What Nearly 3 Decades in the Armed Forces Taught me About Business Ownership

mark_ward_headshot.jpegAs a young boy, I grew up immersed in the field of aviation; we lived in the departure path of San Francisco International Airport and I remember watching planes come and go each day. Beyond that, my uncle served as a Senior Pilot for United Airlines and I listened in awe as he told me thrilling stories noting his experiences in aviation. As I grew older, I set my sights on joining the Air Force which would allow me to pursue my love of flight while serving my country. I began my military career in 1985 as a co-pilot flying helicopters I’d only dreamed about—like the ageless Huey and the special operations MH-53—all over the world. During my 26 year career with the Air Force, I worked through the ranks and was eventually promoted to Colonel.

Though the opportunity to fly was a dream come true, getting to command multiple units as a Colonel taught me indispensable tools that I continue to utilize as the franchise owner of Hungry Howie’s Pizza.

The importance of strategic leadership

When I returned from service to life as a civilian, I was faced with two options—to work at a cubicle for the next 20 years of my life, or to pursue a new career path that would allow me to be my own boss. The decision to open a franchise meant that I would be leading a team of employees who would look to me for support and guidance, much like when I served as Colonel. Command taught me how to better manage and lead large numbers of people while getting the job done right, on time, every time. I attempt to do the same as a franchise owner. I make sure when hiring new staff that each team member is sufficiently trained and prepared to tend to our customers with care. When I get positive feedback from my customers on our customer service and efficiency, I am reassured that I am utilizing lessons learned from the Air Force to train my employees effectively.

Prepare for the unexpected

Those serving in the military know that one must constantly prepare for the unexpected. Veterans are often skilled at setting goals, creating plans to reach those goals, and executing accordingly. Of course, no plan stays fully intact as you go forward and that is where the skill of being able to adapt and overcome is priceless. Serving in the military taught me the importance of adaptability to new circumstances, and that skill has helped me immeasurably as a franchise owner. When operating a restaurant, there may be days when your store will be understaffed with a line of hungry customers out the door—as a veteran who has experienced a multitude of situations that went nowhere near according to plan, I’m able to maintain my calmness in these situations and mitigate accordingly.

Identify areas of weakness and educate yourself

The idea of being your own boss sounds appealing for many veterans until they learn the many risks—both financial and otherwise—involved with launching a business. The military teaches you many things, but when it came to financial literacy and business acumen, I acquired that on my own through extensive research. As a veteran, I consider myself to be a self-starter and I knew that entering a new field would be a huge undertaking. Many fellow veterans questioned my business model and thought I was signing myself up for failure. Rather than allowing the self-doubt of my peers dissuade me from my business endeavors, I began educating myself on precisely what it would take to become a successful franchise owner. I was fortunate to have the support of my family and a company like Hungry Howie’s that provides incentives to veteran franchisees, but by and large doing my own studying is what prepared me for this role.

All military services instill core values in veterans that serve as a great road map for future business endeavors. Above all, the most overarching value I’ve identified among those pursuing the military or the business world is integrity. Running a business with integrity, putting the customer’s needs first, and delivering an excellent product are things I learned in the military that translate perfectly into the franchise world.

Mark Ward is a 26-year Air Force veteran and owner of Hungry Howie’s Pizza on Bandera Road in San Antonio.

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