The Road to a Think TankTransition
In This Episode
Find out how JV can help your team break the trust barrier
Connect with JV on LinkedIn
Curt Sheldon JV, welcome to the show.
JV Venable: It's great to be with you.
Curt Sheldon: And we're happy to have you here. Before we get too far along here I probably should tell folks you and I have known each other for a long, long time. We don't generally call each other by our real names. It's that old fighter pilot thing. So you've left the military. So, I'm just going to kind of ask you a few questions about it, and you can let folks know what worked with you during the transition, and a little bit about what's going on with you in your life. So, let's start with that. What are you doing now currently?
JV Venable: I work with a Heritage Foundation. I'm a senior research fellow, which means I'm a pretty old guy, and I'm supposed to chart the course of what I think the Air Force and the Space Force and the Navy assets and the Army and Marine Corps aviation assets should look like over the course of the next decade or two, or the federal government, and I do that independently.
One of the great pieces of this job is that I get to be an independent actor, and then I enjoy the complete support of the entire organization, which is kind of unique here in the city.
Curt Sheldon: Cool. Sounds pretty cool. So, I've heard of Heritage a long time ago. I'm a fan. I tend to lean towards the conservative side a bit, but I've always wondered how many people actually show up at the lunchroom at Heritage? How big of an organization is it?
JV Venable: Well, we have about 300 people across the United States, 240 or 250 of which work in this building of ours, which is on Massachusetts Avenue here in Downtown DC, and there are probably 100, 90 to 100 folks who do the research, and the rest of the organization supports that research in one way or the other, either through congressional engagement or by being an HR specialist, but a pretty tight knit group of people, and I'd have to say if this is not one of the best organizations that I've ever been in, this may very well be the best.
Curt Sheldon: Okay. Sounds great. So, that's where you are now. We know you retired from the Air Force in 06 as a colonel. What were you doing your last day on active duty? What was your job when you retired?
JV Venable: I was working for the Chief of Staff and the A 3/5, or the Chief of Operations, as their Joint Actions Coordination Office Lead. I handled everything that the Air Force wanted to go down to the other services, and everything that came from the other services into the Air Force, and I was the final approval authority for most of it.
Some of that required my boss or his boss's signature, and I would go and get them, but the other job on daily basis was to prepare them for their respective battles in the tank where all of the Chiefs of Operations of the different services came together and/or all of the Chiefs of Staff, and they would do turf battles on topics, everything from airspace over Iraq back in 2005, 2007 timeframe to what the next joint acquisition will be.
It was a great job, and I got some incredible opportunities to learn and listen and watch senior leaders operating at the highest ends of an organization. It was a great gift.
Curt Sheldon: Okay. So that's where you ended up. I know a little bit about your career, but what are some of the other career highlights that you had while you were on active duty?
JV Venable: I started out as OV10 pilot. I went through flight school at Shepard Air Force base, got an OV10 and took that to George Air Force Base out in California, and served as a ground forward air controller and an air FAC in Europe, but mostly in the dessert west of the United States.
After two or two and half years I went on to fly the F16, and I got to fly that all over the world. Everything from Torrejon in Spain to Turkey throughout Europe, and then the Middle East to the Philippines, and I was based in Kunsan, Korea for a couple years.
Air command and staff, college, somewhere in the middle there I was diagnosed with cancer and told I would never fly again, and decided to put an old dream I had up on the -- as a kid up on the horizon, and I fought my way into the cockpit of the lead aircraft of the United States Air Force, Thunderbird, and did that for two years. Loved it, and loved that opportunity immensely.
From there air war college onto my command tour in the Persian Gulf as an expeditionary operations group commander. I had 16 squadrons underneath me, and we were flying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I got to fly combat missions every other day. Just an incredible job, and then I went and finished up my career in the Pentagon in 2007.
Curt Sheldon: Okay. So, obviously a pretty cool career flying for the Thunderbirds had to been a real lot of fun and pretty exciting. I've got to say I'm just a little bit jealous there. So, retired. Let's see, as I recall, right around 2007, 2008. I know you didn't go to work for Heritage right away, and you worked through a couple different positions. Kind of typical I think of a lot of retired 06s is it takes a while to find that final job or a job where it's a really good fit.
So, what did you do from the time you retired to the time you started to work for Heritage?
JV Venable: Yeah, I took kind of a typical path. I remember going through the ETAP program, the transition assistance program the Air Force offered, and they told me the average retiree would take two to three jobs, some upwards of four or five, over the first five years after they left the service, and I kind of heard that and nodded, and then --
One of the things I knew I'd never wanted to be was a contractor who worked primarily in the Pentagon, and as I was stepping out the door I had a general officer that I knew retired. Wanted me to come work for him. It was so easy, and before I knew it I was driving the work, doing what I told myself I would never do, and I did that for a company called Systems Planning and Analysis, and then after a year or so I transitioned to General Dynamics Technology, information technology, and I had stayed in that job for another year, and then I realized that this wasn't what I wanted to do, and I went on my own.
