1. Home
  2. News & Trends
  3. Latest News
  4. Veterans Find Their Footing in Finance

Veterans Find Their Footing in Finance

How private equity firms, nonprofit organizations and ACG events help veterans transition to civilian lives and careers

Veterans Find Their Footing in Finance

When David Fowles left the U.S. Army Special Forces in 2017, after a more than 20-year career that took him all over the world, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do next. He obtained an executive MBA at Kellogg School of Management but found it difficult to get jobs in the finance sector without experience. “Private equity sounded interesting, but people told me I didn’t have the right background,” he says.

It was eventually his local network in Tampa, Florida, where he was introduced to the nonprofit 51 Vets, that got him in the door with a local lower mid-market private equity firm, Mangrove Equity Partners. While interning there, Fowles shadowed different types of executives and worked under Managing Director Glenn Oken, who became a mentor.

Fowles spent just three weeks interning and then got a job as a VP in origination. He worked at Mangrove for three years and eventually moved on to The Riverside Company, where he’s now a regional director in origination covering the Southeast and Mid-South regions.

Veterans leaving the military say they struggle with several things, including picking a new path, transitioning to civilian life and gaining the experience necessary to launch their new careers. Some had obtained bachelor’s degrees a long time ago in unrelated fields, and while recent master’s degrees do help, they are often not enough.

Now, a variety of nonprofit organizations, internship programs, events and upskilling tools offer veterans a path to civilian careers. This year, ACG hosted a Veterans in the Middle Market reception at DealMAX for the first time, in partnership with 51 Vets, a nonprofit which connects transitioning veterans to business leaders. The organization focuses on special units within the U.S. Military, including the Green Berets, Navy Seals, Marine Special Ops and others.

The nonprofit, which was started by former investment banker and entrepreneur Jordan Selleck, also has Riverside origination professionals Bob Landis and Jeremy Holland on its advisory board, as well as other private equity and M&A advisory executives from Kirkland & Ellis, Windjammer Capital, Stifel and PwC.

The DealMAX event was meant to showcase a program that ACG New York hosts for veterans. Other ACG chapters are now considering launching their own local events, Fowles says.

A Fresh Start

When Fowles first started working at Mangrove, he shadowed operating partners, originators and deal execution professionals. He found the work engaging. “I didn’t want to sit behind a computer and look at a spreadsheet all day, but that’s not what we do. There is a lot more to business development,” he says. He and other veterans who intern at private equity firms appreciate the diversity of work and getting hands-on experience with portfolio companies in different industries. They say it helps them understand how their prior experience translates to the private sector, choose a path for their careers and make important connections.

Johnny Todd, another former Green Beret, who recently interned at Riverside, says he knew he wanted to get into finance, but didn’t know where he would fit at first. He’s currently completing his MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “When you’re re-entering the civilian world, a lot of people want to help, but the difficult thing is figuring out where you fit,” he says. Following internships at several financial organizations, he says, he’s considering a career as an equity analyst, a wealth manager, or in private equity or private credit.

Related content: DealMAX Keynote Speakers Talk Interest Rates, AI and More

Both he and Fowles say there are a lot of skills Special Forces veterans bring to the table, including discipline, project and people management, managing people and projects, teamwork, and an ability to leveraging team members’ skills to achieve a variety of missions. Encountering people from different cultures and walks of life in the military is also instructive, Todd says. “America is a melting pot.” Todd credits 51 Vets with “being extremely helpful in my development post-military and giving me exposure to mentors, different industries and contacts that I wouldn’t otherwise have,” he says.

Todd’s 10-year military career took him to Afghanistan, Ukraine, Turkey and across Eastern Europe, among other places. Since leaving the special forces in 2023, where he last served as a Future Operations Officer in Fort Carson, Colorado, he has worked at Blackstone as a summer associate, and at Riverside as a spring semester intern. He plans to intern at the JPMorgan Private Bank this summer.

