How Purina Helped one Veteran Take his Career to the Next Level

How John Williams went from Infantryman to Purina Engineer

Andrew Eccles
Mar 6, 2017 · 4 min read

Across America, Nestlé works hard to embrace veterans returning to civilian life. Earlier this year, we launched partnerships with Hiring our Heroes and The Mission Continues, scaling-up our efforts to provide career acceleration support and job opportunities for U.S. military veterans. This commitment will be reinforced in March 2017 during a Hiring our Heroes event at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri supported by Nestlé Purina.

John Williams of Nestlé Purina made the tough transition from the Army to a civilian career and found the support of Purina vital for increasing his skills and business acumen.

I spoke with John about his Purina veteran experience:

When did you join the military?

I actually signed up during high school, I was a junior. So my basic training started in August 1985 when I was 17 years old. I joined the U.S. Army as an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne division.

I was in the army from 1985–1989. It was a very challenging and rewarding four years — there was a great deal of training, a lot of work. We had to be prepared to deploy anywhere in the world on short notice, so we did a lot of exercises parachuting into military bases.

I was very fortunate in that I avoided combat, although I can assure you there were some close calls where we were close to going wheels-up. We really had to be ready for anything, at any time.

What inspired you to join the military at a young age?

There was an ROTC Instructor in Griffin, Georgia — the town I went to high school in — called CSM Horace Pearl. He was a retired Command Sergeant Major from the 82nd Airborne Division who had served in World War II and had been involved in six combat jumps over a 20-year career.

He was a very kind and gentle person who’d had these major accomplishments in life, so he was a real inspiration.

What did you do after you left the military?

I went to college for a short time and worked in telecommunications for 7 years, before joining Purina in Atlanta as a Systems Technology Specialist. My experience in the military actually helped me to enter that role — my manager at the time, James Digby, had his father serve in the military. He really understood the value of working with people who’d been through that experience, so he took me on knowing I had skills that could be an asset.

Since then, my career took me from Atlanta to Zanesville, Flagstaff, and now to St. Louis, Missouri.

What kind of skills do you think the military gives you for civilian work?

The military is a very difficult environment, I certainly learned tenacity and a never-quit mentality. People who’ve been in the military have a different mindset and a great ability to apply themselves and work with others. Purina puts a real focus on understanding the experience veterans have.

What kind of work does Purina do to focus on veterans in their workforce?

The first thing is recognition — in many places, I don’t see a lot of recognition for veterans but at Purina there’s a real internal effort around Veteran’s Day and other events during the year to celebrate individuals who have served and make sure they know they’re valued and respected members of the team. A lot of veterans tend to be humble about their service and won’t bring it up, so it’s good to see them have a celebratory moment led by their colleagues.

Purina also does a lot of reaching out to veterans at hiring events, bringing more people into the workforce. I can personally attest it’s a great place to transition to civilian life.

What have Purina done specifically to help your career progression?

In 2003, I decided that I wanted to finish college, so I embarked on a Bachelors of Business Administration. It was tough — I attended night school for five years to complete the degree, and my job with Purina would typically be a 50–60 hour workweek with time on-call.

Purina did two things to help me. First, their Tuition Reimbursement Program helped me pay for my degree — I wouldn’t have been able to attend night school without this. Second, the whole team rallied around me. My colleagues would take on on-call shifts for me, and my manager allowed my time to be more flexible. They really opened up the door to make something that would have been impossible, possible.

I’m pleased to say I graduated in May of 2008.

Through Project Opportunity, Nestlé in the United States is supporting veterans as they move into the civilian workplace, with employment and training opportunities which build upon their already great skills.

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