The Honor Foundation & Leadership

Musselman, Joe 2

Today we have a very special guest on Leadership Development News, and that is Joe Musselman. He is the founder and CEO of The Honor Foundation. Joe graduated from DePaul University with a dual major in Political Science and International Studies and he minored in American Farm Policy and Economics. His thesis work was completed while traveling throughout the Middle East. That would include of course Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Kuwait. In ’05 and ’06 as a civilian, he worked very hard in the socioeconomic climate of Iraq and Afghanistan pre and post American intervention.

After his graduation he continued his diligent leadership development through executive education certificates from Kellogg, Chicago Booth and DePaul’s Graduate School of Business where he leveraged all of these experiences. From beginning to end this is just a huge resume to assist in the development and evolution of two successful Chicago-based start-up ventures. He’s a very provocative and innovative entrepreneur. He’s worked as a consultant for non-profit agencies, he has partnered with the Department of Defense and the office of Violence Against Women. He has assisted in developing national programs to reduce gang and domestic violence. Joe became the sixteenth man within his family to join the US Military.

Now, his intention was to become a Navy Seal. However, during training he was seriously injured and although he went through all phases of training, his unfortunate physical disability precluded him from achieving that goal. I have to tell you, having stood in his office, seen the awards that he has received and the fact that he was being visited within days by Admiral Bill McRaven, gives you some insight as to the respect this gentleman has earned.

He still went on to serve at the Navy Special Warfare Center and throughout his recovery he was a wonderful member of that community. He is still a member of that community in a very special way.

As a member of that community, Joe recognized a need for a transition management program, especially for members of the special operations forces community that he worked with. Upon his learning and doing market research in this area, he has attended close to 40 separate transition program for veterans across the nation. He has researched 100’s more. He personally interviewed over 200 members of the Special Operations Forces community across the nation. As a result, he has developed relationships with over two hundred Fortune 500 companies and small organizations to create what is now the first transition institute specifically designed for the Special Operations Forces community.

In 2014 The Honor Foundation discovered a true entrepreneur partnership with the UCSD Rady School of Management. As the number one business school in Southern California, together they have designed an outstanding curriculum and a program entirely tailored to fit the specific needs of this unique and dedicated group of wonderful people; heroes in our Special Operations community.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I’m very excited today to have Joe with us. I recently had the very good fortune of spending some time with Joe at The Honor Foundation out in San Diego. He is an amazing young man with an amazing story. I think without further ado, we are going to go ahead and bring Joe on to the show and get underway,

Dr. Relly Nadler:  Joe, welcome to our show.

Joe Musselman: Thank you for having me. It’s a real honor to on here with you both.

Dr. Relly Nadler: We always ask this question to start off with. Who have been some of your main influencers for you as a leader in your path? It gives us a little window into who you are and what has made you who you are.

Joe Musselman: Sure, three distinct leaders come to mind when you ask me that question. Number 1 I would have to say is my Father, who was a huge inspiration to me growing up on the little things; on paying attention to the details. I think the more we read articles from HBR and Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Dr. Cathy and I even spoke on this—it’s the little things that count. My father growing up would always reinforce that ideology with me, so I would have to attribute the first leader to be my father who also served in Vietnam, which was a big inspiration for me.

You know the second inspirational leader, I would say that comes to mind, is the community itself that I’m now serving or continuing to serve. You know Cathy mentioned the members that I work with are within the Special Operations Forces community and these are your typical military. They are not military in transition, these are executives in training. I have the honor to coach them in a time of their life which is a transition from military to the private sector. But at the same time, they are coaching me on how to become a better leader within my organization. These men have lead hundreds of combat deployments in a time of our nations war when we needed them most, to do the most surgical and tactical missions that we have ever seen as a country. So, to have the opportunity to be here for them and learn from them as they transition has been a huge impact for not just myself but the entire organization that we are running here at The Honor Foundation.  So my second example of leader are the guys themselves; I have learned a lot from them as we continue to build out our program.

Number 3, Cathy actually mentioned him earlier. When I first started designing this I was looking at the leader, the individual who was spearheading the majority of operations out of the Special Operations Command, which is Admiral Bill McRaven. He’s very innovative, his predecessor before him, Admiral Eric Olsen, was also an innovator and also a Navy Seal. Watching them implement new ideas and new programs at the Socom level, and then just taking off with them and making them happen for a community itself and also the guys, the families, the spouses resiliency programs, has been a true example to follow.

