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Fortune’s latest ‘young vets are great business managers’ hype exercise

Posted by John Reed on

Fortune’s slobbering love affair with young veterans

On March 22, 2010, Fortune did an article saying businesses were recognizing that young vets where great civilian business managers. I wrote a spirited critique of it.

Well, they’re baaaack, and so am I.

What a bunch of bullshit!

Amazon’s employment of vets

The latest is in the May 21, 2012 Fortune and is titled “How Amazon Learned to Love Veterans” by Adam Lashinsky with help from Caitlin Keating. Mr. Lashinsky and Ms. Caitlin, and their editors, are not very bright in the logic department, nor very diligent in getting the basic story right.

Their thesis is that because of their super training and combat experience, recent veterans make extraordinary business middle managers.

Vets are former government bureaucrats

That, I would expect you could recognize without much thought, is obvious bullshit. The military is a federal government bureaucracy. Military personnel are government bureaucrats. Post-Korean-war combat is about as instructive as being in an injury car accident. Hell, these days, with IEDs causing most of the casualties, combat is precisely an injury car accident. The identity, location, and even purpose of the enemy is unknown. There is no intelligent return fire from the Americans after the explosion because they have no clue where to shoot.

I am a West Point graduate, airborne, ranger, Vietnam veteran. I am also a Harvard MBA, married to a Harvard MBA, an entrepreneur, author, former big corporation employee, former athletic coach, former landlord of my own and other properties.

‘Save the world as we know it’

The article starts discussing Dennis Clancey, a West Point former infantry platoon leader in Iraq who is an operations manager of an Amazon fulfillment warehouse. I don’t know him. He is Class of 2004. I graduated the day Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Lashinsky also breathlessly tells us Clancey was an operations officer in the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command where his job was to pass information onto “the lieutenant colonel whose job it was to initiate the missile defense system to try to save the world as we know it.”

Logistics

The single word on which Lashinsky hangs his entire premise is “logistics.”

He says that is what business Amazon is in.

I have said Amazon is not a business at all. It is a buzziness whose function is to sell dollar bills for 90¢ so as to hype Amazon’s stock price. Jeff Bezos is a hype genius. This Fortune article is further evidence of that. The authors actually acknowledged in passing that he was benefitting from the program to recruit vets. Amazon has long been criticized either for having no profit at all or too little profit for its assets and equity. Yet it reigns supreme in the media, including, amazingly, business media who should know better like Fortune.

Both Fortune and Amazon emphasize size over profit and return

I must note Fortune is the father of the Fortune 500. The Fortune 500 is a list of the top 500 U.S. corporations ranked by SALES! Since when are sales the measure of a business? Sales can be purchased at a loss or breakeven. A better ranking for measuring merit would be the top 500 most profitable corporations or corporations earning the highest return on equity. So Fortune’s size-matters obsession and misfocus is congruent with Amazon’s identical misfocus.

We did not study logistics

Back to logistics in business and the military. There was no course on logistics when I went to West Point. It was touched on in passing, e.g., mention of George Patton’s Red Ball Express high speed trucking of fuel, food, and ammo to his Third Army. But the relatively meager amount of military stuff we studied at West Point wasmainly about “World War II in Europe” small-unit tactics and some study of theater-wide maps of battle lines and big-picture decisions like where to land on D-Day, where to attack the Union lines at Gettysburg, the Inchon landing in Korea. Virtually no discussion of logistics or strategy at a theater or national level. For example, the generally unspoken U.S. military strategy is to overwhelm enemies with massive industrial power and techonology—much of which depends on efficient logistics.

My post-West Point training spent even more time on small-unit tactics and none on logistics.

Furthermore, Lashinsky seems beside himself with admiration for Clancey’s being in the infantry branch. Ah, yes, one of the few branches beloved in Hollywood.

But Mr. Lashinsky, the Army has a logistics branch. It is called the Quartermaster Corps. It also has a Transportation Corps and an Ordnance [weapons] Corps. My uncle Jack was in quartermaster during World War II. He worked on the D-Day invasion and its aftermath—probably the biggest military logistics operation in history. He said we won World War II in spite of the lifers, like the West Pointers, not because of them. He said the civilian draftees, coming as they did from civilian business where they have to get results or go bankrupt, knew how to get things done and quickly learned to ignore the lifers. Unlike Vietnam and thereafter, the draftees were in the war zone “for the duration.” So they damned well ended the wars fast: 3 1/2 years in World War II in Europe and 3 3/4 years in World War II in the Pacific. Our Vietnam and subsequent one- to two-year tours or deployment military act like construction subcontractors working on time and materials. They will make each war last forever if they can get away with it.

