Episode 60: Honoring Veterans Day – A Conversation with Ben Boulris
Ben Boulris is a Senior Manager in our Risk Advisory Services practice in New York City. Ben was active duty in the Navy from 1998 to 2004 and served in the Navy Reserves from 2004 to 2006. As an active member of the veteran community, he is a Board Member of the New York CFA Veterans Roundtable and is a member of DHG’s VETS Common Interest Group.
Episode 60 Transcript:
AH: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our DHG podcast series. I’m Alice Grey Harrison your host, and I love this venue because we get to hear the things that matter the most to us: flexibility, careers and of course, stories about our people.
On Sunday, November 11th, we will be observing Veteran’s Day – a day we honor any person who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Our veterans are truly heroes in our communities serving as role models and leaders for all. My father’s a veteran, my neighbor next door was active military my whole life and so I certainly have an appreciation for what veterans have given to our country.
I know that the same holds true for us here at DHG. To learn a little bit about what it means to be a veteran in the corporate world, Ben Boulris, a senior manager in our Risk Advisory Services practice out of the DHG New York City office is joining me. Welcome, Ben.
AH: Ben was active duty in the Navy from 1998 to 2004, and he served in the Navy Reserves from 2004 to 2006. As an active member of the veteran community, he is a board member of the New York CFA Veteran’s Round Table and is a member of our very own DHG’s VETS Common Interest Group which is a newly formed group, and we’re super excited to have you working on that Ben.
BB: Thank you.
AH: Okay, I’m going to move in to my questions here. At DHG, we are recognizing the importance of our veterans by observing Veteran’s Day. Can you tell me about your service in the Navy?
BB: Sure, I think that starts with how I got there and like most children from families where college wasn’t the typical trajectory, I struggled a little bit with direction and then wrestling with the cost of college and the surprise when you see the price tag. I had a few friends go off into the military; they graduated the year before I did, and they came back with some pretty great experiences that first year and money for college. While I wasn’t really sure about what I wanted to do, I knew that this would be a great place for me to maul that over, and I wouldn’t exactly be putting my life on hold by beginning some valuable experience. I signed up for the engineering program which is advanced electronics and computers related to fire control, kind of the Star Wars and ballistic mission defense.
BB: Exciting stuff, mostly Cold War era systems, but very quickly, things started to take a turn, and I think engagement in the modern day from a military perspective started to change. Very early on, the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen, and the Navy saw a need to take a different approach to self-defense, especially in the lot of the theaters that we operated so I actually did a lot of vessel boarding, search and seizure, anti-piracy, anti-terrorism and those sorts of activity and believe it or not, I was actually deployed already on 9/11, and we were the first response team in the theater, probably two days after September 11th.
BB: I did six years, believe it or not, most of it related to self-defense force, not anything that I really was ever schooled in but it taught me great leadership, lessons in leadership and management because I was managing a work center in the force protection teams. Although I started out at engineering, I turned my attention more towards a business oriented degree when I was ultimately discharged.
AH: Very cool. Once you transitioned, what were some of the challenges you faced or while you were transitioning to the corporate world?
BB: When we say corporate world, I think the first real transition a service member makes is to the civilian world. Each veteran, whether they’re a combat veteran, somebody who has been in a theater of combat or just somebody who has been used to the military structure in general; I think it’s a special identity – a sense of identity.
You spent so long being called a service member, you’ve spent so long wearing a uniform which identifies with a set of core values and then you’re coming into an environment when most people around you don’t even know somebody in the military or this was during the time when the war on terror was still fairly new. A lot of what you experienced was foreign to most people but important to work to find common ground with your peers in school. It’s really sort of identifying and finding a good core group to finish with and do life with – I think is the biggest challenge because for so many, when you leave the military, we leave a large extended family and I think that is probably one of the tougher things to do because those people you left are the people that had the experiences you did and knew how to deal with the struggles you faced.