We recently had wonderful opportunity to sit down with him and it was a really an eye opening experience to not just the obstacles that we have to face in the future but also how we can expand our programs to take on more and more members of the Special Operations community as we bank East.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Joe, what I found so exciting in the little bit of time that we had together, I think we spent about two days over at the Rady School; we have described your dedication to seek out and bring together the world’s leading professors and industry experts, both locally and globally to serve our nation’s most elite warrior professionals. One of the things that I learned from you in the time we had together was a little bit about you and your business background. Can you tell us a little bit more about your story and how you started to pursue this idea and what you had to do to get here?

Joe Musselman: Sure. It was a really interesting turn of events. They always say that if you want to make God laugh tell him about your plans. I had a plan to become a Navy Seal in 2009-2010 and unfortunately I was injured early on in the selection phase of training, which precluded me from achieving that dream. But, having trained for about two years to try to get into the program because you have to earn specific contract to become a Seal; after spending two years in training and then basically a year and a half / two years actually in the training pipeline, experiencing the injury was a big blow—it was a big blow in a lot of ways.

Cathy mentioned I was the 16th man in my family to serve in the military, so it wasn’t so much that I no longer had the opportunity to become a Seal, but I no longer had the opportunity on the table to even serve in the military—that was a big blow. I grew up seeing uniforms in my closet from generations of my family that had served in every major conflict since World War II. So this was an opportunity that I felt like I lost, until I had written a letter to the commanding officer and the executive officer of the Naval Special Warfare Center in 2010 and 2011 asking if there was any way that I could possibly stay at the center and continue to work with the community that I really wished to serve with, which was the Special Warfare community, the Navy Seal community.

I had written them a letter explaining what it took for me to get there and then also my family history—if there’s any way that I can continue serving out my active duty service here at the center that that would be appreciated. So, they basically said yes, we can do that, there’s a space available for you at the Administration Department of the Naval Special Warfare Center, and then here’s the fun part. The next opportunity that came onto my plate was to manage a little command store. This command store was no bigger than 7’ x 10’, it was where members of the community came in to get their morning coffee, get a Gatorade and hydrate before an evolution, come in between meetings. So it gave me a great opportunity to kind of sit back, and it was a real blessing in disguise, to get to know the community around a water cooler which is really when you get to know people.

So, I was sitting in Admin one day and a Master Chief which is an E9, the highest you can be on the enlisted side, he basically said to me, “twenty-six years in the Seal teams, what am I going to do now?” The Admin department is where individuals come in to hand in their retirement packages. I was looking at what this individual had done throughout his career and he spoke French and Farsi, he had been to 100+ different countries, he had built the Ford Operating base form the ground up, led all logistic support, all operations support. He had an undergraduate degree, he had a Masters degree, and this individual didn’t know what was next for him.

When I met that individual at the Admin office, you have to understand how the military works as well. I was in a different uniform than him, I had no rank or collar device, I was an E3 at this point in time, and he was an E9. So, when I asked him this next question, you can imagine the surprise on his face when I said, “Master Chief, if you don’t mind me asking, who is helping you with your resume?” He looked at me like, who are you? Basically he asked that question in lesser words. I said, my name is Joe Musselman, I just recently was medically dropped from training, but I have a lot of experience writing resumes and I was wondering if I could perhaps see yours, I might be able to help. He looked at me with these big eyes and said, you know I haven’t really had a chance to put one down yet—put anything down on paper. Basically, he didn’t have a resume completed. Then I asked him, well, when are you getting out? He said 30-60 days.

Now, a question that I asked a lot of professionals when I get in front of them trying to understand how this transition works for members of the Special Operations community—you to both are professionals and you have been doing what you are doing for 20+ years and you consider yourself experts and as do many other. If I asked you to change professions in 30-60 days and train to be a Navy Seal, what would your response be?

You can imagine that this individual looking to transition out of the community had been in for 20+ years, looked at me like a deer in the headlights when I asked what industry do you want to go to. What resume version are you using? So anyway, I asked him to go back and get all of this information, bring it back, and I was going to work on a resume for him. Then I started to look at his experience. This individual has been in and out of embassies, in and out of caves negotiating contracts with warlords in Afghanistan. Then the next thing going into the State Department and giving a report on what you found, who he spoke with, what the climate was like inside different villages and provinces, and then building out small cities for our Special Operations forces to live in and to enact missions out of.