America’s most prominent logistics soldier, a member of the Quartermaster Corps, is Jessica Lynch.

Mr. Lashinsky, the infantry is not the quartermaster corps. Or Transportation or Ordnance. Indeed, the infantry do not like the quartermaster corps and taunt them as rear area and all that. As an infantry platoon leader in Iraq, Lieutenant Clancey was to Army logistics what a housewife receiving a book from Amazon is to the mailman.

The notion that Clancey was trained and experienced in, and good at, logistics just because logistics is a military term, is second-grade-level analysis and dead wrong.

Not sure what it means, but for a military resume to include both a deployment to Iraq as an infantry platoon leader and as an Army Space and Missile Command operations officer strikes me as very odd. What does the infantry have to do with Space or Space with the infantry?

Not only is the infantry not the quartermaster Corps, it’s also not in the missile business. In my day, that resume would indicate that Clancey chose Air Defense Artillery as his branch, but was forced to be detailed to the infantry for his first two years so he would not be a total wimp. I could have had the last Military Intelligence slot in my class. I chose communications instead because I felt it was certain I would be put in the infantry for my first two years if I chose MI.

Also, a general comment: I cannot imagine that the U.S. Army missile defense system would have more but the most negligible effect on a space or missile attack by one of our modern enemies. That system is a fig leaf. Our only defense against enemy ICBMs is that we will fire our ICBMs back at them. It’s called Mutually Assured Destruction. It would be nice to have an anti-missile defense system, but as far as I know, it does not exist and if it did it would be prominent and thickly located around all of our borders including those of Alaska. That’s a lot of anti-missile missiles.

Long hours are cool

Clancey say one of the things that attracted him to Amazon was “peak season.”

What is that? The Christmas rush caused by customers waiting until the last minute to buy stuff.

So why didn’t he join a company with an even greater Christmas rush, like a Christmas tree grower, or the U.S. Postal Service which actually delivers the stuff Amazon merely drops in the mail box. Or the IRS. They have a heck of a peak season around April 15th.

Dopey reason to choose Amazon.

And if he is a great guy—he and I are great guys—because we entered West Point then got orders sending us to a war zone, then what are Clancey and I for getting out of the Army before the war was won. Seems to me that Clancey and I and tens of thousands of other West Pointers who got out of the Army as soon as we were allowed thereby cancel out our saintliness of having volunteered for the military and gone to war. Yeah, we did that, but then we did the exact opposite by unvolunteering and leaving our former military colleagues to stay in and continue to go to wars.

We are neither saints nor deserters. We did our duty because it was our duty then we got out because the military sucks and we figured we and our families would have a better life outside the military. The slobbering love affair between the draft dodging public and the media and anyone who merely puts on a U.S. military uniform is a bunch of bull.

Thrill up his leg

Having joined Amazon in September 2010, just before“peak” began, Clancey says he needed to “train up” in a short period of time, military speak not quite having exited from his system.

That “thrill up his leg” line from Lashinksy celebrates military jargon. I never heard the expression “train up” during my eight years in the military. I would not be surprised if they say it now, but it’s not military speak. It’s stupid speak. I am a full-time professional communicator. So are Lashinsky and Keating. The correct way to express that thought is “train.” The word “up” adds nothing to the word train. It is hillbilly talk, not military jargon, although I will admit that there is a lot of overlap since the all-volunteer Army is far more Confederate red neck now than the draft Army I was in.

At the risk of sending more thrills up Lashinsky’s leg, I offer some other examples of military speak that are just stupid, not helpful to accomplishing military missions:

• “orientate” instead of “orient” as in “orientate your maps”

• pronouncing cache (hiding place for military materials) as cachet (mark of high quality)

• pronouncing sergeant as “sar’nt”

Military people talk like that because a lot of them are not the brightest bulbs on the tree. A lot of bright West Pointers pick it up to fit into the group. It is far from support for the notion that young vets are extraordinary business managers. It’s no big deal, but Lashinsky celebrating it as evidence of virtuous militariness is stupid.

‘The leadership’

Clancey said he also came to Amazon “because of the leadership and the relationships we have with associates.”

