In praise of IBM’s efforts to support its military veteran employees

Disclosure: IBM is a client of the author.

This week in the U.S., we recognize military veterans, people who risk their lives for us but are often forgotten once they leave the service. Veterans are a unique resource that often represent deeper loyalty, greater goal orientation, stronger teams, and fewer political problems than other groups of workers.

IBM generally sets the bar when it comes to advancing the careers of women, minorities, and veterans, so I’d like to focus this week on it as an example of best practices other companies could adopt.

IBM’s focus on veterans

IBM’s efforts to care of veterans goes back decades, to Thomas Watson Jr. (who is like Bill Gates at Microsoft in terms of his impact on the company). Watson, prior to becoming CEO, was an Army pilot in World War II and recognized the value of veterans at IBM. He also showcased an early understanding that military officers can make great executives and proved the point with his own storied tenure. With that background, I talked with Jason Kelley, the general manager of IBM’s strategic blockchain effort who is ex-Army and co-chair of the Veteran Executive Council.  

Veterans in IBM have their own unique rank in the company and are surrounded by a process I wish I’d had access to when I joined IBM. It was the first large company I’d worked for and for the first month I was there I had no idea what my job was and was convinced I was going to get fired as a result.  (I joined the company’s finance group during year-end close, when no one had time to train me on my job responsibilities. In contrast, veterans are given a dedicated support structure of other veterans who help them navigate the company and make sure they acclimate to IBM corporate culture.

You quickly get the sense that at IBM it’s important to make sure that no veteran is left behind. 

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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