This past Friday, 9/11, Lisa Nirell, the author of The Mindful Marketer, interviewed John Nicholson, General U.S. Army (Retired), and Suzie Mills, the co-founder of Practice Everywhere and an Air Force veteran. General Nicholson is the President of the PenFed Foundation, which has helped 1,062 military families with COVID-19 emergency financial relief since March 17th and awarded over $38.5M to veterans in total. Given the holy day the interview was live-streamed and the turbulent times we’re living in, the discussion was riveting.
General Nicholson is a retired four-star General with a career spanning 36 years in service. He last commanded U.S. forces in the Afghanistan war and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, and he is the longest-serving commander in Afghanistan.
He had just joined the Army Staff as a lieutenant colonel, serving as a strategist for the Army General’s Chief of Staff, when his office was only 100 feet from where the nose of the hijacked flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. In the interview, General Nicholson shares stories about leading through the crisis on that day and how it can translate to what he’s doing at PenFed Foundation, helping veteran entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
“I’m telling you that it may sound easy, but it’s not. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. That’s what I tell people about being an entrepreneur and being able to shed ourselves of all programs or models that no longer work for us.” – Lisa Nirell
For some, it’s a humbling experience to translate military experience into the private sector. An organization might appreciate what veterans have done in the past but don’t necessarily understand how to connect those business qualities today.
Making the connection and bridging these challenges is one of the many things the PenFed Foundation does well. The mission of the PenFed Foundation for Military Heroes is to empower military service members, veterans, and their communities with the skills and resources to realize financial stability and opportunity. Also, General Nicholson personally knows this transition well. Nicholson’s been a versatile leader in the US Army and now as president of the PenFed Foundation. Below are the top skills discussed in the interview that Nicholson’s found most transferable from combat to the business world:
- Many veterans are high performing individuals
- Have great leadership skills
- Mission-focus dedication
- Stamina, ingenuity, and creativity
- Take initiative
- Demonstrate courage
General Nicholson sees these qualities exhibited regularly in PenFed’s Veteran Entrepreneur Investment Program (VEIP). VEIP helps veteran entrepreneurs access capital through Pop Up Labs, a Master’s Program, workshops, boot camps, and investment. VEIP will provide veteran entrepreneurs with education, mentorship, and networking to enhance their fundraising strategy while connecting them with investors.
Later into the live stream, Air Force veteran and VEIP participant, Suzie Mills, joined the conversation and exemplified many of the traits General Nicholson says veterans possess. Suzie is the founder of the online yoga community, Practice Everywhere. However, it wasn’t always online. Suzie’s company began as a brick and mortar… and then COVID-19 happened.
With guidance from VEIP, Susie made the tough transition from being a yoga practitioner to a business CEO. Suzie shuttered her brick and mortar studios, changed the pricing model, and now Practice Everywhere is global with other 600 paying customers. One of the biggest lessons she’s learned from the program and advice for others navigating uncertainty during a worldwide pandemic is naming your fears. She continues:
“Now or any time it’s naming your fears and not just what you’re scared of but what are all of the things that could happen. What are your options? Taking it past your fears and laying out all the directions on the table.”
“That way, you can make the best decisions possible. Once you have all the information that fact-finding takes us to scary places or places that make us nervous or nervous excited.”
Now that she’s entirely online, her business can reach more people worldwide, and the company moves with them instead of the other way around. Walking away from brick and mortar locations and a working model to remote instruction requires a lot of courage. But that’s precisely what veterans do every day — they act courageously in the face of uncertainty, in combat or the boardroom.
It’s a gamble, but with the right assistance from a team of experts like PenFed, it’s a calculated risk. As General Nicholson said, “they took that step.”
To view Lisa Nirell’s entire video live stream interview with General Nicholson and Suzie Mills, click this link.