When Percy Jenkins receives a resume, the first thing he does is look to see if the person has any military service. That’s because, as a 29-year member of the Coast Guard, Jenkins knows the skills that a veteran brings to his business.
Jenkins is the CEO and founder of W4 Construction Group, a Pontiac, Michigan-based federal prime contractor—a general contracting company that performs construction, heating, ventilation, remodeling, and electrical work. The name refers to “Chief Warrant Officer Four,” which, in the Coast Guard, is the highest rank an enlisted person can achieve. (Jenkins is currently a W3 and will earn W4 status before he retires in 2017.) “W4s are considered technical experts, so that’s why I came up with the name W4—because we want the company to be the best of the best,” Jenkins says.
To achieve that greatness, Jenkins relies on his experience in the Armed Forces, knowing that it’s priceless in helping him be a successful business owner. “There’s no doubt in my mind that I am who I am because of my military experience.”
Here are 4 ways military service builds business savvy.
Veterans gain valuable job skills while on active duty.
After getting recalled to active duty in 2009, Jenkins was tasked with the coordination of rebuilding the Coast Guard base on Galveston Island after Hurricane Ike. Working with “scores of contractors” with “10 different agendas” trying to put the island back together, Jenkins learned the ins and outs of project management—expertise that he uses today overseeing his employees and the various subcontractors that work with W4. “Everyone thinks their project is the most important…it’s up to me to prioritize and make sure all the contractors are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”
He also gained precious experience working on federal projects. “The last thing [a federal contractor] wants to have to do is babysit a new company…and they don’t have to because I bring that experience,” explains Jenkins.
Veterans have their comrades’ backs.
During his time in the Coast Guard, Jenkins performed search and rescue missions. “We had a crew of three or four people and we had to rely on each other and our training,” he says. The values of trust and loyalty are just as important today at W4. “I have to be smart enough to surround myself with the right people,” Jenkins says before going on to explain that W4 refers to all employees as team members. “I’m not a big fan of going to work for a paycheck; I want people to be on our team because they want to be.”
Not surprisingly, Jenkins describes himself as “a big fan of veterans.” W4 currently employs 16 people, seven of which are veterans. But Jenkins’s loyalty to former service members extends beyond those at his own company. After a successful first meeting with Clover and having the opportunity to meet the vice president of First Data (Clover’s parent company) who also happens to be a veteran, Jenkins was, in his words, “floored.” As a result, he’s connected Clover representatives with other veteran-business owners. “I’ve realized that First Data is committed to us as a business and as veterans,” says Jenkins. “So it makes sense for us to be committed to them,” stressing the important of finding and patronizing businesses that are truly supportive of veterans.
Veterans remain calm and think long-term.
Soldiers may not have bombs and bullets raining down on them at all times—but they’re trained to remain cool during times of adversity. That skill directly translates to the business world when they’re constantly facing unexpected circumstances, demanding clients, and unhappy customers. “One thing I love about veterans is that they are calm and disciplined; most of us don’t overreact. We don’t react emotionally,” Jenkins says.
Along the same lines, they’re also particularly adept at thinking through situations and not issuing knee-jerk reactions. Instead of making a decision that’s only appropriate in the moment, veterans think about the big picture. “Our mission with W4 is to be strategic planners,” says Jenkins, noting that this skill is particularly valuable in his line of work.
Veterans recognize the importance of mentoring.
Almost three decades ago when Jenkins joined the Coast Guard, he noticed that the military stressed mentorship and how the older guys always helped the younger ones. Today, he’s paying it forward by assisting other service members, including mentoring a fellow veteran who’s trying to start a business. “He told me, ‘You know what you’re doing, so I’m willing to listen and learn from you,’” Jenkins shares. “I like helping people and when they show me that they’re in it to win it, I go all in.”
As this veteran gets his company up and running, Jenkins plans to share some of his trade secrets—including Clover. “Like I said, I’m about helping veterans, [Clover is] about helping veteran businesses. So why can’t we turn around and help Clover by bringing them more veteran customers?”[image: Parents Weekend at Coast Guard Academy by US Coast Guard Academy on flickr]
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