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Trainee, Junior Officer Leadership Program, at General Electric
Former captain applies skills he learned in the military to GE's Junior Officer Leadership Program
by Warren Duffie

The corporate world is often described as a battlefield – a place where capitalist armies led by charismatic generals wage daily war. A bit dramatic, maybe, but it’s no surprise that military veterans shine in this fast-paced environment. cooper219x292

Take former Army Capt. Mike Cooper. A veteran of two tours in Iraq, he spent one deployment as a battle captain for a cavalry scout unit in the heart of Baghdad. Similar to a 911 dispatcher, Cooper handled radio calls from patrol squads in the streets – advising them on what to do in different situations, maneuvering them away from danger, and sending out medivacs to wounded Soldiers.

“It was a very challenging job because we had enemy contact each day,” Cooper said. “It was 12-hour days almost every day. You couldn’t take a mental break because it was a life or death situation.”

On The Job
Today, Cooper puts his steely nerves and strong will to the test daily as part of General Electric’s Junior Officer Leadership Program (JOLP). This initiative allows former junior military officers to serve three, eight-month rotations in different departments of the company. One rotation might place you in sales while another assigns you to a manufacturing plant. JOLP comprises both on-the-job and classroom training.

Based in Houston, Cooper, 29, works in GE’s oil and natural gas division. In March, he began his second rotation. The first was spent handling marketing for the division’s newest products and equipment. He now works in sales support.

Cooper has two main projects currently on his plate: (1) developing a Web-based internal portal where GE sales staff and account managers can obtain the latest protocols on sales and marketing, and (2) working with the division’s sales and manufacturing departments to streamline the process of providing sales quotes to clients.

“JOLP is a great program because you get to learn about many different parts of GE’s business,” Cooper said. “That will help me choose where I want to work during my third rotation, as well as I when I complete the program. One thing the military taught me is absorbing information quickly and making rapid decisions. That really helps me with GE.”

The Company
Few companies in corporate America value military veterans like General Electric. It’s one of the world’s largest firms — boasting annual revenues of $182 billion in 2008 and 300,000 employees in 100 countries. More than 11,000 of these employees are veterans, and GE hires about 400 retired military personnel each year. GE ranked 16th on the G.I. Jobs Top 50 Military Friendly Employer® list in 2008.

Aside from the JOLP initiative, GE sends veteran employees to several bases yearly to tout the company’s incentives and perks — a counselor during one’s move, family and employee assistance regarding issues such as day care and placing children in school, and educational sessions to train veterans about its products.

In Uniform
A 2002 graduate of West Point, Cooper was trained as an air defense officer (shooting down long-range missiles and aircraft) at Fort Bliss, Texas. He served at Fort Hood and twice deployed to Iraq.

Though his second tour – as a battle captain – was tough, his first tour was even harder: “We all were trained in air defense, but were turned into a combat infantry platoon doing raids and patrols. I was in charge of five Bradley Fighting Vehicles and 25 Soldiers. So we were on a mission we had no training for. But we were successful. The key was communicating to my Soldiers about all aspects of the mission – after all, their lives were on the line. Two of my Soldiers were killed, which was very hard to deal with, but we pulled through.”

The Transition
While he enjoyed his Army career, by 2007 Cooper was married and didn’t want to deploy anymore. He also wanted a new challenge. So he attended interviewing classes and hiring conferences. He soon landed a sales job with IDEXX, a leading provider of services and products to the veterinary industry.

Cooper was doing well at the job when a friend landed a job with GE and told him about JOLP.

“It seemed like a great opportunity,” he said. “I wanted to learn more about the business world and grow professionally. What better place than GE? So I applied and was brought on board.

“I was nervous my first day,” he continued. “With IDEXX, I was based in my home office in Orlando. Now I was in a real corporate office environment. Luckily, so many of my coworkers have military backgrounds – there are also a lot of West Point graduates. I felt right at home.”

Cooper’s Advice
Figure out what you want to do as a civilian. “When you’ve done that, then you can map out a game plan.”

Understand the roles and responsibilities of the job for which you’re applying. “Then demonstrate how you used those skills in the military.”

Be patient. “You’re ideal job might not appear right away. Start planning your transition early, so you can thoroughly research where you want to work.”