'You must be crazy!'
That is the phrase my family, friends and colleagues in Italy used to say when I would tell them that I was leaving the Army. When you join the Army in Italy, it is a career for life and leaving it is generally seen as 'the ultimate act of madness.' Before my NATO posting in the UK, I envisioned a future retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in my late fifties, with a decent pension and lots of military memories.
Not so bad…but I never felt fully comfortable settling for a 'not so bad' life. While I loved my job with all my soul, and was honoured to be serving my country, what if there was something else out there that I was good at? What if, in that world of possibilities, there was something I loved more than the Army?
So, in December 2019, I decided to try. But I didn’t want to leave the Army completely unarmed (no pun intended), and I wanted to make sure that I was an attractive candidate for civilian companies. I knew I had the soft skills needed – leadership, the ability to work under stressful conditions and organisational skills. But I was in the dark about areas such as accounting, HR, and marketing. For me, operations meant Kosovo, Afghanistan or Somalia. How could I sell myself with all these amazing soft skills and literally zero hard skills outside of my defence expertise?!
Finding out about the MBA was the light bulb moment for me, providing the key to my transition to the corporate world. While the application process was daunting and a lot of hard work, it was the dream of a lifetime to join the MBA class at Saïd Business School in September 2020, after almost 20 years in the Italian Army. And now, at the end of this incredible year, I know it was the best decision of my life.
My time in the Army has given me a huge wealth of experiences and leadership opportunities in the most challenging circumstances. But it wasn’t until I came to the School that I started to gain an appreciation for how my military skills could be an asset in civilian jobs. It wasn’t just about filling skill gaps – it was about translation and re-application of my expertise.
Being at a school that appreciates the role that veterans play and the perspectives they can bring to the class has been incredibly important to my journey. I am grateful that Saïd Business School recognises this value, selecting for the MBA more than a dozen veterans from across the world in my cohort alone.
More than that, the Veterans Club and the alumni network have given me one of the most important lessons of my MBA experience: the strength to believe in myself. Throughout every step of the MBA process, I have been lucky to have the support of peers and alumni who have helped me translate this myriad of soft skills into a language that is understandable to the most military agnostic HR managers.
They have also shown me lived examples of my second big takeaway: a real-life depiction of what life can be like after the Army. When I started out on my MBA journey, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was nervous about the possibility of securing a job. Would companies really value my years of service? How would I fare in the transition to a civilian workforce? The other veterans and the wider MBA community have been key in helping me see the path forward into my next chapter.
My last takeaway is that the MBA has shown me that the many skills I have from the Army really are transferable. In and outside the classroom, I’ve seen how my experiences, whether that be leading teams in conflict zones or managing millions of pounds of highly technical equipment, will serve me well in facing the challenges and opportunities in my next role.
Veterans, former soldiers, and service leavers have a lot to offer an MBA cohort with the experience, background and perspectives they bring to the class. And what they get out of it, and the confidence the MBA can give to tackle the challenges waiting in the corporate (civilian) world, is just invaluable.
So, if you are still on active duty and you’re thinking of leaving or are indecisive about attending an MBA, my message is simple: stop guessing and come to Oxford. If you love it half as much as I have, it will be the best year of your life.
Salvatore Dell’Aversano is a representative of the Oxford Saïd Military Veterans Club.