“The leadership?” I think he is referring to superior-subordinate relationships which are ubiquitous in all organizations with more than a handful of people—profit, non-profit, civilian, military, large, medium size, small. I was a platoon leader twice—once in Vietnam, as well as a company commander. The best leadership opportunity I ever experienced—by far—was coaching youth and high school sports teams. If Clancey or any other West Pointer wants an almost pure leadership job—the kind of job we thought we were being trained for at West Point, he or she should become a sports team coach.

Leadership is a bullshit word very popular today with the military and high schools. I coached high school fooball and volleyball for seven seasons. It is devoid of meaning. Search for the word “leadership” in the search box at the top of each of my web pages and you will find the various articles I wrote about “leadership.”

The phrase “relationships we have with associates” is the exact same sentiment—ubiquitous at almost every employer in America —except for the word “associates,” which is corporate, party-line spin. Reminds me of the special ops people in the military self-consciously referring to the special ops “community.” If it’s real and effective, why do you need bullshit words like that?

Military officers are, first and foremost, empty-suit corporate ass-kissers. They are rarely in combat in the sense of bullets flying past you. But what they did do on a daily basis was kiss ass, spout the party line, and all that. That, not combat leadership experience is what civilian employers want when they hire the military. The one word that truly captures what U.S. military officers are about above all is obsequious.

Here is Lashinsky’s next sentence after the “associates” quote.

If Clancey’s aw-shucks fealty to his employer and his subordinates seems a little too good to be true, well that’s just one f the many benefits a company like Amazon gets for placing its talent bets on those who cut their teeth in uniform.

Like I said.

He got out, didn’t he?

In Clancey’s defense, I would note that military officer willingness and skill at kissing ass is inversely proportional to the number of years you stay in the military after you were allowed to leave. I had so many fights with my superiors over my refusal to sign false documents and refusal to kiss ass (I called it OVUM) that I was not promoted to captain (99.9% get promoted and the few who don’t were refuseniks—conscientious objectors, bureaucracy resistors like me) and they discharged me (honorably with $4,000 severance pay for “defective attitude”) after four years rather than the five I was originally required to spend. I do not know the details of Clancey’s brief time in the military. He probably “played the game” and got promoted to captain as a result. Bottom line, is we both got out pronto, not after 20 years as the image of West Point and West Pointers would suggest.

If the Army was such a great “leadership-relationship-with-subordinates” place why did Clancey, or I, or the rest of the officers mentioned in the Fortune article get out? We got out because the military is a well-known SNAFU, FUBAR, FUBB, hurry-up-and-wait, midnight requisition, right way, wrong way and the Army way, inept, boot-licking, ineffective-at-winning-wars, cluster—. The idea that such a place is a great place to learn how to be a great business middle manager is absurd. The quality of the West Pointers at Amazon stems from who they were the day they entered West Point and, partly from the no-excuse-sir and other discipline training at West Point, and in spite of having spent five years after graduation in the screwed up U.S. military, not because of time as Army officers.

‘Bumper crop?’

Lashinsky says Amazon and other companies are taking advantage of a “bumper crop of well-trained officers.”

“Bumper crop?” That means much higher quantity than usual. That implies that the U.S. military grew in size recently.

First I’ve heard. The U.S. military got a lot bigger for World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam, but not since. There is no bumper crop. You can look it up at http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0004598.html. With a couple of small exceptions, since 1970, the year I was in Vietnam, the U.S. military has been shrinking steadily, including the officers corps which is proportional to the size of the armed forces overall. It’s called getting your facts straight, the first rule of journalism. If you just clicked on that link, you are a more professional journalist than Lashinsky or Keating or their editors. A good editor would instantly ask for the evidence that there is now a “bumper crop” of well-trained officers. Apparently Lashinsky did not have a competent editor, let alone a good one.

‘Well-trained?’

And what is the basis forx “well-trained” in the context of civilian businesses like Amazon. What, pray tell, did we learn at West Point or in post-West Point officer training—another full year in my case—that helps us manage stock pickers and packagers in a warehouse? What did we learn about recruiting, training, and retaining good subordinates and counseling and firing poor subordinates at West Point or in the military? NOTHING!

In the military, you get whatever subordinates you get and they are next to impossible to get rid of. And they are generally stuck in the military for at least a period of time so retention in the military is generally not the platoon leader’s or company commander’s job. But mainly, in the U.S. military, over the course of a 20-year career, you move about 20 times—once a year on average. And that does not count TDY at various schools away from your present duty station. Every day, some new people arrive in your battalion and some old ones leave. That is why Vietnam units almost never have reunions the way World War II units do. No one in my unit in Vietnam arrived the same day as me or left the same day as me. The roster was different every sigle day.

