In honor of Veteran’s Day, we turn our focus on supporting service members re-entering civilian life. Helping veterans transition back into civilian life is of great importance to Tara Leweling, Vice President of Stakeholder Relations & Thought Leadership at Allstate. In an article for Forbes, Tara detailed her life-changing trip to Normandy and how that uniform-to-business transition can be harder than many would expect.
By Tara Leweling, Vice President of Stakeholder Relations & Thought Leadership at Allstate
Two years ago, I accompanied the President of the United States to Normandy as world leaders met to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Representatives from both sides of the conflict in Europe—allies and former foes—stood together in remembrance of the fallen and their sacrifice. The commemorations were powerful and poignant.
That day wasn’t all ceremony, of course. Whenever world leaders gather, there is business to be done—which is precisely why I was there, to support the president’s conversations with a number of European leaders. There was much to discuss.
But for me, the trip was also a swan song, as just a few short weeks later, my active military service and White House assignment would end. All day, I felt deeply moved to be ending my military career on such a symbolic note, and overwhelmed with tremendous gratitude for those who came before me and for those who would follow. It’s hard to put to words how much that day meant.
I was also feeling another emotion, one to which I rarely admit: I was nervous about what was to come next professionally. A few months earlier, my husband and I had reached the decision that it was time for me to leave the military. Like many of the nearly 200,000 men and women who transition each year, I wasn’t entirely sure how my skills and experience would translate to the civilian world. I was stepping into a great unknown.
Looking back, I realize I had a lot to offer. I had led teams—big and small—to solve complex and thorny issues. I had built and executed strategies, and I forged consensus in difficult international negotiations. I had crafted plan after plan to prepare for unfathomable scenarios that all of us hoped would never come to pass. I had engaged with officials from too many countries to count. And for the previous two years, I had woken up every morning, before the sun, thinking, “What does the president need to know?” It was grueling, but never dull. I thrived on the challenges and thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie from my first day in uniform to the last.
All of that was ending. How, I wondered, would corporate America view my background? Would it embrace someone with little private sector experience? What opportunities existed for someone like me? Where do I even start? Honestly, I had no idea—for years, the Air Force had made the final decisions about where I would live and what job would best utilize my skills.
Enter LinkedIn, networking, and by some grace, a position at a veteran-friendly employer that seemed a perfect fit: Director of International Policy and Programs at JPMorgan Chase.
Here, my days are not that different than at the White House—although now I wake up way too early out of habit, not always necessity, and my focus is global, instead of on a single region. Half of my work involves teaming with incredible professionals to offer unique insights as global events unfold that could affect our company or our clients. The other half involves coordinating the meetings of the J.P. Morgan International Council, a group that is currently chaired by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and consists of about 30 remarkable leaders from public life and business who advise on global issues. This year, I’ve also been working with General Ray Odierno (USA, Ret.), former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and Senior Advisor at the firm, on Securing Global Cities, a project meant to explore the intersection between economics and security in cities.
I’m immensely proud of the work I do at JPMorgan Chase—and the more I have come to know the firm, the more I see the parallels to my previous life. Meetings start on time and have an agenda—reminding me of days at the Pentagon. Colleagues genuinely respect each other and pitch in, offering assistance when needed—a hallmark of military camaraderie. And like the military, our business is global. In a recent week, for example, I joined and led calls with colleagues based in Hong Kong, Beijing, London, Brussels, New York, Washington D.C., Paris, and Dubai. Together, we form a team, working for a company that encourages a global perspective within its diverse workforce, and warmly welcomes veterans into its ranks.
I will always cherish my time in uniform—serving one’s country or community is an experience that simply can’t be replicated, and one you will never regret. But as it always does, the time had come to do something new. These days, one of my ways of giving back is to spend time mentoring young people, who I encourage to consider some form of public service, even for a short period of time.
Two years ago, I was nervous about stepping into the unknown. Now, it’s hard to imagine a better transition.
Dr. Tara Leweling is the Vice President of Stakeholder Relations & Thought Leadership at Allstate, based in Chicago. She was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force through the ROTC program at the University of Michigan. Her final assignment was on the National Security Council staff at the White House.