“I was sick of being told what to do. In the military you take orders and do what you are told to do. In Iraq those orders nearly got me killed,” Bajema said. “I flew home from Iraq thinking there had to be a better way than being told what to do and getting shot at.”
Bajema received a Purple Heart from Pres. George W. Bush and was medically retired from the Marine Corps.
Millions of men and women are leaving the U.S. military, coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan to a 9-to-5 world. Are they ready? Many are not, as I discovered writing several articles on the topic for Crain’s Michigan Business.
However, some, like Justin Bajema have found a new mission: the life of an entrepreneur. Bajema got into real estate investing in 2006, creating his own business, Access Property Management Group in Allendale. He has used that business as a platform to lead other military veterans into entrepreneurship. Bajema is convinced that what they were taught in the service will serve them well in the business world.
“There are many veterans who are strong leaders and just don’t want to be told what to do any more,” said Bajema. “Over 80 percent of military vets who go into higher education after being discharged are dropping out. It is a staggering number.”
Brad Napier, a 42-year old, Detroit-area, African-American, services-disabled veteran, wants to be the face of the twenty-first century veteran-entrepreneur.
“I plan to be a major player. I plan to become a blueprint for veterans of all colors, black, white, men and women who want to start their own businesses,” he said. “I want to help as many veterans as I can because I didn’t do this by myself.”
He opened Napier Industries, an Ann Arbor construction company after serving four years in the U.S. Army. Napier also spent 10 years on a Ford Motor Company assembly line and used his company educational benefits to earn a bachelor’s degree from Cleary College in Ann Arbor and an MBA from Baker College.
Napier believes the military culture in which he was immersed for four years has given him a “tremendous advantage.” “You know how to attack a mission,” he said. “You know how to get it done.”
Jon Tellier and his wife Sue Schweim Tellier run their own business in Grand Rapids, JetCo Solutions a company Jon described as “an extension of a company’s sales and marketing effort to pursue and win government business.” The Lansing, Michigan native, a former U.S. Army Ranger, was also a halfback on the West Point football team. He served in Italy, Germany, and Desert Storm. “The military, at the basic core level,” he said, “teaches us that we have to win to insure our way of life, our freedoms that we enjoy, to wake up every day to go to school and work and to never being afraid that our freedoms will be taken away from us.”
“Mission first” are the words Jon said he lived by in the military. “You have to go out and get the job done.”
Responsibility, accountability and discipline are all engrained in military veterans, according to Sue. “Just ask our 13-year old son.” I met these entrepreneurs just over a year ago when I began writing a series of articles for Crain’s Michigan Business. Here’s a link to the first story I wrote one year ago.
A year later, I checked in with them again, and discovered two had almost given up their entrepreneurial quests. Can you guess which two almost threw in the towel?
The answer to that question is in this link to the most recent story, published last month, July 8, 2013.
That’s their better idea. What’s yours?
Lyons Circle Publishing Inc.
—Rod Kackley is an author and journalist. He has written for Crain’s Detroit Business, The Detroit News, and MiBiz. He is a former news director for WOOD-AM/FM and has written a book that tells the story of the creation of Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile, Last Chance Mile: The Reinvention of an American Community (available wherever bookstores and online). He has also written an ebook essay series, Restore The Roar: Manufacturing Renaissance, which is available online.
For more information, please to go www.rodkackley.com
(C) 2013 Lyons Circle Publishing Inc.