makes a bunch of changes, it’s about empowering employees to improve their areas so that we build a culture of continuous improvement.
The part of the job I like best is traveling to the different sites, meeting our great employees and helping them make the organization a little bit better every day.
DJS: If you knew one thing before the transition process that would have made your experience easier, what would that be?
Wow, there are so many things that I thought I had figured out but looking back I had no idea. I think the biggest thing I have learned that I wish I had known back then was that while your resume is important and a network is critical, you need to diversify your network. What I mean by that is you can’t put all your eggs in one basket.
I think the biggest thing I have learned that I wish I had known back then was that while your resume is important and a network is critical, you need to diversify your network.
I know a lot of transitioning veterans who focus solely on getting a government job. I tell transitioning vets all the time that they should look at the private sector. When I made that transition from the government to private sector, I had a lot of people call me crazy. They told me how “scary” and “unpredictable” the private sector was. Looking back, there have been some ups and downs but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Sometimes in life you have to take chances in order to find happiness.
Sometimes in life you have to take chances in order to find happiness.
DJS: What one piece of advice do you have for anyone reading this?
The one piece of advice I would give to anyone is don’t be afraid to take chances in life. There is a poem by Robert Frost that I read in school as a kid and it has really become something I have lived by as an adult. The last stanza is: “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence: two roads diverged in a wood, and I; I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference”. It started with my decision to join the Army, continued as I changed career fields several times, then as a master sergeant with 19 years in and a good shot at Sergeant Major. I declined consideration for promotion to Sergeant Major and put in my retirement papers. Then, after landing a great job as a government civilian I jumped into the private sector, somewhat with my eyes closed. Finally, leaving great companies like Siemens and Nike and landing where I am today with a small, growing company where I am making a big difference and working with some passionate, talented people who are focused on growing the organization.
The one piece of advice I would give to anyone is don’t be afraid to take chances in life.
I wish I could look back and say I planned my career path this way but I really didn’t. When recruiters called I was always willing to have a discussion and continue to network and refine my skills and my resume. While I may not be the most successful person out there, I have been extremely fortunate to meet and work with some outstanding people, live in some great places and enjoy a loving and supportive family who tolerates some of the unconventional
decisions I have made and who at the end of the day love me regardless of how my day has gone.
I wish I could look back and said I planned my career path this way but I really didn’t…
Shane Wentz joined the Army in 1991 and spent the first eight years of his career in the military intelligence field before becoming a Career Counselor. During his final four years in the Army, Shane got involved in Lean Six Sigma and earned his Black Belt and then Master Black Belt certification. During his 20-year career Shane traveled the world, living in five states as well as Germany. He also deployed twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
After retiring from the Army in 2011 he worked as a contractor supporting the Army in Kuwait as a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and then worked as a government civilian as the Director of Continuous Improvement for the Army Human Resources Command. Shane then moved to the private sector joining Siemens as the Director of Business Excellence for the North American Region of their Rail Automation Division. In April of 2014 Shane moved to Portland, Oregon and joined Nike as a Lean Master. He supported lean deployments in several sectors of the Nike business as well as their Korea and Japan distribution centers. Shane then moved to Memphis to take over as the Director of Lean and Quality for Nike’s North American Distribution Network.
In June of this year Shane transitioned from Nike to Radial to take over as their Global Director of Continuous Improvement. At Radial, Shane developed and is in the process of rolling out the Radial Continuous Improvement system across 25 fulfillment centers in the United States, Canada, the UK and Germany. He collaborates with leaders throughout the organization to determine opportunities to improve processes that the organization leverages as it continues to grow as a leader in omnichannel commerce technology and operations that enables brands and retailers to profitably exceed retail customer expectations.
Shane’s education includes a Bachelor of Science in Management from University of Phoenix, MBA from Baker College and PhD from Sullivan University.
Shane has been married for 18 years to his wife Susie and they have a 3 year old son named Tommy.
Some of my favorite veteran resources are the LinkedIn Veteran Mentor Group and American Corporate Partners (ACP)
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.