I can’t even begin to explain to you the leadership experience that these individuals have. Then they look at me when I ask them if they are willing to put this down on paper a certain way and they are so respectful and reverent of their service to this country that they almost don’t want to put to stuff down on their resume. They feel like it’s bragging. The humility that these individuals have is through the roof. So there was a real need here. I went home and looked throughout all of his experience and translated all of the experience, quantified the numbers of command assets—his personnel managed. Then the next day at 08:30 there he was right on time and I showed him his resume. I didn’t put his name on top, I didn’t want anyone to see who I was working on or who I was doing it for. He walked in and he looked at the resume and he goes, “who’s resume is this?” I said, this is your resume, this is everything you have done throughout your career: commands managed, people managed, assets, budgets. This guy was in charge of a billion dollar budget at one point in time were the buck stopped directly with him. So, then we got to talk more about his experience. I started translating what he has done into the private sector and there is a misperception here that members of this community need to go into security, the Feds, contracting; not at all. Once I get into explaining some of the research I did after this, it will explain where these guys are now in the private sector.

Going back to that: once I completed that resume, within 3 months, I was actively reviewing 88 resumes from the Seals community outside this little command store. I had created this little office in the back with a dry erase board, and I did all that I could. That was really the beginning story of The Honor Foundation.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Joe, that is an amazing story. Just having spent time with you in the last couple of weeks, I’m still on this high of helping you with this mission. It’s just an amazing mission. Can you talk a little bit about who your partners are in this mission and how you have been taking this resume writing process, now, to a true four month immersion program for these guys who are now at least six months to a year, sometimes two years, before they are leaving the military, which gives them a much better chance of success.

Joe Musselman: Absolutely. So, this is the exciting story. The minute that I left active duty service, the next day I had my very first meeting at the Naval Special Warfare Center of the War Command with about half a dozen Master Chiefs explaining to them what research I had found and who I have already started to partner with. From that initial resume experience of writing for about 88 members of the community, each one of those individuals put me in touch with some of their brothers and their teammates out in the private sector doing great things.

That led me to do a personal interview of over 200 members of the Special Operations Forces community all who had transitioned 5 years plus from their respective community. I asked them all the same 25 questions. I just would data-mine this group, over and over again. I met with guys in Panera, I met with them in Starbucks, in their living rooms and their kitchens. I had conversations with their spouses, all on the pain, the pain points, the pressure points that they experienced while they were transitioning out into the community. So in a sense, my first partner were these initial 200 interviews. What I learned was that I could have stopped interviewing guys after 25–it was a broken record–they didn’t know how to negotiate a compensation package, they didn’t understand the complex corporate culture that exists in the private sector, they didn’t understand the differences in industries between marketing and advertising; they asked themselves, “do I want to go into those things or should I just default back to the security contracting and government related positions?”

That led me to basically match up each need with one of our nation’s leading professors. So for instance, negotiating a contract, a compensation package; in the military you don’t have to negotiate for your position. You do your work up, you do your deployment, you come back, you do that for a certain amount of years, you get your increase in rank and you are given new responsibilities, most likely you walk into a command with someone that you know that has had that position, you get a 3-6 month turnover, now you are leading that position hoping to do more great things than your predecessor in that position. When it comes to negotiating and interviewing they needed some help, so it wasn’t really rocket science. I went to Google, I typed in “who are the nation’s leading negotiations experts,” we’ve got Maggie Neal from Stanford and we had David Schkade from the Rady School. Because Rady was very close in proximity to the Seal Teams on the West coast, I went to Rady. So I asked Rady about possibly putting together a list of faculty that matched a need from expressed needs from those initial interviews. I have never met a bigger entrepreneur than the Rady School management. I walked in day one, met with a project leader in executive education, the next day I was meeting with the Associate Dean, the next week I met the Dean of the Rady School, Bob Sullivan, who is the founder of the Rady School. It’s very young, it’s only 7-8 years old. Bob basically looked at this concept of a transition institute for the Special Operations Forces community and they in-kinded me close to 8,000 square feet to incubate, to grow, to host courses, workshops, to bring in members of the community and truly learn about what it is—what it would look like to have a transition institute designed around the needs of this community.

Basically, our first partner was the Rady School of Management out of UCSD.

Learn more about The Honor Foundations, their other partners and how they are helping Special Operations community’s transition into the private sector from their service for our country. Listen to the complete recording, without commercials, above.



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