Started a speaking career, and then started a start up company that worked explosive detection for the army research lab, and we did an R and D contract that I ended up winning, and then managed for our organization down in Memphis, Tennessee for the better part of four years, and that's pretty much the gap.
I had four jobs in that area before I came in to work for the Heritage Foundation, and here it was just a happenstance, and I think I've fallen into tall cotton all by the grace of God.
Curt Sheldon: Okay. So, you said the first job, a GO that you worked with, contacted you about that, or a previous GO. How did you find up about that startup? How did that come to pass?
JV Venable: Well, it's all about networking it turns out, and I had a ... My wife made contact with a family in a church that while I was in the Persian Gulf, and when I came back we ended up over at their house for dinner, and what do you do, and what do I do, and I was working countering weapons of mass destruction issues for the Air Force at that time, and he kind of looked at me funny and told me he had a paper he wanted me to read.
And I read it. It was about this detection system that could detect explosives in a moving vehicle, and I read it skeptically and asked if I could talk to the lead physicist, and one thing led to another, and we ended up forming a company, and that basically rented a warehouse and started from ground up, and ended up getting about 28 or 29 million dollars worth of contracts from the Federal government.
At the end of day our technology did not solve the world's explosive detection needs, and we ended up moving into other areas.
Curt Sheldon: Okay. And so that was a networking win, and I know in the ETAPs that I interact with they talk a lot about network, network, network. You just never know where your next contact and next lead's going to come from, and then with Heritage, was that basically through networking as well, or how did you find it?
JV Venable: I had a very good friend that he and I played golf together. I coached his son's playing baseball, and he helped me coach mine during my latter years in the service, and we just became good friends, and this explosives detection contract is kind of winding down he asked me if I'd be interested in a job that he had been asked to interview for, and he was not interested in it, and that was to come here and interview with the Heritage Foundation.
And so he had been approached by somebody that he knew, and then he handed that person off to me, and that's how this all materialized.
Curt Sheldon: Anything that you were either surprised with, or you found was interesting in either the hiring process or onboarding, again, you weren't expecting or caught you off guard, or you just said that's a really cool thing?
JV Venable: I would say I was disappointed throughout all of my new hire, onboarding processes. We're spoiled in the military. We've got that down to an art of being able to either be caught or catch new people coming into an organization, and the civilian world just doesn't have that down, and when you come in, as unfamiliar as we generally are with a new organization and how that operation function, what the specific jobs are, what I found was there was a significant need there.
Even here in the Heritage Foundation I found that, but the difference is when I brought up they asked me how I would go about fixing it, and I gave them the book that I had just published, and we started walking down that path together. It's been an incredible journey of writing something and seeing a company that was interested enough in you and what you had written to actually implement it, and that's what we ended up doing here at Heritage.
Curt Sheldon: So, JV, I'm a money guy and a finance guy. So, I always like to talk to folks a little bit about money. I'm not going to ask you anything real specific, but if you could talk to me just a little bit about the financial side of the transition for you, anything catch you off guard, even on the good side or the bad side, and how did that work out for you?
JV Venable: Well, I'll say, the only thing that really took me by surprise was the kind of cellophane, mayonnaise jar kind of attitude that many people had in reviewing the fact that you were in the military or I was in the military, and you had retirement. You had Tricare, and so they kind of wanted to take that into consideration with regard to what they would pay you.
It took a little coaching and reading a couple books about it, but you can work your way around it, but you just have to kind of gently force that issue to let them know that you need to be paid what you're worth, and not be paid what you're worth minus what the Federal government is giving you as a retirement.
Curt Sheldon: So, anything special, you said you read a few books. What did you ultimately end up doing to help you get paid what you're worth?
JV Venable: I think just sticking to your guns and having the right verbiage at your fingertips to do that in a genteel way as opposed to a confrontational way, and letting people know that you are worth the salary that you're asking for, and that's easy to figure out in the market. It's just making sure that they know that you know that you're valuable.
Curt Sheldon: Okay. Good stuff. I'm a small business owner, and small business owners have really good days, and we have some bad days too. Were there any low points for you in the transition?
JV Venable: I think the lowest point for me was recognizing that I'd let myself down. I wasn't doing what I told myself I wanted to do. I went into the contractor world. I was building Power Point presentations and reports that no one was going to look at or review or actually use, and that's probably an overstatement, but not much of an overstatement, and so when I realized that and actually took decisive action to move away from that world it was very cathartic, and of course it wasn't easy, but nothing worth having every is.
