Our “Bratland” feature here at Hope Matters serves to make a difference in the lives of military families, one story at a time. Today, I have the privilege of introducing our readers to the story behind JP’s mission (more formally known as John W. Phillips). His work beyond the uniform is admirable, innovative, and life-changing. It’s capturing the attention of Fortune Magazine, Examiner.com, radio programs, academia, corporations, military family-focused groups like Blue Star Families, Got Your 6, and more. Outside of his duties as Finance Director of Coca Cola Refreshments, JP spends countless hours guiding veterans on how to translate the value of their military training, experience and skills into civilian terms. His newly released book, Boots to Loafers, Finding Your New True North, and the following Q&A sharply articulate JP’s vision for helping others. Read on ….
BOOTS TO LOAFERS, FINDING YOUR NEW TRUE NORTH
By Melissa K. Phillips
The nation has been at war for more than a decade. The ranks of our military are filled with combat tested veterans who will soon be shown the door with: “Thank you for your service, you now have to go!” It is anticipated that the population of those now serving in uniform will decline by the thousands over the course of the next few years. This is a result of the greatly anticipated sequestration as well as bringing the war in Afghanistan to a close. What does this means for those still in boots? It undoubtedly means they will be exiting and need to know that life outside the gate is very different. For the past three years, John W. Phillips, a US Army retired Lieutenant Colonel, has worked on a book that addresses what a military member must do in order to effectively move from the military to the private sector … from Boots to Loafers®. John has successfully made the transition out of the military and into one of the largest non-alcoholic beverage corporate icons in America. Let’s delve into JP’s newly released book, Boots to Loafers — Finding Your New True North, to experience the difference it’s destined to make in veterans’ lives.
JP1 Boots to Loafers – Finding your New True North is about the changes that occur in a service member’s life in leaving the military. The book has a straight forward approach for planning an exit strategy; it’s also helpful to those who have recently exited. Look at it is as a bit of a road-map — if you will — on transitioning into the private sector given a tool kit for finding a job and along the way, finding the new “north” in one’s life. Simply put, it is a great tool for any soldier transitioning from a role in the military to one in the private sector.
Q2 What motivated you to write this book?
JP2 I have had Boots to Loafers, Finding your New True North in my heart and mind for over a decade. Honestly, I was not completely prepared for life after the boots. Through personal observations and experiences both in the military and in the business world, I have a great sense of duty to pay it forward, so to speak. Boots to Loafers can help this generation of veterans, and those to come, as they transition back into the civilian world and into a career. I wish I’d had an easy guide-book 14 years ago for the many challenges I faced in transitioning from the military. There were a great deal of hurdles for me, and over the last few years I’ve realized that I’m quite fortunate to have found my way – despite the challenges. I can honestly say that I landed very well, on many fronts. Yet, finding my “true north” took a longer than what I would hope for others leaving the military.
Q3 What are the key components of the book?
JP3 Three easy road signs; Transition, Transformation, and Integration. In the Transition section, I try to level expectations for those who have made the decision to leave the military or retire after a long career. Military service during war-time is not a free pass to a job. In fact, there’s actually another battle brewing for many in just getting ready to find a new role in the work force. So, I enlisted the help of a good friend, Paul Falcone, who is a Human Resources (HR) executive and acclaimed author on many subjects related to HR. He helped to outline some of the more detailed aspects of the Transition section. One of the key points of this section is the preparation work that must be done in order to make a successful Transition: Building a resume, job hunting, interviewing … all are a big deal considering no one really “interviews” for a job in the military. The Transformation section addresses what one needs to do to effectively “re-brand.” There are a number of aspects that each individual making the transition will have to consider changing; communications style (tone and delivery), status and position, home life, stereotyping and diversity, to name a few.
Lastly, in the Integration section, it’s all about life outside the gate. The interview is completed and now the real fun begins; you will eventually have to know about negotiating the offer and compensation considerations, and sign up for personal benefits. Boots to Loafers addresses some of the more “legal” aspects of working the private sector with a basic review of employment law. For example, it is very different outside the gate when it comes to people working for you and how to mange them. I offer a few high level tips and some history to help set the course on what’s acceptable in the “new world.” The three stages of transition, transformation, and integration will vary from individual to individual and they will be shaped by his or her attitude and inner strength, as well as their ability to mange life’s hurdles.
Q4 What did you find difficult during your Transition in the private sector?
JP4 Honestly, knowing exactly what I wanted to do and where I was best suited given my education and military experience. I had taken advantage of an MBA program in Finance and considered it a great asset after military service. So, that helped shape my decision on what area of the business world to seek opportunities. The next challenge came when I sat down to develop a resume. In 1999, as I prepared to shed the boots, the Internet was not yet the place to do all your job research. I literally kept a book with all of my Officer Efficiency Reports (OERs) and began listing all the roles and functions for each job over the years. As I began my research, I learned new terms and phrases that were part of the resume and job hiring process; core competencies, STAR interview processes, and much more.
It took me a year to pull all of the information together, just to build a resume that would be accepted by a company. Needless to say, I needed a lot of help. Turning a resume into a reasonable document that could sell ME was a bit of a challenge. I’d spoken “military language” for the better part of 20 years. Decoding or de-militarizing the information for a formal resume was tough.
Q5 What do you see as the biggest challenge for those leaving the military and moving into the private sector?
JP5 A couple of things come to mind immediately; learning to communicate with those outside the gate and finding a close network of people who will have your back, no matter what! Finding a job can be a huge challenge for many, but if they can tackle these first two hurdles – it will get easier from there.