In the military, Clancey and I were in charge of a revolving door of subordinates, which, to a large extent, precludes leadership. You lead each person as an individual and that means you have to get to know him and he has to get to know you. You can, and must, do that in civilian business like Amazon, but not in the military.

Recruiting, training, and retaining good subordinates and counseling and firing bad ones is the job description of a civilian manager or entrepreneur. But it is all but forbidden in the military. Same is true of giving orders like a dictator. So a 27-year-old officer just out of the military is to a civilian management position what a visitor from Mars is to everything.

‘Excels at fighting wars’

Lashinsky say the military “excels more at fighting wars” than civilian job placement.

Fighting wars? What about winning wars? That’s what General of the Armies Douglas MacArthur said was the job of West Point graduates. And when is the last time we won one? 1945.

The U.S. military excels at nothing but talking a good game, looking the part, and professing good intentions.

I believe there are a number of government programs designed to help vets get jobs. They work about as well as every other government program.

Then—get this—Lashinsky reports that the unemployment rate among veterans is significantly higher than the unemployment rate among non-vet of the same age!

Uh, pardon me, Mr. Lashinsky, but doesn’t that fact disprove your whole article. That’s broad statistical evidence, which trumps your article’s tiny list of anecdotes in persuasiveness. Thanks for reporting it, but how come you just ignore its implications: that employers shun vets thereby implying a rejection of Lashinsky’s whole thesis by employers nationwide. All businesspeople want good employees. If vets are them, we will hire them without any government programs or encouragement from Fortune.

Bezos should run for office

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying,

We actively seek leaders who can invent, think big, have a bias for action, and deliver results on behalf of our customers.

Please name the active-duty member of the U.S. military who has invented anything in the last 50 years.

Please explain how a U.S. military officer could think big. When I was a company commander, my men had to mow our vast lawn with push mowers. The papers said for the new, all-volunteer Army, they would be getting riding mowers. I called up the chain of command to get a riding mower for my company. The aide of the Commanding general of the post—two- or three-star general—said his boss did not have the authority to get a riding lawn mower.

At the time, I had bought a rental duplex and considered buying one myself. Is I recall, they cost $260 at the time. So big shots though they seem to be, even generals in the Army have almost no authority. All the authority in the U.S. military is in the White House. Thus commanders in various recent operations calling the White House repeatedly—17 times before the three snipers shot the three pirates. Can you imagine World War II snipers calling FDR for permission to shoot. All Lashinsky knows about the military apparently came from his attendance at John Wayne movies. I see no mention of any military training or experience in his bio. He generally has been a Silicon Valley specialist. Heroes of war movies think big, but not real officers. They are not allowed.

Bias for action? What did I just say? Military officers are afraid to take action. The Navy commander of the ship in the pirates rescue had no bias for action. He had a bias for passing the buck for taking action to the president to cover his ass if it failed.

Results? They haven’t won a war in 67 years! I wrote an article noting that liberals and career military talk as if good intentions were a 100% substitute for results. If Amazon agrees that good intentions are a 100% substitute for results, they should hire military. Come to think of it, Amazon does seem to think that customer-centricand high sales intentions are a 100% substitute for profits and return on equity, the normal standards for results in business.

Bezos should have been a career military officer. He can sling it with the best of them.

Lashinsky says one former military guy who was general manager of two Phoenix warehouses was an Arabic linguist in the Army. That is even less likely than infantry training to make you a great manager and logistician.

‘Battle tested’

Lashinksy praises these vet Amazon managers as being “battle tested.” What does that mean? Am I battle tested? I did a tour in Vietnam. I was a commo platoon leader in an artillery battalion there. I heard some incoming and outgoing fired in anger. I have never characterized myself as battle tested. My World War II relatives never referred to themselves that way.

If I were going to say something like that about Clancey and the Iraq/Afghanistan vets in the article, I would: A. ask the details of their actual fire fight experience and B. try to ascertain whether it had any relationship whatsoever to performing as a warehouse manager in the U.S. I expect I would find that most U.S. Iraq/Afghanistan vets were never in a two-way fire fight (as opposed to an IED attack) and that those who actually were in such fights were only in them for a matter of minutes and that, exciting though it may have been, it was essentially irrelevant to managing a warehouse.

