Business Owners Tell All: 8 Veteran-Owned Business Success Stories

Olivia Garrison

“Some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have ever made a difference in the world. A veteran doesn’t have that problem.” – Ronald Reagan

The bravery, leadership and dedication of our service men and women is undeniable, but rarely do we have the opportunity to hear about their accomplishments after returning to civilian life.

The values instilled during their time in the service provides an increasing number of veterans with the tools needed to continue making a difference in the world — this time, as business owners.

In honor of Veterans Day, we’re sharing stories from eight veteran entrepreneurs integrating the lessons they learned during their time in the military to find success in the business world.


Veteran Business Owners 2018Chris Kowalik

Owner, ProFeds
Service Branch: United States Marine Corps

Tell us about your transition from military life to one as a business owner:
As a Service-Disabled Veteran, I had an unexpected transition into the business world. I was determined to continue to serve my country – simply in a different capacity than the one I originally had planned. I was reminded of a great military mantra: “No plan survives first contact.”

Today, I lead ProFeds – a 7-figure business empowering employees of the federal government with tools and resources they need to properly plan to retire. Throughout the country, I help pair federal employees with financial professionals who have specialized their practice to serve their unique needs.

Getting here was not easy. I channeled my military mindset along with the sheer grit and tenacity that comes with being a U.S. Marine, to power through the tough landscape of entrepreneurship. The hard work has certainly paid off. I’m thrilled to be celebrating my 10th year in business this year.

How did your experiences in the military influence your skillset as a business owner?
I served as an Arabic Linguist and Signals Intelligence Analyst – allowing military units to translate radio signals to benefit U.S. operations in the air, on land and sea. The mission: simplify communications to simplify strategy.

In the business world, I’ve taken my skills as a translator and leveraged them in a seemingly unrelated way – to help federal workers translate complex benefits so they can smartly strategize their financial future. Still a translator of sorts, I’m grateful to impact the lives of those I serve.

I know full well that I could not have attained this success without the talents of an amazing team of committed professionals. Nearly three-quarters of the ProFeds team are either veterans or the spouse of a current service member. Behind the scenes, the unwavering support of my husband (also a veteran) and our three children has allowed me to aggressively pursue big goals and reach major business milestones.

What advice would you give to someone transitioning from the services into a business environment?
I encourage service members transitioning back into civilian life to translate their skill sets into a way the private sector can understand, appreciate and leverage. This will pave the way for the opportunity to continue to make a more profound impact on the world.


veteran business owner 2018Patrick Mudge

Owner, Tango 1 Services LLC
Service Branch: United States Navy

Tell us about your transition from military life to one as a business owner:
After separating from the service, I thought my transition was quite smooth. However, it couldn’t have been further from a smooth transition. I went on to work in DoD (Department of Defense) Contracting in the security and protection field. During those few years following, I lost several close friends and former leaders who were still Active Duty and I wore the burden deep in my soul. After two divorces and jumping from career fields constantly, it took several mentors to come into my life and help me identify who I am and what my values are.

This was a very humbling process and painful all at the same time. But in the end, I understood who I was and what I believed in. I had to capture and own my self-perception and align that with my self-expression. This is a part of Emotional Intelligence coaching and was the most critical part for my ability to move forward with actual direction.

How did your experiences in the military influence your skillset as a business owner?
I now own Tango 1 Services LLC, a pressure washing service in Lake Jackson, TX that hires disabled veterans. I have also taken my past experiences to be an independent consultant to help other new businesses and even existing businesses. This venture has taken me across the nation and landed me as a motivational speaker at some of the most prestigious galas and events for several great causes.

My growth has grown into equity shares of six different companies across the United States and I continue to volunteer my time to support Gold Star Parents across the country by working with nonprofit entities to help them grow.

