Bob Woodruff Foundation Brings Bay Area’s Top Tech, Business and Government Leaders Together to Discuss Veterans’ Role in New American Workforce
By Sam Kille, Bob Woodruff Foundation
The San Francisco Bay Area not only represents the leading edge of the tech industry, but is also a market that increasingly understands and embraces the idea that hiring veterans goes well beyond “thanks” or patriotism — it gives companies a competitive advantage.
Realizing this potential, the Bob Woodruff Foundation recently brought together top leaders in tech, government and the military for “The Next Chapter: Veterans in the New American Workforce.” Hosted at San Francisco’s Terra Gallery, this panel discussion examined the interplay between these sectors and offered insight into how leading companies and communities can engage transitioning veterans.
Bob Woodruff, ABC News correspondent and the foundation’s co-founder, moderated the panel, which included former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, PolicyLink’s Angela Glover Blackwell, Facebook’s Loree Draude, GV’s David Krane, City of Stockton’s Lori Ann Ospina, and Salesforce’s Ann Weeby.
“We built the Bob Woodruff Foundation to be a convener. We know that the more people there are in our networks, the better our ideas will become and the more communities will flourish,” said Anne Marie Dougherty, executive director of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. “We also know that when you can help private sector companies address social issues, there’s a net benefit for the companies and for the communities.”
Nearly 150 guests attended the discussion which was hosted by Kat Taylor, co-founder and co-CEO of Beneficial State Bank, and also joined by Lee Woodruff, co-founder of the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
Shultz, who served in President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet, spoke of his own experience and values learned as a Marine veteran of World War II. An expert in labor economics, Shultz shared that “the future out there is going to be very different” with the rise in artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, and deglobalization’s impact on manufacturing.
“There are six million unfilled jobs in the United States today,” Shultz said. “We have a job to do in transferring people from not working, into working, and give them the skills.”
Seeking those opportunities are roughly 250,000 service members reentering the civilian workforce each year, according to Dempsey. The general, who had served as the nation’s 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared his thoughts on leadership, trust and how today’s all-volunteer force has created better leaders — views recently published in “Radical Inclusion: What the Post-9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadership,” which he co-wrote with Ori Brafman.
Krane, the CEO and managing partner of GV, who helped grow Google from a small startup to a multi-billion dollar global enterprise, echoed this from a business perspective.
“We have all the resources we can imagine. We can attract incredibly compelling talent both technical and business,” said Krane. “But I started to understand, in sort of year seven or so of our evolution as a company, that we were missing a critical ingredient. And we didn’t really know what we were looking for, but we made one and then another hire of two individuals that shared something in common: they both had served their country.”
Krane went on to discuss how they not only achieved success at a faster rate than many professionals, but also that they have embraced newer younger members of the team in a way that he didn’t see among their civilian peers.
Embracing veterans has also become a priority for Salesforce, according to Weeby, an Iraq War veteran who leads the company’s military initiative as director of Workforce Innovation and head of VetForce.
“We want veterans to feel welcome and be able to find one another,” said Weeby. “And not just veterans, but family members, caregivers, spouses, and allies in our global forces as well.”
The key to this, she said, is setting aside the resources to make sure that veterans can access jobs by meeting them where they are — not necessarily at universities, but online where they can learn the skills necessary to compete in the new economy.
Of course, there is more to be done and the panel looked to policy leaders for insight.
“Part of the reason we’re having this conversation, I’m sure, is that among all of the veterans, some are being left behind — hopelessly left behind,” said Blackwell, CEO at PolicyLink. She went on to ask, “What is the right thing to do?”
The answer she proposed might lie within what she called the “curb cut effect,” offering the example of how installing curb cuts in sidewalks for the benefit of those with disabilities, has helped mothers pushing strollers or workers pushing carts.
This approach “solves problems for those who are most vulnerable with specificity and determination,” which in turn creates benefits for everyone. The GI Bill, she said, is a great example of this.
Also contributing to the night’s conversation was Draude, head of Ads Help and Education at Facebook. One of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots, Draude highlighted the myriad challenges of veteran transition — yet they could be overcome with the right resources.
“I think that there is a greater focus now on the strengths that veterans bring to companies, so I’m happy to see that,” said Draude.
Ospina, the director of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, discussed the value of making bold decisions and not being afraid to get everything right, that there is an opportunity to learn from setbacks.
“So really, at the core of what we are doing is trying to prove that when you invest in people, they rise,” said Ospina.
Closing out the panel, Dempsey reinforced that today’s technology can connect us in ways we have never imagined — but it also offers us a way to “avoid the world if you choose to” and the only way to overcome this is by being actively inclusive.
Speaking as a member of the Bob Woodruff Foundation’s board of directors, Dempsey also hinted that the panel was a first step toward even greater innovation and engagement with the Bay Area that will help the foundation build collective impact.
“There are a lot of really good things going on right here in San Francisco with regard to veterans issues, and what we really want to do is come here and learn,” said Dempsey. “Learn what you’re doing; figure out how we can amplify it; and how we can be included in what you’re doing.”