Mystique

In my book Succeeding, I said that combat vets, among others, have mystique. Mystique means others perceive them as superhuman. It also applies to Ivy League graduates, pro athletes, ex-cons, rock stars, etc. You can tell if someone has mystique because media reporters menion the mystique background in a story where they would not hae mentioned comparable nonmystique background. For example, when I have been quoted in my first civilian field of real estate investment, they would almost always mention that I was a West Point grad. But if my best friend from high school was quoted in his field—pediatrics—they would almost certainly not mention that he was a Michigan State grad. This in spite of the fact that West Point hav nothing to do with real estate just as Michiagn State has sothing to do with pediatrics. I am not theorizing here. This is exactly what happened to me. West Point has mystique; Michigan State does not.

I condemned pursuing mystique, while acknowledging that had done it, although I thought it was more substantive when I was pursuing it and I have not traded on the mystique. For example, I wrote an article about ranger school where I said that rangers have some extra skills that we gained from a two-month training session, but that our abilities in combat were extremely limited by light weapons, limited ammo, having to hide during day time, not being able to be near dogs, etc. Other rangers encourage laymen to continue to perceive them as supermen. That’s bull!. Lashinksy speaks of vets as if he is enthralled by their mystique. I did not see much effort by the vets themselves to encourage that. Most vets do not encourage it. They feel guilty about even silently accepting it.

Hire in their own image

In other articles, like “Should you go to, or stay at, West Point?”, I said that it is not true that going to West Point or an Ivy college (my oldest son) means you can write your own ticket. I further said that if you study alumni bios, you will see a pattern that some companies like to hire graduates of that school. I suspected it was because a high-executive in the past was a graduate of the school in question. Licentiously makes much of Amazon hiring vets proves vets are great. But then he says this,

…David Nierkerk, a West Point graduate and early Amazon executive who today is vice president of human resources for global customer fulfillment.

Well, then we have a chicken-or-egg question. Has Amazon hired a lot of West Pointers for its warehouses because they just happened to rise to the top of the applicant pile on the merit, or because some Amazon big shot hired people in his own image?

On page 219, Lashinsky says Amazon hired former officers without targeting them. It just sort of happened. But later, he says they have a program to increase the number of former military. Well, which is it? In the prior article I wrote about the prior Fortune article with this same thesis, I said if lots of vets get hired by out-competing non-vets, that suggests that vets are either high-quality raw material when they enter the military or become such as a result of military training or both. But I noted that many of the Fortune 500 companies hiring lots of vets are doing so because of special programs to accomplish just that. Affirmative action for vets. Affirmative action says nothing about the beneficiary of it and says volumes about the political correctness of the affirmative actor: Amazon in this case.

Being the beneficiary of affirmative-action laws or policies means you are considered to be some pathetic, lame group that cannot succeed without favoritism being shown towards them. The mere existence of affirmative-action programs, including giving vets hiring preference, implies the group in question sucks and needs an artificial advantage to have any hope of competing for a job. Also, companies that have such programs and publicize their existence are obviously motivated at least in part by seeking goodwill from being charitable towards a politically popular group.

The existence of corporate programs to hire vets implies there is something wrong with vets as a group. And the higher unemployment rate among vets than non-vets of the same age confirms that vets as a group are lame when it comes to getting and keeping jobs.

“Cut out the middleman?’

After all this “we hired them on merit stuff,” Lashinsky says,

In true Amazon cut-out-the-middleman fashion,…[they] conduct [their] own military recruiting…

Not only does Lashinsky know zilch about the military, he does not understand basic business like Amazon’s business model. He apparently believes that Amazon cuts out middlemen.

Amazon is a middleman, it is wholly a middleman, and it is nothing but a middleman. How could Fortune magazine of all publications, describe Amazon as a cutter outer of middlemen?

Fortune points to Amazon’s top rating in GI Jobs magazine which rates “military friendly” employers. Is there a magazine that rates Harvard MBA-friendly employers or Stanford-College friendly employers? There is not. The existence of such a magazine and of such a rating suggests that the vet group is lame and not being hired in proportion to their percentage of the population and therefore needs political pressure to be brought on large employers to get them to do what the vets cannot achieve through merit. If GI Jobs wants to help vets, it should strengthen their abilities to get jobs on their merit, not pressure employers politically to hire vets in spite of their lack of merit. They would probably claim to do both. Stop doing both. Just help the vets get better at being hired and performing once they do.