What advice would you give to someone transitioning from the services into a business environment?
The best advice I have received and pass on to other will always be the following:
1. Know your values.
2. Know who you are and how you are perceived, no matter how painful.
3. Take a problem, subtract the emotion, add your intelligence, and you will always result with the intelligent solution.
4. Never give up! When things get uncomfortable, that means you are growing.
5. Work on your subconscious mind! Focus on positivity and remove toxic people and influences from your daily routine.


veteran entrepreneur 2018Sarah Ford

Founder, Ranch Road Boots
Service Branch: United States Marine Corps

Tell us about your transition from military life to one as a business owner:
My end of active duty was in January of 2005.  During the fall of 2004, I applied to one business school – Harvard Business School.  If I didn’t get in, my plan was to do construction management because the construction firms were hiring junior military officers at the time.   After I got out, I spent about 2 months in Costa Rica working on an organic farm – basically it was a cheap way to travel. I found out I had an interview at Harvard and flew home to do the interview.  After I found out I was accepted I moved to Boston. HBS was a great transition out of the Marines – a softer, longer runway landing than I would have had otherwise if I’d gone straight to work. I got recalled to active duty after graduation and spent 7 months in Afghanistan before going to work for The Boston Consulting Group.

How did your experiences in the military influence your skillset as a business owner?
The Marine Corps taught me the value of bringing people solutions, not just pointing out problems. Also, I was very, very comfortable making decisions without ‘all the info’ and the 80% solution was better than hand-wringing about the perfect answer – we were encouraged to have a bias towards action.

What advice would you give to someone transitioning from the services into a business environment?
Get a job at a smaller company and “be a water carrier” – volunteer for the job no one wants and knock it out of the park.  Or go to business school – but understand that the allure of high paying jobs after will be hard to resist which can get you ‘stuck’ in a career if you adjust to the salary/lifestyle.  Continue living on the paycheck you had in the military and stockpile cash if you go into one of these jobs so you can leave if you want.


veteran entrepreneurs 2018Charles Read

President/CEO, GetPayroll
Service Branch: United States Marine Corps

Tell us about your transition from military life to one as a business owner:
After my four years in the United States Marine Corps, I went to work in the private sector. One interviewer told me that my military experience as a computer programmer and systems engineer did not apply in the civilian world. It was the only time I told an interviewer that they were an idiot. That company later went bankrupt. That experience drove me to go to college and get my degrees, and my CPA certification. I had not been ready for college after high school. I graduated from high school with a D average. In just over two years of college, I had my undergraduate degree with honors. A year later my MBA, and I had passed my CPA examination on the first sitting. I was motivated to succeed, quickly.

How did your experiences in the military influence your skillset as a business owner?
I use my military experience every day. The self-discipline, the self-motivation, the drive to succeed regardless of the cost, the Esprit de Corps, the knowledge that I was one of The Few, The Proud, and of the toughest in the world. Nothing can keep me from winning. Adapt and overcome.

Somethings had to be unlearned. You can’t treat civilians the way you treat subordinates in the service. They are not there to go into combat and die if so ordered. Nothing is life or death. You don’t have an unlimited supply of material; you have to budget far more than in the military. You can fail and be out of business, in the military if you fail you just keep on keeping on. All and all my service has been an education, a blessing, a real eye-opener and made me a much better person.

What advice would you give to someone transitioning from the services into a business environment?
Use the discipline you learned in the military to stick with a plan for success in whatever it is your view as success in your life. Adapt and overcome. Live your life, not someone else’s.


veteran business ownerAmanda Huffman

Founder/Freelance Writer, Airman to Mom
Service Branch: United States Air Force

Tell us about your transition from military life to one as a business owner:
I left the military to be a stay at home mom and military spouse. Leaving the military was not easy and I had an identity crisis as I lost my identity as both a Civil Engineer and military officer. I had no plans to start a business when I left the military. But through this struggle of leaving the military, I found writing as a way to keep my sanity. What started out as a hobby has transformed into a business where I can follow my passion and encourage other. I also have the added benefit of building a community that moves with me since we communicate through the internet.

My blog and freelance writing have provided me a means so that I can help support my family while supporting my husband who serves in the military and my boys. The flexibility of writing allows me to be there for my kids while also fueling my passion to help other women transition out of the military. As both a military spouse and veteran I provide a unique perspective to the military community. Speaking to both sides and providing encouragement and support.

