Navy veteran Thomas H. Douglas transitioned from military service to civilian employment with JMARK Business Solutions. He started out as an entry-level engineer, but didn’t follow the traditional job path.
Instead, he bought the business.
Last week, we asked Douglas about his first business playbook “Adapt or Die: How to Create Innovation, Solve People Puzzles, and Win in Business.” This week, we dig a little deeper to learn more about his transition from military service to civilian employee to CEO.
Q: What is your military background?
A: I served in the navy from 1993 to 1997 and was deployed on the USS Arthur W. Radford DD-968. During my time in the Navy, I was responsible for inventory management and financial reporting and built a min/max database for consumables. I received two Navy Achievement Medals for my achievements while enlisted.
Q: What can you tell us about your transition from military to civilian life? What challenges did you face?
A: I think I had two big challenges during my transition. Focus on family and people rather than mission or job. I had been so focused on working in the Navy and getting things done or getting to the next outcome that it was hard for me to do anything else. I still struggle with it today. My goals or missions in life can be so important that I don’t take enough time to stop and enjoy the ones that matter so much.
The second big challenge was the lack of a good intentional daily routine. My days were chaotic. I got up and ran hard every day, but I didn’t have a routine to plan for the day or a wrap-up plan at the end of the day to plan for the next. It was just get up, go, work hard. As a result, I didn’t always end each day having accomplished the most important tasks. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the value of the most important tasks of the day.
Q: Did you feel well prepared for your career after serving?
A: My time in the Navy greatly prepared me for my career. Specifically, my time in the military taught me the value of teamwork, which I carry as a core value in my life and in my business. I also learned the impact a leader has on his followers and the importance of good leadership, which I continue to develop during my tenure as CEO.
Q: What challenges did you face as you transitioned from employee to business owner?
A: I became part of JMARK, designing, building and maintaining its functional aspects as an entry-level engineer before buying the company in 2001. I had to make some tough decisions and downsize the company to just six people. Today, with over 110 employees, JMARK is a leader in its field. As CEO of JMARK, I formulated processes that delivered repeatable results and a predictable revenue stream that set JMARK on a growth trajectory that to this day is revolutionizing the region’s engagement with technology. .
Q: What advice can you offer someone who wants to follow your path, working as an employee after military service with a view to becoming a business owner later?
A: Build relationships that will support you and believe in you and your goals. The team I mentioned in the last question is the key to success. None of us do it alone.
Remember that short-term sacrifices are necessary. I often had to pay talented people more than myself to make sure we had the right people around us. If you invest and trust people, it will pay off. Some will burn you, but don’t let that tarnish your trust in people.
Forgive yourself and others for mistakes. Grace is key to learning as a team and ensuring you ultimately win.
Build money. Winter always comes. I raced for years without a lot of money and I was lucky that we didn’t have a really bad time. It would have destroyed us. Understand business cash flow needs and what it means to weather the storms. When working on plans, learn to love the truth and don’t just focus on the optimism of success.
One of my mentors taught me to build 3 plans:
- Best case scenario
- Most Likely Scenario
- worst case scenario
This has been invaluable in helping us thrive.
Ask for money before you need it. When you are in trouble, things become difficult, even desperate. Have a line of credit, a borrowing base, a family or friend you can turn to, etc. before having to use it. Knowing the money is there gives extra confidence so you can stay focused on not needing it. Use it only if you have to, but make arrangements to know what you’re going to do if needed.
ABL (Always Learning). You must be a student now and forever. Build time into your routines to learn about the craft, business, leadership, tax management, etc.
Automate as much as possible. Accounting, processes, communications, etc. There are more tools available than ever before. Do research to determine how to minimize the human resources you need to achieve cost and volatility control goals. Of course, people will be at the heart of the business, but make it as easy as possible for them to succeed.
As soon as you can, surround yourself with a board of directors or advisors. People who work in the industry are more knowledgeable about finance, understand scale, governance, compensation strategies, products and customers. We compensate our board of directors, but you can start with an advisory board that is unpaid and doesn’t meet as often, but will help you navigate the process.