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Why the logistics industry should look to the military for management talent

Nick Everard of J1 Consulting explains why ex military personnel are particularly well suited to a career in the logistics industry.

Irrespective of personal opinions about the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, regular media coverage and stories of courage, loss and tragedy have created a strong groundswell of goodwill towards the armed forces in recent years. We see on our screens how members of the military are challenged on a daily basis, dealing with situations which require leadership, quick thinking and initiative. But what happens to such individuals once they leave the forces – and how can these years of training and experience best be utilised by British industry?
With over 18000 service leavers annually, 2000 of whom are officers, this is potentially a great source of under-utilised talent for the logistics industry. As a recruiter specialising in sourcing young officers who have completed a short service commission and are looking to move into junior / middle management, plus highly experienced warrant officers who have completed their 24 year engagement and come onto the job market at around age 40, I can personally testify that these candidates make excellent senior managers.

Transferability of military logisticians
As the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz noted, ‘everything is simple in war, but the simplest thing is very difficult’. Tactics are not difficult in theory; the complexity comes in having all the elements to put them into practice together at the right time, in the right place. Put simply, it’s a matter of logistics.
At 16000 strong, the Royal Logistics Corps (RLC) comprises 16% of the British Army, and exists to keep this huge organisation working, moving, fed, supplied and maintained, in all conditions, 24 hours a day. The Royal Navy and the RAF also have specialist logisticians.
There are 14 specialist RLC trades embracing chefs, communications experts, railway operators, drivers, supply chain specialists, movement controllers, petroleum operators, port operators and postal experts. All these highly trained staff have skills and experience which make them directly suited to employment in the civilian logistics sector.

A common challenge
The logistics industry offers many day to day challenges, demanding the ability to assess and respond to changing situations quickly, which is one of the reasons why it is such an interesting industry to work in. Working in the military requires similar levels of drive, flexibility and vision, plus a marked ability to plan. For example, consider the wealth of project and people management skills demanded of the RLC when setting up Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. Built from scratch in 2006, it can accommodate over 21000 people and has all the facilities of a medium sized town, whilst handling over 600 aircraft movements each day.
Beyond the possession of relevant practical experience, there are seven key qualities which make ex military personnel particularly suited to working in the logistics industry.
1. Accountability. Military personnel have extensive practical experience of leadership, often in the most testing of circumstances. They appreciate the importance of having clear procedures in place which enable organisations to function effectively, and will readily shoulder accountability to their superiors in ensuring these are adhered to.

2. Adaptability. The norm in the armed forces is to take on a new role every two years. This means that an RLC officer in his late 20s might find himself preparing briefs for ministers in the MOD a month after supervising 60 soldiers in Afghanistan. The unwritten rule is ‘effectiveness in six weeks’.

3. Teamwork. Officers and warrant officers know both how to run teams effectively and how to contribute as team members. In many cases, lives have depended upon their ability to do so.

4. Task focus. Being told ‘what to do, not how to do it’, as the military are, confers a valuable commercial mindset. Things go wrong, the unexpected happens – in business as well as in war. The military are trained to anticipate this and to achieve their task regardless.

5. Relationship building. People management and the ability to manage professional relationships effectively are invaluable skills in pretty much any industry. The ability to persuade and influence ‘tricky customers’ effectively is a key transferrable trait, honed regularly by military tours in areas of conflict.

6. Integrity. High standards of personal behaviour, appearance, timekeeping, integrity and moral courage are expected of those who achieve significant rank in the armed services, and are ‘bred into’ them throughout their career.

7. Cost effectiveness. As they start a second career, those leaving the military want opportunity above all else. They make excellent ‘investment hires’, particularly in providing the leadership potential which businesses often struggle to find.

The logistics industry, like many other sectors, has felt the adverse effects of the economic downturn as well as the challenges of rising transport and material costs. However, the industry is making a steady recovery and has much to offer its staff in terms of challenges, incentives and rewards. But if it is to continue to grow, the industry needs to attract and encourage the very best people. Active members of the armed forces play an important role in protecting British interests. Once they leave, at whatever stage of their careers, these well developed skills can be employed to great effect in the equivalent sector of British industry – if we recognise what they have to offer.

About the author
Nick Everard is Managing Director of recruitment company J1 Consulting (www.j1consulting.co.uk) which specialises in placement of ex military personnel. Commissioned into the 9th/12th Royal Lancers, Nick left the army after commanding the regiment from 1996 – 98. He served operationally in Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Bosnia. A graduate of and a former member of the directing staff at the Army Staff College, since his military service Nick has held senior commercial roles as a managing director within the Financial Services Division of the FTSE 100 Capita Group, and as Group Operations Director of World Challenge, the market leading provider of school adventure expeditions overseas.

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