How did your experiences in the military influence your skillset as a business owner?
For a long time, I thought that the experiences from my military career would be the one thing I needed to succeed in my new business. But I learned that just like in the military, business is not a singular effort. Networking with other has helped me grow my business so that I can make money instead of endlessly working with little result.

What advice would you give to someone transitioning from the services into a business environment?
When I left the military, I didn’t know how many resources were available to veterans. Before you pay for a business course check out to see what resources are available for free. There are so many programs that provide free mentorship or scholarships to start your business. These programs can help propel you forward while saving you time and money.


veteran entrepreneurMike Kozlik

Owner, The Alternative Board Central Alabama
Service Branch: United States Army

Tell us about your transition from military life to one as a business owner:
I am a Retired Army Officer. I started my business after my last mobilization in 2007. The business was originally a Business Development consulting firm focused on small, federally focused (8a) businesses, where I provided business capture and proposal development services. My business has grown since then to include a full-service Business Development consulting
element (focused on commercial business in addition to the government services businesses). I also pursue and execute government contracts on our own (predominately Dept of Homeland Security, First Responder, Live Exercises) – all in addition to my TAB business which is our strategic service arm to privately owned businesses.

How did your experiences in the military influence your skillset as a business owner?
Transitioning from military service to the commercial world is very, very difficult. When I first left active duty in 1994, I found that even with the extensive knowledge, education and experience in leadership, management, operations, and planning I gained in the army, I was far behind
my peers in terms of business and found it difficult to find a position comparable to the levels of responsibility I knew as an active duty officer.

What advice would you give to someone transitioning from the services into a business environment?
Soldiers/Officers transitioning to the civilian/commercial environment must first learn to speak a new language (civilians do not understand acronyms or “Army Speak” generally), and they must be patient with people who do not understand that there is a difference between “leadership” and “management.” This patience will result in rapid advancement and usually, within a few years, the former service member will have equaled or exceeded their longer term peers because of steady positive performance, and unquestionable abilities to handle more responsibility sooner.


Rob Thompson

Regional Barbershop Owner
Service Branch: United States Navy

Tell us about your transition from military life to one as a business owner:
Upon exiting the military the future is unclear. Sometimes the known is better than the unknown. I’m sure many former soldiers wonder, deep down, if they are making the right choice. Transitioning from military life to a business owner wasn’t as challenging as I think it would be for a person with no military experience because the armed services instilled an internal drive and motivation like no other career or college course can. Many obstacles will arise when starting a new business; for instance, the amount of paperwork, the planning, financing, bureaucratic red tape, inspections, inventory, finding the perfect location, staffing and finally wondering if your dream is worth all the headaches. This is where being in the military and suffering through the hell of boot camp and deployments kicks in. There is a mountain to climb while opening your own business and its not like the mountains you are used to, this is uncharted territory dealing with people who don’t care as much about your dream as you do. Its 100 percent on you and you alone to make it work.

How did your experiences in the military influence your skillset as a business owner?
Being in the military one is taught to be self-sufficient, self-motivated and dig down deep to reach a goal. Every mountain climb is started the same way, with one step at a time, sometimes the terrain is easy you can cover ground quickly and sometimes the terrain gets tough and you may have a setback, but that’s when you go back to one step at a time no matter how small the step. When perseverance and desire meet, there is no business big or small that a United States Veteran can’t get off the ground.

What advice would you give to someone transitioning from the services into a business environment?
I advise all veterans dreaming of their own business to go for it! The going will get tough, you will get discouraged, you will have to do some soul searching, but guess what? You have been there before and this is a cakewalk compared to what you have accomplished in the military, You got this and are more prepared than you have ever imagined because when the going gets tough, you know how to get tough back!


We would like to sincerely thank these veterans for sharing their journey into entrepreneurship with us, as well as thank our service men and women – past and present – for the sacrifices they’ve made for our freedom.

Interested in hearing from more veterans turned entrepreneurs? Check out our Veterans Day roundups from 2016 and 2017 for 20 more veteran-owned business success stories.

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