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A Hire Calling: Vets Find Success After Service

Every year, the call to serve our country is one answered by more than 180,000 Americans. Likewise, every year, thousands of men and women leave that calling behind.

Some simply retire and enjoy the freedom their service made possible. But for most service members coming out of the military, it’s the end of one professional chapter in their lives and the beginning of another.

Col. John Buckley, U.S. Army (ret.) and current military relations manager with Koch Industries, Inc., knows the feeling all too well. Having joined Koch in October of 2014, his role with the company is his first as a civilian since he was 17 years old.

Changing careers can be jarring for anyone – even for a retired colonel with 30 years of military service. But the transition from soldier to civilian can be particularly tough, especially when it comes to finding that first job in the private sector.

“Roughly 70 percent of transitioning veterans leave their first job after 18 months,” says Buckley. “And a lot of it has to do with being an inappropriate fit – they just kind of jumped at a job. They didn’t make sure it was a good fit, and the business didn’t either. And that’s where I think Koch is different. We make sure this will be good for them as much as it would be for us.”

There’s a lot to be gained for any company looking to hire veterans. But for Koch specifically, there’s a strong alignment with many of the same values that have made the company successful over the years. And, statistically speaking, long-term veteran retention rates have shown vets to be smart hires.

“I think, culturally, there’s a near-perfect alignment with the military and Koch and MBM®, and especially its guiding principles,” Buckley says. “And when you look at the statistics over the last 25 years, when you compare veterans to non-veterans, veterans have stayed with businesses a lot longer than their peers. So, statistically, the veteran is a very good employee to have.”

All She Can Be
One of those good employees is Shayla King-Garibay, senior global mobility manager with Koch Business Solutions, LP, who says she’s “proud to be American, a female veteran and a Koch leader.”

Coming from a long line of veterans, Shayla’s decision to join the Army wasn’t just inspired by the service of her family members, but also a high sense of patriotism and a call to enlist in response to 9/11. She wanted a challenge, so her father said it would be “part of her development plan.” And it was.

“Everything was new to me in the Army,” she recalls. “To increase the challenge, my father purposefully didn’t educate me on what to expect and standard procedures. When you are pushed to your physical and mental limit and aren’t able to stay in the comfort zone of your strength areas, you experience a huge amount of growth and humility.”

As a newcomer to the job market upon leaving the Army, Shayla faced a new set of challenges. She knew that she wanted a leadership role, but finding that role in a corporate environment proved difficult. So she took a management position in retail and hit the books to make things happen for herself.

“I went back to school, studied everything leadership and ended up being recruited by a former boss to work as a corporate trainer for a hotel franchise,” she says. “Establishing a network, being versatile and finding ways to learn from others and provide knowledge and value to others was critical for me.”

When Koch eventually called, Shayla answered. Now, in her current role with the company, she helps move talent around the world, consulting and coordinating international assignments and relocating Koch employees from country to country. It’s the leadership opportunity she always wanted and worked so hard to attain.

“I knew I wanted to challenge myself by working with the best,” she adds. “18 months later, I know this is where I was meant to be.”

Integrity, Service, Excellence
For Lt. Col. Jason Denney, USAF (ret.), landing a position as maintenance and engineering manager with Koch Fertilizer Enid, LLC almost came naturally. Almost.

A 22-year veteran of the Air Force, Denney only interviewed for one job after retirement – the one he wanted. But many of the positions with Koch companies he had considered applying for required engineering degrees. (His bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in geography and international relations, respectively.)

“On paper, I don't have the technical degree that they were looking for in fertilizer, but I bring a pretty good leadership background – I had a lot of leadership experience in the military, leading anywhere from 400 to 500 people,” he says.

Leadership ability ultimately won out, and Denney joined up with Koch Fertilizer Enid in 2014. He credits Koch’s guiding principles and how they align with the Air Force’s mission as something that really drew him to the company and made the transition that much easier.

“The Air Force has three core values, and they’re integrity, service and excellence – integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. (And) the first one, integrity, is the same as Koch’s first guiding principle.”

Ahead of his interview, he picked up a copy of “Science of Success” on the recommendation of friend and fellow Koch company employee Kyle Gorgas, also an Air Force veteran. The read helped reassure him that he was making the right decision, saying, “It sounded like what I’d been living the last 20 years in the Air Force.”

That introduction to Market-Based Management® stuck with him and served as a natural bridge for his own adjustment to civilian life and employment with Koch. Because, for him, it was a business philosophy reinforced by action, not just plastered on the wall.

“It's easy to have these 10 Guiding Principles and make nice posters and stick them on the wall to collect dust, but I don't think we do that,” he says. “The whole MBM group and the way there’s courses and opportunities to deepen your knowledge and your application of MBM, it's very encouraging. It's not just lip service.”

Recruiting Intelligence
As the son of a JAG officer, former Air Force Captain Ian Gutzman was exposed to military service from a young age. But it wasn’t until college that he seriously considered it as a career path for himself.

Gutzman went through ROTC at Brigham Young University, where he also studied Russian and international relations. After college, he utilized his education and training as an Air Force intelligence officer, spending the majority of his six years active duty stationed at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany (four years) with a one-year deployment to Afghanistan.

While he was proud of the work he was doing, he always knew his time in the military would be finite. At the six-year mark, when most soldiers are faced with the decision to either pursue a long-term military career or go civilian, Gutzman elected to join the private sector, stating, “It was the right time for my family.”

But while he may have left the Air Force, his training didn’t leave him. As a recruiting manager with Koch Ag and Energy Solutions, LLC (KAES), his knowledge and background as an intelligence officer still works its way into his day-to-day life.

“As an intelligence officer, I relied heavily on data,” he says. “And, coming into recruiting, there’s definitely metrics and data that can be used to optimize recruiting. That's been one area I’ve been focusing on probably more as a result of my military service.” 

And while as a recruiter he looks for qualified candidates from all walks of life, the military is one large talent pool with men and women who possess many of the skills and specializations Koch companies look for in potential hires.

“The military is definitely a pipeline where we see value, whether it’s in transferable technical or management skills, or whether it's looking for someone who has the values that Koch represents,” Gutzman adds.

Those shared values – a common thread unifying all Koch vets regardless of branch served – are important, because they bring so many qualified employees together under one roof. And they provide a different cause to work toward.

“The Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, they all have similar guiding principles – direct correlations – and for a military member coming out into the work force, it’s comforting knowing you’re going to a company that represents those same kind of values.”