Budget cuts forced the layoffs of more than 1,100 Army captains last month. Further cutbacks are expected to shrink the Army from its current 520,000 troops to 440,000 by 2017, the smallest size since before World War II.
The departure of these officers, and the intellectual capital they have accrued, is a tremendous loss to the nation's defense. But the Army's loss can be corporate employers' gain as long as firms, especially those in the financial sector, understand and appreciate the skill sets that young officers bring with them.
With multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, the junior officer corps has made tremendous contributions to the war effort because of their ability to respond quickly to constantly changing battle conditions. Given great autonomy for decision-making and follow-through, these soldiers' experiences have enabled them to help create and deploy ever-evolving doctrine on counter-insurgency operations demonstrating their ability to solve complex problems both on and off the battlefield.
The skill set that successful military commanders have acquired is exactly what is demanded of compliance officers in today's strict regulatory environment. The 2010 Dodd-Frank law, coupled with the continuation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, have made accurate risk assessment a top priority. These stressful jobs in corporate compliance review are not for the timid. U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole recently warned corporate compliance officers that "if they fail to cooperate with the government in any investigations there will be real consequences," according to the Wall Street Journal.
Today's battle-hardened military officers understand these kinds of consequences, having spent years helping to strategize solutions to ever-present problems in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not only are the current cohort of captains responsible for the lives of the men and women under their command, a large number of them are also personally responsible for overseeing complex weaponry systems, elaborate missile defense systems, logistics, transportation, and taking ownership of several million dollars' worth of Army property.
Attention to detail, risk management, and an uncompromising adherence to making informed, data-driven decisions have characterized the careers of successful commanders for more than a decade. These qualities will help them head off weighty compliance issues such as data reporting errors, which can result in severe restrictions on these institutions' activities and diminish their ability to survive.
These young veterans deserve a competitive advantage in the current corporate compliance hiring spree. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, financial institutions, "which are under heightened scrutiny, have been hiring thousands of people in their compliance departments. HSBC Holdings said it added 1,600 compliance employees last year, and JPMorgan Chase is bringing in what it calls a 'SWAT Team' after agreeing to make billions of dollars in settlement payments." Paul McDonald, a senior executive director at human-resources consulting firm Robert Half International told the Journal that "the regulatory environment in the United States is driving the hiring."
While the compliance field is heating up, Wall Street banks and other companies face a talent shortage. This is partly because the field is notoriously difficult and demanding. Hector Sants, the former compliance chief for Barclays, quit his job in November after only 10 months because of "stress and exhaustion," according to the Journal. But today's veteran officers understand stress and exhaustion better than anyone. And although these soldiers may not have the background expertise in compliance review or the legal training that some might see as necessary, the current cohort of captains and majors often bring a decade of project management, operations, and technology expertise. Most importantly, these new captains of industry have developed communication skills that have minimized the risk to the soldiers under their command.
The real challenge may lie in convincing this talent pool that they will find a challenging and rewarding position in compliance review. One of the advantages of such work is that in today's aggressive government enforcement, the compliance officer plays a vital role in the leadership team within an organization. In many companies, compliance officers are given a direct line to their company's chief executive. This would certainly appeal to the junior officers who became accustomed to the autonomy of serving as a leader in villages or neighborhoods in Iraq and Afghanistan and frequently briefed their progress to superiors at the colonel and general officer level.
The compliance field will continue to experience a demand for talent as federal regulators introduce further reporting requirements for financial institutions. Veterans have the leadership skills and experience to grasp doctrine and deploy both strategic and tactical solutions. Financial firms should be tapping these officers to provide the transformational leadership necessary to achieve best-in-class benchmarks for the industry.
Former U.S. Army Capt. Jonathan Hendershott (West Point, 2007) served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division and as a company commander in Ft. Hood, Texas. He currently works as a business management consultant in New York City.