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MBA: Making the transition from the military into the corporate world

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

A Q&A with David Brooks.

The Modern MBA sat down for a Zoom call with David Brooks, a 2015 Warwick Business School MBA graduate with 16 years of experience in the British Army. Post-MBA he made a successful transition into the corporate world winning a directorial role with a major global tech firm and this past February was hired as VP of a technology firm.

David Brooks

Tell us about your career path, how it started and where you are now?

After University, I went to work in advertising for a company specialising in providing solutions to some of the problems which were expected to arise from the Y2K bug. After doing this for 18 months I was bored and decided this wouldn’t keep me interested for next 50 years. So I joined the military, went to Sandhurst and then joined the Household Cavalry. After 14 years, I again had the feeling I wanted to go and do something else, so I sought advice from friends working in business about my next steps which led me to my MBA.

What was your MBA experience like? What benefits from the Army did you bring and what challenges did you face?

When I started my MBA, I made sure I took all the courses focused around entrepreneur-ism as I was certain I would start my own business. Then I got an offer from a major tech firm that I could not pass up. Most recently, I was hired by a technology start-up in a different sector. I found that the finance component of the MBA was extremely useful, as well as marketing and how instrumental it is to a business’ success. Contrary to my expectations, I do not think I used the MBA to build a network as such.

How do you think the corporate world perceives/reacts to recent MBA graduates with a military background?

My experience has suggested that the corporate world responds very positively to those with military experience. I think some of this has to do with the standards of behaviour that are embedded, things like turning up for meetings on time. Integrity is something the Army places particular importance on, if you make a promise you are going to keep it. When leadership standards and these high personal standards are combined with the kind of education you get on an MBA, this is very positive. Before I did my MBA I spoke to a number of large companies and despite saying that they have programmes to support military veterans, the fact is that they don’t really know what to do with people who are in a slightly different mold to their expectations. The MBA helps to put a label on that, as well as shows that you are making a personal sacrifice and are serious about creating a second career.

What challenges, if any, do you think individuals face when they decide to transition out of a career in the military?

Coming out of the military, individuals think they understand what the workplace is like, but when they finally enter the commercial workplace, they find out that it is demanding in ways that perhaps the military is not. They do not always understand that making the transition means that to some extent professional career is starting all over again and that they will have to demonstrate their competence all the way back to the founding principles. There is also a sense of entitlement that comes from the military and many individuals think that grey hair allows your voice to be heard. Ex-servicemen need the willingness to reinvent themselves and to be humble enough to say that they do not know or understand things.

What skills have crossed over from the military to your most recently roles? Which did you need to improve?

Managing people and being able to describe and visualize outcomes are two skills one gains during a career in the military. They have both been very useful in my career post-MBA. I still need to work on how to turn an idea into a business case faster, but this is a function of practice.

Any tips for current or prospective MBAs coming from a similar background?

First, on the back of your MBA, aim high. There is always a danger of underselling yourself or pitching yourself at the same level you were in the military. You are investing in an MBA; this is evidence of the fact that you are capable of learning quickly and adapting to new environments. Pitch yourself to lead, avoid being a middle manager. Aim for a directorship or at least a senior leadership role. Second, pay attention to your accounting and finance modules!


David has shared his views in his capacity as a private citizen and is not cleared, or endorsed by any employers, past or present.

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