What unique values do veterans and those who have served bring to an organization or business?

Anyone who serves in any branch of the military learns from the earliest days the importance of personal integrity and ethics. People in both the enlisted and officer ranks get thrust into leadership opportunities at young ages and learn how to be leaders whom others are willing to follow. Veterans learn early on the value of teamwork and understand that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Nothing in service to our country gets done in a solo fashion. It requires teamwork, and you have to work at being both a team member and a leader.

How can businesses/organizations best support their veteran teammates and those who are still serving?

One of the best ways is to respect and appreciate their service, and also to learn from it. Because so few people have experienced service firsthand, we are losing a group of influencers in this country who can talk about the military and the opportunities and experiences it can offer. It’s a tremendous educational opportunity for those who have never served to learn from the experiences of those who have, widening the body of those who understand the value of service, even if it’s secondhand.

Why did you decide to join the AECOM board, and what unique perspective do you feel you bring?

AECOM was one of the first companies to ask me to join their board after I retired. When I met AECOM Chairman and CEO Mike Burke, I was a little concerned that I didn’t have specific background in the company’s business lanes of design and construction while I bring a unique expertise in the management services business lane. Mike assured me he was looking for someone who offered a different perspective, a different set of eyes.

I rose to the rank of four-star general and commanded Air Force Materiel Command. In the Air Force, only about 10-12 individuals serve at the four-star level at any given time. Having had the wonderful opportunity to serve at that senior-most rank helped me develop an understanding of what’s important at the strategic level of an institution, and much of that understanding translates well into the corporate boardroom. The importance of organizational culture, the need for a strategic plan and associated metrics to assess progress in achieving objectives, a focus on both product excellence and process standardization, the need to spend time on talent management to include a focus on your bench of senior leaders—these are all things that apply to both military and board leadership.

What advice would you give to someone who is transitioning out of military life?

The first thing I always tell people who choose to serve, whether it’s for four or 20-plus years, is thank you. The percentage of our population who choose to serve is small and going down. I always say thank you first, and then the second thing I would say to people who are making the transition is to reinforce the importance of upholding expectations relative to the way they comport themselves—to honor the professionalism and patriotism of our service.

What was the transition like for you when you retired from the Air Force?

I relished the opportunity to lead Air Force Materiel Command; it was just an honor and privilege to serve and to be given command of the organization where I had spent the majority of my career. I relished every bit of it—the responsibility, the important missions we executed, the extraordinary airmen, both military and civilian, who succeeded every day at those missions, and taking the command through an historic reinvention during my tenure. Just before I retired, a friend of mine asked me how I thought I was going to feel on the first day after my retirement—if I was going to feel relieved of the pressures and burden of responsibility. I remember telling her, “I don’t think I’m going to feel that way; it’s just an honor to command.” However, the day after I retired, I discovered she was right. I immediately felt as if a burden had been lifted. While I was doing it, I relished it, so that feeling of relief was unexpected and welcome. Now, I’m doing volunteer work, board work and consulting, and every day I wake up and I own my day.

What do the Air Force Core Values mean to you, and what purpose have they served in your life and your leadership?

The Air Force core values of Integrity first, Service before self and Excellence in all we do were formalized in the mid-nineties. But long before they were formally established and documented as the Air Force’s core values, they really were my personal core values: the values upon which I based my leadership approach. I’m pleased to see AECOM has embraced a set of core values [Collaborate, Inspire, Safeguard, Anticipate, Deliver and Dream], as they are absolutely imperative to any growing organization that wants to be held in esteem and attract the best talent. Values are not something you do; they should represent who you are as an organization.


General Janet C. Wolfenbarger

Originally published Nov 10, 2017

Author: General Janet C. Wolfenbarger