Lashinsky “proves” his thesis in part by citing another Amazon military hire. Kathleen Carroll, a former Marine logistics officer who “helped operate an airport in Iraq for a spell.” Ah! Actual logistics training and experience, although “helped operate an airport in Iraq for a spell” is very vague, like it could cover the maitre ’D of the airport mess hall. But at least she’s using that great logistics training if maybe not much experience at the old Amazon warehouse, right?

Wrong. Amazon did not assign this trained, experienced logistician to a logistics position. She “helps” (there’s that word again) run the “military-relations” program. In other words, her logistics training is totally irrelevant to her job at Amazon. Being in any branch with any training would have given her the required familiarity with military vets.

Lashinsky praises Carroll because she “abandoned a cushy suburban Chicago existence for the Marines because she thought it would be interesting.”

How laudable! Maybe she will get cast in a future Dos Equis commercial as the most interesting woman in the world.

But I must note that she now seems to have since abandoned the Marine Corps existence for a cushy suburban DC Amazon existence because she thought it would offer a better life than being in the Marines. Maybe her third career choice will be the charm.

Since that is the opposite of the previously laudable going into the Marines, does that mean her exit from the Marines and return to cushy is unlaudable? Did she find after choosing “interesting” that she prefers “boring?”

‘Comfortable with ambiguity’

She says, “military leaders are comfortable with ambiguity.”

No, they’re not. They operate in a world almost devoid of ambiguity by conscious design. They do not even have ambiguity about their clothing or hair length. It’s all prescribed. She cited a non-specific order to “take a hill” or “build a bridge.”

Has she ever seen a military order? We sure had those at West Point. We even had operations orders for football games like the Army-Navy Game. Boy, were they specific. Times, places, exactly what to do, what uniform to wear, what train car to get on. What time and where to meet at 1AM to get back on the train.

An op order to take a hill would specify the hill (generally has a three or four-digit number representing the unique summit altitude, and the grid coordinates of the hill). In order to avoid friendly fire, it would specify the path the attackers should take. It would absolutely specify the exact time for the unit to cross the forward edge of the battle area. Such a mission would probably be supported by artillery and combat and medevac aircraft. Everything is spelled out in great detail.

Ditto for a bridge building order. The location, type, and time of completion would be spelled out in great detail. Again, there would probably be air and artillery support that would need to be coordinated and synchronized.

Commanders of take-hill or build-bridge missions would have some limited discretion or poetic license, but the vast majority of the order contents would be inviolable and deviations could cause friendly fire deaths and/or mission failure.

At West Point, each room had a 2-inch thick regulations book that specified, with photos in many cases, exactly how your locker inside, shoes under your bed, clothes hanging on hooks, rifle rack, and so on had to look. We had to get our hair cut weekly, shine our shoes and brass before every exit of our room during our first two months. There was virtually no ambiguity at all. And the name of that college was the United States Military Academy. The U.S. military wouldn’t recognize ambiguity if it tripped over it. And they would be paralyzed by it.

There is also the issue of when was the last time a U.S. military unit was assigned to take a hill that was defended by enemies who did not want us to take it. I think it was in Vietnam, 40 years ago.

Fortune says conferences rooms at an Amazon Phoenix warehouse have military names including Mess Hall and Bunker. Ooookay.

Amazon awards a sort of military medal to employees

They award medals called coins, I guess because they have no piece of cloth attached. They are given out for doing good things like a military medal. They have the logos of all five U.S. military services on one side and the Amazon logo on the other. Oh, reall!?. Is that legal? Is Amazon a branch of the U.S. military. Which of those five branches did Jeff Bezos serve in? None.

Remember what I said about refusing to sign false documents in the military. In 2011, Lashinsky reports, Amazon settled a lawsuit by an employee, oops, “associate,” who said he was instructed to lie about the nature of a workplace accident. Ah, yes, the military, who love the word honor—when they are not saying things like “I’ll deny I said this but…” or “I was never here.”

Give military wives portable telecommuting jobs

The only substantive thing I found in the article was the revelation that Amazon gives some military wives portable phone or computer jobs that they can continue doing as their husbands get transferred around the world. The situation of those wives is pretty sad. Many work as teachers, but they never get tenure and always get the new-guy worst classes to teach because of all the moving around. Wives with law degrees or medical licenses can only work in the states where they got their license so as they move, they are unable to pursue their careers without going through expensive, time-consuming re-licensing.

