BestCompaniesAZ is hosting its fifth annual Vet Talks: Business Networking and Career Event from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at University of Phoenix, 1625 W. Fountainhead Parkway, Tempe. The event features more than 30 Valley military-friendly companies that are committed to hiring veterans.
The “Vet Talks” portion of the event, modeled after “TED Talks,” features presentations by different military professionals who have transitioned into civilian life, with some of Arizona’s top companies, including GoDaddy and Freedom Financial Network.
The main events, however, are the veteran interactions with Valley employers, business leaders, acquisition teams and military resource organizations.
Denise Gredler, founder and CEO of BestCompaniesAZ, launched the company in 2004 and works with top Valley companies, such as GoDaddy, Charles Schwab and USAA, to implement military-friendly and veteran-committed workplace initiatives.
“About five years ago, I was approached by Arizona State University and was asked if I’d be interested in creating this program, ‘Birdies for the Brave,’ a PGA Foundation nonprofit,” she said. “The first year we were approached, to get veteran-committed companies, we were at the first day of Waste Management Open.
“That was my very first experience with a veteran group. It was a truly eye-opening experience. I learned so much about leadership talent coming out of the military. They had difficulty in transition. So, that’s really how it got started. I made connections with companies, met a lot of veteran groups, companies like Charles Schwab that create, making it easier to translate from a military to a business resume.”
Gredler said the first couple years, she held a couple workshops, veteran and civilian training programs, and every year, the companies that were committed to hiring veterans wanted her to continue. Ranging from finance to technology and call centers to companies such as Charles Schwab, Farmers, GoDaddy, USAA, Vanguard and Rings, there were veteran resource groups in all of them, helping veterans create a career path with corporate companies.
A lot has happened in the past five years. When Gredler’s veteran employment events began, the unemployment rate was high overall. The rate has gone down since then, but remains higher in the Valley, with 5.2 percent compared to the national average of 3.7 percent. In that time, Gredler has helped veteran-friendly companies develop initiatives, such as military spouse telecommuting, veteran resource groups, management training and career development programs and veteran mentorships, which helps pave the way for the future of veteran employment and job satisfaction.
Speakers at the “Vets Talk” part of the event include Brenda Smull, managing director at Charles Schwab in Phoenix. Smull has worked for Schwab for six years. In the late 1980s, she was in the Army and stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, but deployed to Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
“I started out organized; it make me more so,” Smull said. “You have to be more disciplined. It’s life or death.”
Smull just started a new job two weeks ago in the data center operations, where she is managing director of incident management.
“When things break, we have to go. We’ve been doing great,” she said.
Directing the conversation toward military transition to the corporate world, Smull said, “It’s hard for people to translate what they did in the military. I went to a recruiter in the early ‘90s. I was in pharmaceutical sales. The next job was through army friends, in Walmart in Arkansas. It’s like the job here at Schwab, like I did in the military.”
When she was in the military, women were not allowed in combat. So, she helped set up the cellular program on the battlefield.
“We were in the front lines, so we set up the network and made sure it worked,” Smull said. “That’s what we do now – network at Schwab, very similar.”
Smull said she is part of the Military Veterans Network (MVN) at Schwab.
“More than 500 people are in it in Phoenix and Denver,” she said. “We help each other volunteering and recruiting. We support helping Hiring Our Heroes, a nationwide program. Another program is Military Spouse Employment, a Department of Defense program that helps spouses of military people get jobs.”
Smull said Charles Schwab also does training for veterans inside and out on financial literacy.
She said, “A lot of soldiers and military people don’t do well on their financials at home.”
Smull is a writer as well and maintains a blog, BrendaSmull.com.
She is also active in American Legion Post 64 in Ahwatukee. Smull recommends transitioning veterans joining veteran service organizations, which can help a lot, and then meet other nonprofits and get a job.
No. 1, she said, “Get a LinkedIn profit. Put it online.”
Smull said that is where most recruiters and most employers will search. She said veterans need to get a professional headshot posted and list their military experience in civilian terms.
“You need to network, talk to people in industries you want to be in,” she said. “The job I have now I got from people I knew. But you have to actively make those connections. Staffing firms are all over.
“Other things, I would recommend military people get certifications on what they want to do and go to meetings. This is my perspective from being in the working world so long.”
The last thing Smull recommends: Join Toastmasters. She has been a member 25 years. She said it helps with public speaking and offers great connections.
Veterans in transition who will speak at the March 7 event are Brenda Smull, managing director, incident management, Charles Schwab; Brian Parks, IT director, USAA; Matt Tydings, IT director, Freedom Financial; Heather Dopson, community builder, GoDaddy; and Tesh Rao, senior associate athletic director, Sun Devil Athletics.
Gredler said most companies that are coming to the event will bring veteran employees wearing their branded shirts.
“They actually will talk to job seekers as they’re walking by and help them navigate how to get a career with the company,” Gredler said. “It’s informal networking. If a company doesn’t have a job, they’ll recommend or refer them to a company that has an opening.
“Dignity Health, their recruiters are amazing at coaching and giving tips. I’ve seen them with a couple college grads. They really touch and advise them on a new career.
“And they’re all good companies and good people. Most of them have been voted Bests Place to Work or they are a veteran employer.”