Three years ago, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Andrews retired from the Army after serving his country for 26 years. Although he has retired from the military, Andrews has hardly "retired from life," as he puts it. He's now pursuing a second career serving as distribution and logistics manager at the Mesquite, Texas, distribution center run by Benjamin Moore Paints.
Andrews, who spent much of his time in the Army working in military logistics, says the Army prepared him well for his current situation. Among other skills, it taught him leadership, dedication, teamwork, and the nuts and bolts of getting materials from one place to another on time and in good condition.
Now, Andrews is working to help other veterans make a similar leap. At the Warehousing Education and Research Council's annual conference earlier this year, he participated in panel on the "Vets To WERC" program, an initiative aimed at connecting military veterans with employers needing their skills (and of which DC Velocity is a founding partner). As we celebrate Veterans Day in November, DC Velocity Chief Editor David Maloney talked with Andrews about his transition to the civilian work force, the differences between military and private-sector logistics, and his advice for other veterans seeking careers in private industry.
Q: First, can you briefly describe what you did in the military and how that led to your involvement in the supply chain?
A: I first enlisted in the military what seems like eons ago. After three years, I went to college and got my commission as a second lieutenant in the Army cavalry, which was combat arms [troops that participate in direct tactical ground combat]. That was very fulfilling because I was on the best team in the world, and it was something that I could really relate to. At that time, the Army was taking combat arms officers and moving them over into logistics because it was looking for people who understood what the combat arms units needed to fulfill their missions. So I decided to put in for a branch transfer to the Transportation Corps. The transfer was approved, and I went to Fort Eustis, Va., to go through the Transportation Officers Advanced Course.
Q: What did that teach you?
A: I learned a lot about the intricacies of managing transportation and supply chain distribution from a tactical kind of frontline level. You learn how to take assets and work out a plan to be able to support any mission, any disaster, anything that the Army or the military in general does in support of the nation. You could not fail because there were too many lives on the line.
Q: Where else have you been deployed?
A: After I graduated from the officers advanced course, I went to Fort Carson, Colo., to serve as the commander of the 4th Infantry Division's Transportation Company, which was responsible for supporting over 18,000 soldiers in all types of missions. That is really where I cut my teeth—that's where I learned how things worked and that teamwork is absolutely essential to mission success. During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I was called upon to get all of the assets together to be shipped from Fort Carson to Saudi Arabia. Over 5,000 vehicles had to get moved out in a very short period. That was definitely a standout event in my life because we really accomplished something special. I was so proud of the team that I had.
Q: You also worked with civilians later in your military career. Can you tell us about that?
A: Yes, I had a chance to participate in the Army's "Training With Industry" program back in the '90s, in which selected officers were given a chance to go work with a civilian company for a period of time. In my case, I went to Sea-Land Corp., which was at the time an innovator and a world leader in container shipping. I moved to Long Beach, Calif., to work in the terminals there and learn how you load a ship and how you deal with unions. Then, in December 1994, I went to Dallas to work in the company's administrative offices.
Q: You also have experience with combat deployments.
A: Yes, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I served with the security assistant teams that were supporting units in the Middle East. We handled the whole supply chain—I mean, everything from maintenance to transportation, ordnance, and contract management. I learned a lot. We then deployed to Iraq, which was another of those combat zones where you are in a very difficult situation. Combat is one of those things that really test your mettle as a military person. That was a time of great learning, of great satisfaction, and I am very proud of what we were able to accomplish in Iraq. That experience was a kind of validation that everything I had learned up to that point was correct, and it cemented the foundation for everything I did afterward, including here at Benjamin Moore.
Q: What led to your transition out of the military and into the private sector?
A: After my deployment to Afghanistan in 2013, I realized that my time in the military was coming to an end. I think I had done just about everything I wanted to as an officer, and I wanted to retire—but retire from the military, not retire from life. So I submitted my paperwork, retired in July 2014, and moved to Plano, Texas.
Q: How did the opportunity with Benjamin Moore come up?
A: I had been in Plano about two weeks when I got a phone call from a headhunter at Everest Group who had seen my résumé online. He was calling to see if I might be interested in talking with Benjamin Moore about a distribution logistics manager position in Mesquite, Texas.
My interview with Benjamin Moore turned out to be one of those interviews that were absolutely perfect. I had been on the best team in the world—a dynamic team, one that absolutely hit on all cylinders and where everyone just worked so well together. After being on one great team, I wanted to be part of another, and when I interviewed, it became clear that this was another dynamic team. It was evolving. It was pushing the outer limits of doing things logistically that the company had not done before.
Q: Can you give me some examples?
A: Well, the plan was to expand our network—our retailers—and invest in better equipment and technology. There was a clear vision of where we wanted to go, and that was to be the premium paint company in the U.S. To do that, you had to have the best logistics processes in place or be working toward that.
Q: What skills and experiences helped you make the transition from the military to the business world?
A: I think dealing with both military and civilians throughout my time was instrumental. It really allowed me to understand that while the two groups are working toward the same goal, they tend to go about it a little differently. So, you have to allow people to take those gifts that they have and let them flourish. I was able to hone my skills with respect to providing guidance and providing oversight without impeding their progress or hurting their morale.
Q: What differences have you found between military logistics and logistics in the private sector?
A: When you look at it from a logistical standpoint, there is not much difference. I almost look at the retailers that we support as the frontline. They are dealing with the public and selling paint and paint products, so we have to do everything in our power to ensure that they have all those assets, all those products, so that they can pay their bills and pay their employees and support the public.
Q: How did you find the overall transition to civilian life? Was it a difficult adjustment?
A: When I submitted my paperwork to retire in 2013, I had roughly eight months in which to go through the transition that the Army offers. I was mentally prepared for it. Now, having said that, I will tell you that there are certain aspects of the transition that are tough to get used to. One is staying in place when you've been used to moving about every three years. You've got to establish some roots. I am fortunate that I have a job that I am very happy with, but that is not the case with some people who are transitioning from the military.
Q: Can you elaborate on that?
A: There are a lot of vets out there who are still unemployed. So, that transition is ongoing with them in a very personal way. This is where we've got to get employers matched up with vets who want jobs. The thing is, you're not going to find a work force out there that is more committed, more loyal, and that has this same level of real-world expertise. It is ready. They just need a chance to be able to go out and become part of another dynamic team.
Q: You spoke at a panel on the Vets To WERC program (an initiative that seeks to match veterans with supply chain job opportunities) at this year's WERC conference. How did you become a part of that?
A: My name came up in conversations with people at Benjamin Moore. We started talking, and they asked me to be on the panel and talk about my experiences. I just think it is an awesome program.
Q: To close, what advice would you offer a veteran who is seeking a career in the private sector?
A: I would say to the vets that are out there that you need to showcase who you are. Showcase what you can bring to a company. Use all those skills that you learned in the military. Don't ever stop trying. There are people out there that want to hire you.
I would say the same thing to employers. You have a work force out there that is absolutely ready to go. And somewhere, you have got to meet.
I am passionate about this issue because there are so many veterans who are still unemployed despite the tight job market. What baffles me is that there's this group of people from the vets side and a group of employers looking for qualified people. Somehow, they just can't seem to get together. So we have to be able to bridge that gap.