Curt Sheldon: Any, I guess, in general surprises about being a civilian that just for me civilians never answer e-mail. Any surprises to you there that when she was becoming a civilian?
JV Venable: I think it wasn't a surprise, but there was also the reality that unity and cohesion that you knew and the service was likely never going to be quite the same. This organization that I'm in right now, the Heritage Foundation, allows me to generate that, and we've got a tight little group, the division that I'm in is knotted up, and we do first Fridays and have very traditional celebrations just the way we did in the service, which is eye opening to folks who've never been through it, and it's glue for the folks who are in the middle of it, and that feels good.
Curt Sheldon: Okay. So, I'm going to give you the opportunity like I'm going to give to all my future speakers. Just your chance to -- I think it's spread into all 06s and prior 06s that we kind of like to pontificate. So, I'll just give you a chance here for an open pontification on anything you would like to cover regarding retiring and becoming a civilian.
JV Venable: It's a great journey, is what I'll say, and I've been out of the service for 12 years, and those years have gone by wicked fast. I thought the time in the service went by fast, but this has gone by even faster. It seems like every time I tell someone how long I've been retired I have to add another year to it, and those questions and those engagements really aren't that far apart it seems like.
So, enjoy the ride. It's not something to fight. It's just another stage, and I'm carrying a smile on my face every day that I'm given the opportunity to come back here in this great organization called the Heritage Foundation and work with this incredible group of people.
Curt Sheldon: Okay. Now there was one thing you mentioned in passing before that I did want to kind of highlight, and that is the fact, like me you have a book out, but unlike me, you actually had a publisher and went through the publishing process. Tell us just a little about the book?
JV Venable: The book is a compilation of episodes in my life that basically flow into a process for leading people. I know that's hard for folks who have been in the military to hear and digest without a little bit of a tight jaw, but most folks in the community outside the service really don't know how to lead teams, and giving them the foundation that we were all given is what I laid out in the book to onboard people to where you develop a relationship through commitment, and then over time pick key faculties in their life and passions and loves that they have and helping them fulfill those areas, and in that you develop loyalty, and over time and consistently being a man or woman of character you can pull them into that trust that we knew that we could bet our lives on the team around us.
And that's what I've packaged in this book. It's kind of like a harlequin romance only it has a good message to it, and the romance is the highs and lows of my career, and the things that I learned along the way through some pretty hard lessons, and I think those that have a moment might enjoy reading it. It's called Breaking the Trust Barrier by a company out in California called Barret Kohler.
It's a quick read. It was written by a fighter pilot so the words aren't very big, and the message is pretty crisp, so I think you'll enjoy it.
Curt Sheldon: And is that available on Amazon?
JV Venable: It is, on Amazon and I speak on occasion, and I'll be speaking at National Harbor tomorrow morning, and if you happen to be in the hallways there I'll have a stack of books with me. You can get them online, get them through Barret Kohler, or you can get them at an event near you.
Curt Sheldon: Okay. We'll make sure you put a link to it in our show notes so that people can get to it, and then one other thing, you mentioned there speaking. You are available for speaking, and how do people -- and speaking engagements. How do people find out about that, and contact you about that?
JV Venable: I have a website, and it will give you some insights and some clips and some partial presentations that you can -- and some pretty cool footage in there of my time with the Thunderbirds that you might enjoy, and the initials Juliet Victor at Juliet Victor, and then my last name, Venable. So, it's JV at JV Venable dot com.
Curt Sheldon: Okay. That's your e-mail?
JV Venable: That's my e-mail, and the website is jvvenable.com.
Curt Sheldon: Okay. Great. Great. So, one last question that I'd like to ask you to wrap things up, and if you can, like i said it's been a few years, but if you can remember back to a few more years or a few months past that your six months, 12 months out from retirement, and you're getting ready to retire, and what do you wish you would have known then that you know now?
JV Venable: To trust the folks that were telling me how things were going to flow out. Rarely have I heard the exception of people not stepping through one or two different jobs in their first five years out, but it's just to be amenable to that. Know that you might not pick the right company the first step, and it might take you two or three more to get it right, but eventually you will, and when you do, retired life is just fabulous.
It's not quite as an intense, and the occupation itself doesn't have those incredible highs that we knew in the service, but I got to tell you life is awfully good.
Curt Sheldon: All right, JV. Well thanks so much for agreeing to be number one on our first episode, and hopefully folks listening won't know it, but struggling through a couple tech difficulties on my side. We really do appreciate it, and best of luck with the book and the speaking going forward and continue to enjoy things at Heritage, thanks a lot.
JV Venable: My pleasure. Thank you very much.