Transition Tools

Riverside’s Landis says veterans need help re-entering civilian life, and organizations also need to be informed of the benefits of hiring veterans. “It’s a struggle on two sides: getting employers to understand the needs and benefits of veterans,” he says, “as well as providing veterans with a bridge to normal life in the civilian world.” Landis was deployed to Germany for five years as a major with the U.S. Army in the 1970s.

It’s a struggle on two sides: getting employers to understand the needs and benefits of veterans, as well as providing veterans with a bridge to normal life in the civilian world.

Bob Landis

The Riverside Company

Todd credits SkillBridge as a program that helps veterans get on their feet in the civilian world. The Department of Defense helps service members gain work experience through industry training, apprenticeships and internships in the last 180 days of military services. It also connects military service members with industry partners and “real-world job experiences,” according to its website.

Michelle Noon, founder and managing partner at Clearhaven Partners, has an internship program that includes veterans. Noon, who serves on the 51 Vets advisory board, says that while veterans have a lot of strong skills for work in finance, they often need other training to make the leap. “They need to have an understanding of financial modeling, P&L and data analysis,” she says. “They have to know how to talk the talk and learn the lingo.” Exposure to seminars, webinars, a network of contacts and education on the subject matter are some of the tools 51 Vets and internship programs provide. “There is a gap that needs to be bridged to make it from point A to point B or even be considered” for roles in M&A, she says.

Related content: The ACG Legend: Robert Landis

Greg Bondick, managing principal at Windjammer Capital in Boston, is president of the advisory board of 51 Vets and a member of the Leadership Circle for The Honor Foundation, a career transition program for U.S. Special Ops Forces. He says these organizations help veterans transfer to the private sector. They assist with developing a resume and LinkedIn profile and provide access to career mentorship, networking and internships.

Windjammer has a private equity operations internship that “embeds” veterans with portfolio companies to work on specific projects. These projects provide tangible private sector work experience and expose the participants to other parts of the private equity business. “The veterans we work with are highly accomplished and determined to succeed. They have been trained as leaders and have the EQ to build an effective organizational culture,” Bondick says. “They can walk on the factory floor, talk to people, make them excited about their jobs and build an effective organizational culture.”

Paths to Other Industries

Doug McCormick, managing partner and chief investment officer at Washington D.C.-based HCI Equity Partners, agrees that veterans can be a good fit for manufacturing and distribution companies. McCormick, who served as a captain in the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division until the mid-1990s, says he managed large scale projects and moving resources and people to different places, which can be helpful in manufacturing, distribution and other technical fields. Veterans have often been exposed to technical equipment and complicated operations, and develop skillsets that are applicable to many of these industries, he adds.

Now he wants to offer other veterans a path to civilian careers. He says several senior leaders at his portfolio companies are veterans. He credits different “feeder systems” that help veterans transition and match them to the right jobs. Last summer, HCI partnered with Headlamp, an organization that helps military veterans find civilian jobs, and Sutton Growth Group, a professional services firm focused on training. The collaboration will identify veterans for positions at HCI portfolio companies and provide training for their new roles. Boston-based Headlamp bills itself as a “Veteran Transition Accelerator” that helps veterans “explore roles that fit their skills and interest and work with employers to create opportunities.” Amazon also has a recruiting program used to target veterans.

McCormick himself began his civilian career in investment banking at Morgan Stanley after leaving the military. He says he found that investment banks appreciated the veteran skill set the most, and it’s where “you get immersed in significant transaction volume and a lot of different kinds of businesses.” He too says that skills like teamwork, work ethic, integrity, collaboration and managing in a stressful environment are some of the skills veterans can bring to M&A work.

Like other veterans leaving the force, McCormick went on to obtain an MBA, studying at the Harvard Business School “Extra schooling is how some people navigate that transition,” he says but notes that it won’t get you all the way there. “Business school gave me contextual options, but it isn’t for everyone. It’s a big investment in terms of income and time.”



Anastasia Donde is Middle Market Growth’s senior editor.


Middle Market Growth is produced by the Association for Corporate Growth. To learn more about the organization and how to become a member, visit www.acg.org.