From Front Line to Bottom Line

Leveraging Leadership Skills Learned on the Battlefield

written by Paul Feinberg
photography by Jeremy Samuelson


When Daniel Moynihan ('14) graduated from the United States Naval Academy, his first assignment was as a communications officer on a destroyer, thrown into a leadership assignment he wasn't sure he had the skills to execute. It's not an uncommon challenge for a young officer: The military assigns its personnel where they are needed, not necessarily where a newly minted lieutenant feels he fits best. So, Moynihan deployed to the Middle East as Communications Divisions Officer, supervising as many as 20 personnel on a ship protecting a pair of Iraqi oil platforms.

Today, Moynihan–who would go on to serve as an officer on a nuclear, Nimitz-class aircraft carrier–faces a different set of challenges as a first-year UCLA Anderson student: He must translate the skills he developed and used during his military career to potential civilian employers.

Moynihan is not alone. While a typical MBA class at UCLA Anderson might have half a dozen vets, the Class of 2014 triples that amount. According to Rob Weiler ('91) , UCLA Anderson's associate dean of the Full Time MBA program, the increase in military personnel is, in part, the result of a shift in focus in the school's approach to admissions.

"When I was at Parker CMC, I saw that students with a military background brought with them a unique set of skills, including leadership, focus and attention to detail," says Weiler, who headed the Parker CMC before adding admissions to his duties. "When I came to admissions, I viewed them through a different prism, (as) they combined intellectual firepower with a desire to get involved and get the most out of the program, and do well in the job market." It's a good time for veterans earning an MBA, as well. Weiler points out that many major companies–including Amazon, Microsoft and PepsiCo–now have specific recruiters focused solely on veterans. 

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Without lowering standards in regards to GPAs and GMAT scores, admissions officers now are considering such qualities as leadership and attention to detail. The changes resulted in a spike in veterans in the most recently admitted class.

David Cooley, Associate Director, Corporate Relations and Career Advisor Parker CMC, took note of the increased numbers of vets in the incoming class and organized a special meeting for incoming students. To date, Cooley's work with the group has included three meetings, including time spent "demilitarizing resumes" and a trip to Chicago for the 2013 MBA Veterans Career Conference, where some of the nation's top companies gathered to interview veterans that have or are working toward their MBA.

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The efforts are paying off. Megan Groh ('14), a Marine Corps officer, whose main job while on Active Duty was as an F/A-18 Weapons and Sensors Officer (WSO), has attended all of the meetings, worked with Cooley on her resume, and traveled to Chicago to interview for potential internships. The result: an offer of a summer internship with Johnson & Johnson Ortho Clinical Diagnostics. She credits the efforts made by the UCLA Anderson staff with helping her land the offer.

After Groh left the Corps, she served as a civilian Family Readiness Officer for the Marines, where she designed a website that enabled military families to become aware of the services offered by the Department of Defense. Cooley helped her couch the work in civilian terms. "I designed a website and recruited volunteers to support our activities. But on my resume, I had not translated my skills in a way that they would appeal to civilian corporations. David worked with me to realize that in designing that website and pushing it out to people, I was building "brand awareness," which is a term you would never use in the military. I was also using Google Analytics to see which aspects were most effective, so I added "leveraging analytics" which, again, is phrasing you would never think to use in a military resume, but is something that stands out for a civilian company," Groh says.

Students with a military background brought with them a unique set of skills, including leadership, focus and attention to detail."

Groh believes that an MBA is the best degree for military persons seeking to enhance their skill set, with disciplines like marketing and finance filling in the gaps of a military career. She says she felt that some of UCLA Anderson's subtler strengths–teamwork, a lack of pretension and a spirit of cooperation–provide the ideal atmosphere for veterans. Her classmate, friend and fellow Navy veteran Joie Bernabe ('14) concurs. "Schools always say they're collaborative, but here, it's really true. My tech group has been meeting on its own and we help each other out. The genuine sincerity of sharing successes with each other is coming from a good place. I think at other schools there is a lot of competition, but I've had the opposite experience here," Bernabe says.

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As for Moynihan, he plans to use his MBA to pursue a career that marries his joint interest in finance and energy–a passion informed by his time on a nuclear aircraft carrier.

"The military provides amazing opportunities. [One reason] we join is for a chance to be leaders, to take charge and effect change. For a lot of employers, if they're not familiar with a military background they might not understand the whole generalized skill set, but if you can tell the [right] story, I think it helps in explaining to a future employer what you want to do. What David [Cooley] has done is provide the avenue. He's done a lot of work to get veterans out in front of employers, translating one's experiences so that veterans are not talking about a five-letter acronym that a lot of people aren't going to understand."

UCLA Anderson's Military Reach Also Includes these programs: Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) and the Anderson Military Association (AMA)