AH: That makes sense. As you transitioned either to civilian life or the corporate world, is there anything that you would have done differently?
BB: I think I would have slowed down a bit; the military life you live instills in you that you can accomplish anything. When I went to college, I took on a lot, and I was in a hurry to start my job. I wanted to get my college degree in three years, not four. The military taught me I could do anything but sometimes, you do need to slow down. You can miss certain things, and I see this a lot because I went from being a fairly well compensated ranking in the military to just living on a GI bill; I was saying, I want to get paid.
In a lot of ways, I rushed through the thinking of what I wanted to do. I think that’s what’s different in the military – you start on a job, progress through various ranks and that’s it. When you’re an accountant in a civilian world, there’s so many jobs you can do.
There’s a fundamental difference between getting a job and starting a career. If I would have slowed down a little bit, I think I would have identified that much sooner. When you’re in the accounting track and somebody says, most people start with these particular employers in the accounting industry with two years there. For a while, I followed that track as well and found myself unhappy.
I put all of my interest in this single focused track and then, the last semester of my time in college, I was left scrambling to say, what’s plan B? I wanted to hurry up and get a job and what I didn’t really think through was what career did I want and where did I see myself in 10 years.
AH: That’s really good advice. You know what – that this is true for assimilating back into the civilian world but honestly, for anyone out there who is trying to figure out, as they’re going through college, what career path to pursue. Like you said, for an accountant, there are lots of different choices, but I think that we all rush things a bit and having that advice of slowing down is really great advice for anyone listening.
Okay, how have you used your experiences in the military to help others and what other organizations are you working with to help others?
BB: There’s a couple of organizations that I work with – the first is the New York CFA Society Veterans Roundtable is a nonprofit organization, which means the events we hold – there’s no competition amongst my peers coming from different financial institutions; we all have the best interest of transitioning vets in mind. One of the things I enjoy the most and where I enjoy helping others is often not a formal meeting at a formal place.
I may have a transitioning candidate who is a newly minted accountant or finance major going to different websites for different institutions. They’re bringing me job descriptions and oftentimes, those could be somewhat vague and in reality have very little to do with the actual job. My colleague and I who have experience in certain areas will point out and ask questions such as what do you want to do. We’ll help these candidates sort through that stack and decipher which job descriptions we feel are the substance of what you’re working toward.
It’s helping them start their career – sorting through the things that they don’t want to do or asking is it aligned to what they want to do. When you’re new to the business world, you haven’t had that experience, and it’s very tough to find exactly what you’re looking for.
We have representations from many of the institutions here in New York with contacts, and it’s very non-competitive so if an individual wants to go into consulting, we have many of us in consulting and for those who want to go to banks in certain areas, we have representation from them as well. It’s really allowing them to network on a more personal level with somebody who has been through the transition and knows or can address at least some of the needs of those transitions.
AH: That’s really remarkable; that’s great. Thinking in terms of Dixon Hughes Goodman and what we can do, how can we best support our veterans who are entering the workforce?
BB: I think for veterans in general and again whether you’re a combat veteran or just somebody who’s more in the uniform, we’re used to being told to do a job a certain way and praised for doing a job a certain way. Oftentimes, I think in the civilian sector when we think about hiring vets, we think about the leadership qualities and the responsibility, but I don’t think enough attention is necessarily paid to how we went about that in that previous role.
I think support for transitioning vets – it really comes down to training programs and tailoring those specifically for vets because when we come out of the military, we’re a little older than the average college graduate; we’ve had more responsibility than the average college graduate but our soft skills are really what need to be honed for transitioning veterans. The civilian sector tends to train the analyst first and the leader second, but the military has already trained a leader. We’re doing that role in reverse, right, because we’re coming out trying to be analyst.
Everybody has to start somewhere so I think looking at the program of how we develop recent college graduates and turning it on its head would be a good place to start.
AH: That’s great advice. Well, Ben, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us and most importantly, thank you for your service.
BB: Thank you.