Look, if you really want to know how former young military officers do in civilian business when they get out, read my “Should you go to, or stay at, West Point?” I discuss that at some length there and provide various stats and other hard data on the subject.

How about if Fortune does an article about all the West Point grad CEOs? I know of two recent ones: P&G and 7-Eleven. And make sure that article lists the undergraduate colleges of all the 500 CEOs and ranks the colleges according to which has the most CEOs. I suspect that 2 will not be the winning number—or even close. What does that say about what wonderful business managers vets are?

6/4/12—I just got my 6/11/12 isuse of Fortune, the first one after the above described issue. It has a 13-page “special advertising section” titled “on the hiring line: comapnies across te country are recognizing that the military is an advanced technology force that operates what my be the largest supply chain in the world.” That title and subtitle are the same as the thesis of the article I critiqued above. The final words of the “special advertising section” are:

To advertise in our Hiring Veterans sections, contact Pete Francio at 212.522. 4227. For reprints, call PARSat 212.221.9595, ext 437.

You gotta be kidding me! So it’s not a slobbering love affair, it’s a product line for Fortune. What’s the sales pitch

We’re running an article on what a great thing it is to hire vets. Next issue will have an ad section of it. You wouldn’t want to be left out of helping vets would you?

I thought maybe somebody at Fortune had a kid in the military. Nothing so innocent as that.

Look, if you are such a hot leader because of your military training and experience, start your own business. That’s what I did and what many other vets have done, like the founder of FedEx. And don’t be a beggar who says “buy from me instead of my competitor because I’m a vet.” Compete solely on the value of your product or service.

All this stuff Fortune is talking about including corporate programs that recurit vets are lame affirmative action that implicitly say vets are losers who need special ed. type help to get hired. The real test of leadership is whether you can succeed without being a freaking charity case.

Don’t tell me what a great leader you are because you got shot at or because you graduated from a service academy. Show me! Stop talking about leadership and just lead.

Here is an email I got on 6/5/12 from a West Point grad about this article:


Jack,

Your articles make my week! Thanks for continuing to write--I'll continue to read.

The Amazon article struck home for me--I interviewed there in 2006, back when their whole Junior Military Officer recruting phenomenon really started to take off.

My opinon:

The US Army offers:
Shitty work
For shitty pay
In shitty garrison and combat environments
Working with shitty, scumbag people
And working for incompetent, shitty people who can order you to be maimed or killed

Amazon appeared to offer me:
Shitty work
For shitty pay
In shitty garrison-like areas around the US
Working with scummy people

Thus the familiarity? And we all know how ex-military people love familiarity . . . .

So a JMO exiting the military sees things he or she knows so well, albeit devoid of combat and scumbags that can send them to their deaths. Sounds like heaven on earth!

And Amazon (like any number of Fortune 500 companies I interviewed with that are "in love" with JMOs) digs this as well--for a very good reason:

Yes sir
No sir
No excuse sir

That's what they want. And that's what they get, for offering a familiar, yet combat/death-absent environment. Bright, young, close-minded young people who obey without question and perform at high levels with an insane, Academy-driven need to outdo their peers and make their bosses look like they walk on water.

So if anyone thinks that they're really looking for innovative personnel for their Fulfillment Centers--they are not. They DO have a "whiz kid" recruitment arm that aspires to hire super-smart innovators for their corporate office--but if you do not have an MBA from a top-5 school, they won't even look at you.

This, in my opinion, is the "man behind the curtain." People may tout "lessons learned in combat" or the "excellence of an Academy education" in an effort to sell magazines, but to be completely frank, that is not Amazon's (and, in my experience, other companies') focus. Their focus is on bamboozling (by familiarity and the relief of not being in a combat zone) young, smart, order-taking and highly-competitive/obedient kids into holding the same sorts of non-jobs they held in the service: they supervise a certain class/type of people in a certain class/type of job, picking out items from other manufacturers to create orders, which are then sent out to paying customers by an entirely separate logistics company.

Have a good one!

Jeff Owen, West Point Class of 1994

second email from Jeff plus [my answer]:

Jack,

Your latest articles have really resounded with me--probably because I was one of the people who was told, "go to WP and you can write your own ticket," only to find out that this was absolutely false. My post-military career has been one fiasco after another, and I have actually found myself passed over for jobs because of my West Point/Army background.