Many of the military members transitioning have been involved in war for more than a decade. Their skills and talent are undeniable. Yet, they are leaving a world they know well and returning to one with many changes; possibly with injuries – some visible, some not so visible. It will become extremely important for the returning service member to have adequate tools to make the transition easier. That’s the true essence of Boots to Loafers; their True North will be much easier to find with a little help from someone who’s been there and has a few extra scars to show for it.
Q6 How important is networking?
JP6. Very important! A professional network is key from the moment one leaves the military well into his/her tenure as an employee. My wife calls a professional network “raindrops” … you need lots of them to soak through a dry, tough ground.
Q7 Can Social Media help or hurt someone leaving the military and seeking a job?
JP7 When I first started my transition back in the late 1990’s, social media was a lot of phone calls, word-of-mouth at church and from one friend to the next. Today, the list is endless on ways to communicate, network, spread the news! Today, it is challenging to keep up with the evolution of social media — from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and so many more. Yet, as I encourage social media for purposes of networking and finding opportunities for work, a new home, etc., I give a fair warning in the Transition phase of this book. Employers and financial institutions (to name a few) also use social media to investigate a potential employee or home buyer. So, as helpful as social media can be, at times it can also be the demise of many career opportunities. There are several former school teachers who can vouch for what I’m saying!
I have a very active LinkedIn profile, as well as a LinkedIn Boots to Loafers Group. I’d ask your readers to feel free to go to LinkedIn and join my network and my Group. Get involved in the discussions and start expanding their network.
JP8 The way I’d answer this question is first with a quote:
“When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take that step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one or two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on, or we will be taught to fly.”
— Patrick Overton
I am a proud member of a church in Marietta, Georgia. My strong desire to extend my hand to those in uniform and my faith in the outcome of Boots to Loafers, Finding your New True North is “something solid to stand on.” The project of writing this book defines faith because its success is not in my hands, but within each service member or veteran who reads it. I proceed at this point on faith alone – faith that has eluded me for more than three decades but is now a daily work-in-progress in my life. As I rebuild the foundation of my faith to weather the storms of life, it is my hope that the book might accomplish the same for the reader. The lessons learned of my mistakes and successes, along with my faith that has sheltered me, can certainly “teach you to fly.”
In retrospect, God’s plan for me was to be a soldier. I had that ambition at a very young age (at just 7 years-old), so when the opportunity came for me to become a soldier, I took it. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a soldier to the bone … it is who I am. Although my journey through life has had its ups and downs, I have had a great ride so far. The key aspect missing from my life, though, was dedication to my beliefs, my faith in God. My purpose now is to seek understanding and to continue to serve God as He sees fit. My vision includes trying to help other veterans through the lessons I’ve learned with observations presented in this book. When situations are difficult and you encounter rejection, I encourage veterans and others to take time to reflect and pray. When a veteran tries to land that one perfect job, this passage in his hip pocket will lift him:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:4-7
Q9 Finally, what is your vision for the future of Boots to Loafers?
JP9 My vision for the brand, Boots to Loafers® (BTL), is in three phases.
First: Boots to Loafers – Finding Your New True North is available in Kindle and in paperback. My intent is for “Boots” to be readily available to all members leaving the military, and to those who’ve already separated or retired. Additionally, I’d like to get the book in the hands of all 50 State Veterans Affairs Commissioners as well as the (Federal) Veterans Administration, so they can provide a copy to veterans residing in their state who are looking for a job.
Second: Begin offering in person seminars at various “Crown Jewel” military locations. Locations such as Fort Bragg, NC, San Diego, CA, Norfolk, VA, Wright-Patterson, OH, Fort Hood, TX … where large military populations can benefit from what BTL has to offer. It can also serve to supplement transition assistance programs offered by the military. In my opinion, it offers real world experience from someone who has been there, done that and now ready to mentor others.
Third: Start offering residential training in the form of in-house seminars. Face-to-face talks through the finer points of all three phases plus development of de-militarized resumes, interviewing preparation and conducting mock interviews. Training and preparation then leads to real interviews with companies geared to hire former military. I also envision partnerships with major corporations in which BTL serves as a liaison to interview prospective candidates.
It is important to note that as soon as you have narrowed down a date to leave the military, it is then time to start pulling together your plan to begin the Transition for personal Transformation, and eventually move back into civilian society … with successful Integration. As I have said, it is a long journey and there will be times where you become frustrated with the process. Seek out those who are going through the same and support each other, just as you did when you were still in boots.
You know more than you think you do … never forget that. Boots to Loafers is here to help you along the way. Do not hesitate to reach out and I will do what I can to coach, teach or mentor you towards a successful transition of your “second life.”
I leave you for now with the same words I started with. When situations are difficult and you encounter rejection, you should take time, reflect and pray. When a veteran tries to land that one perfect job, this passage in his hip pocket will lift him:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 4:4-7
Keep the faith brothers and sisters … it will not fail you.
Click HERE to view the book, Boots to Loafers, Finding Your True North.
JOHN W. PHILLIPS has had a distinguished career in both military and civilian service. John is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the US Army where he was a Field Artillery Officer and Comptroller, with over 20-years of service in Corps Artillery, Division Artillery, Army Headquarters and Forces Command — the largest command and the generating force provider for combatant commanders, at home and abroad. He has served in Europe, throughout the Middle East and the United States. He has been awarded the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, and the Air Assault Badge among other awards and decorations.
John has worked in corporate finance, program and project management, military sales and product supply roles for The Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola Refreshments located in Atlanta, Georgia. In his spare time, John spends his time in the mountains of North Georgia fly fishing, in the British Virgin Islands sailing with his wife, out west camping, rafting or expedition canoeing. John is also a contributing author to Paddling Guide to the Sunshine State and An American Crisis, Veteran Unemployment, Stand by Them/How You can Help/Solution.
John holds a BS in Finance from University of Central Florida and an MBA from Syracuse University. John lives at the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains with his wife.