Here is my "take:" JMO recruiting agencies, during the golden years prior to 1999 or 2000, successfully found their clients white-collar jobs in Fortune 500 Companies in major urban areas, as:
· Consultants or financial managers for insurance companies, big-4 accounting firms, or money management agencies
· Fortune 500 sales associates/managers
· Engineering managers

Now, the "offers" appear to center around:

· Agencies that contract with the Federal Government to continue an unwinnable war in Afghanistan
· Agencies that desire a "yes sir, no sir, no excuse sir" mentality and will hire you to manage

· Blue-collar concerns (such as factory production lines, janitorial staffs, and grocery stores) for shitty hours and shitty pay in shitty areas of the country

The solution for most JMOs these days is to go back to school and get an advanced degree. Those who go to "big-name" schools [I was one of those inthe late 1970s] might subsequently get picked up for 6-figure salaries, but since they now owe huge student loan amounts their disposable incomes will be low for quite some time.

If one feels that getting out of the Army and working as a federally-contracted mercenary in Afghanistan/Iraq for $200,000+ per year to essentially be an Army officer without a uniform is a step in the right direction—think again! You will NOT find yourself exiting this job into a like-paying position in the US or any other civilized country. You WILL find yourself even MORE behind your civilian counterparts in terms of marketability. Unless you want to spend the rest of your life wandering from third-world-country to third-world-country training people how to kill and maim and hoping you don't get killed yourself before you can spend your accumulated earnings.

And here's an even more sobering question: what say you decide to get out of the Army, NOT go back to school, and, no matter how hard you try, the JMO placement agencies can't put you in a position that suits your fancy? Do you have enough money saved that you can live, unemployed, for 6-12 months? If not, what are you going to do? Take an entry-level position serving coffee or parking cars? What employer is going to hire you for that? With a West Point degree—you're WAY overqualified (and I know this from personal experience). Move back in with your parents?

I am sure you'll have many responses to this saying I that I am off base—but I have to tell you, from personal experience, saying you went to West Point may get you a few impressed looks from prospective employers, but the super-duper jobs that JMOs used to land in the 1990's are no longer out there. PARTICULARLY in this economy.

People look at me like I'm crazy when I give them this "info," but I have to tell you, if I could do it all over again, I would do it differently. I'm glad I'm not in these kids' shoes right now. Hopefully, more of them and their parents will read your website and make the right decision, rather than follow the erroneous path I took back in 1990.

Have a good one!

Jeff

[I tend to see the world in more self-employment terms and regard jobs as just a starting out necessary evil. I use my West Point training in the sense that it helps me analyze things better. But that is about the substance of the education, not the credential. I also get some help from the credential in that prospective book buyers often tell me the combination of West Point and Harvard Business School helped convince them to buy my books initially. They often comment about how unusual the combination is. Actually, it is the most common graduate degree among West Point grads in the classes I know of. I am one of 23 HBS MBAs in my West Point class. I was once interviewing a prospective tenant when I owned apartment buildings while I was an MBA student. When I asked if he had gone to college, he sarcastically answered, “Yeah, West Point and Harvard.” It was the most outlandishly impressive higher education that popped into his mind at the moment. He did not go to any college.
I would say that my classmates who graduated and did not have to go into the Army—two tennis players including one who was my roommate—probably were a bit ahead of their civilian peers in terms of no excuse and such. But every year one spends in the military, while one's age-goup peers are gaining experience and contacts in civilian life, puts you farther behind those peers. West Point grads all have to play catch up, even those who avoid after-graduation military service. West Point's isolation and regimentation are not the real world, so WPers are four years behind in that category on graduation day. Then they fall further behind in the Army and they are simultaneously acquiring bad government bureaucrat habits and letting the good character and good habits that got them admitted to WP atrophe.

On balance, a West Point education and military experience are a handicap to be overcome in a corporate civilian career. If you just get a job outside the elite college graduate track that Fortune seems to think is the whole universe, having gone to West Point will not be much of a factor either way. I senesd that West Point may have helped me get hired although was not decisive in jobs like real estate agent, property manager, coach, but as I said elsewhere, you may be “the West Point guy” abstraction the first week, but after that, you’re “Jack” or whoever. Your subsequent promotions and jobs in that field will be based on“ Jack”, not USMA. Ultimately, after the first book, people buy my books because they are good, not because I went to West Point or Harvard. That is really what civilan careers are all about.
Jack]

John T. Reed

Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military

John T. Reed military home page


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