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Transitioning from Military to Civilian Logistics - From the Sea Suite to the C-Suite

Transitioning from Military to Civilian Logistics - From the Sea Suite to the C-Suite

How can transitioning members of the military successfully make the move from active duty to veteran and a new career in business? How should they find that new role and what skills will they need?

Nick Howland, host of iwantabuzz.com’s From the Sea Suite to the C-Suite, welcomed Trailer Bridge’s own Alex Vohr on the show to talk about transitioning from the military to the business world.

Alex Vohr is Vice President of Government Affairs at Trailer Bridge where he builds relationships and develops opportunities with government agencies.

Check out this 9-minute video chat in which Nick and Alex discuss:

  • Trailer Bridge hiring veterans for logistics roles
  • The importance of networking 
  • Upskilling your financial acumen
  • Upskilling for going into business

Grab a beverage and get comfortable. You can watch the full video here and catch the highlights in the transcript below. 

Trailer Bridge VP interviews with Nick Howland on From the Sea Suite to the C-Suite – Full transcript

Trailer Bridge VP interviews with Nick Howland on From the Sea Suite to the C-Suite

Nick Howland: [00:00:11] Welcome to “From the Sea Suite to the C-Suite”, a program sponsored by The Fire Watch and focused on understanding the transitions from military active duty to veteran status. That’s a particularly important time for a veteran; it’s when they are particularly vulnerable. And we are lucky enough to be able to explore some experiences of veterans in Northeast Florida and find out what they did to implement a successful transition. I’m Nick Holland, your host, and also the Executive Director of The Fire Watch. With me today is Alex Vohr, Senior Vice-President at Trailer Bridge. And we are really fortunate to have him. Thanks for joining us, Alex.

Alex Vohr: [00:00:45] Thanks very much. I appreciate the opportunity to be here.

Nick: [00:00:47] Tell us a little bit about Trailer Bridge.

Alex: [00:00:49] Well, Trailer Bridge is a company that started focused on the Puerto Rico trade. We run Jones Act vessels between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico. There are a few companies in that space up here, and they’ve been in business since about 1990. We also have a logistics business that we’re expanding right now. When I say logistics, I’m mostly talking about a truckload brokerage, but we also have our own assets as well. And that’s where we see the most opportunity for growth. Recently, Trailer Bridge has been recognized as one of the best places to work in Jacksonville and we’ve got a really interesting culture there. A culture that is something that’s actively fostered by our CEO Mitch Luciano. It’s very much like the Marine Corps is what I’ve told him. It’s one where he focuses on leadership more so than any organization I’ve seen. So it’s a great place to be.

Trailer Bridge Hiring Veterans for Logistics Roles

Nick: [00:01:46] Interesting. I understand that Trailer Bridge is interested in hiring veterans for logistics roles.

Alex: [00:01:51] We are. The logistics world/brokerage world is a fast-paced world. Things happen every day pretty quickly, which is not unlike a lot of times what you face when you’re in uniform. And so it might be an interesting environment and we are growing. And we are looking to grow in our logistics space, so there’s going to be an opportunity there over the next few years.

Nick: [00:02:11] Oh, that’s fantastic. Now, about you, Alex. You’re a former Marine. Actually, people always say you’re still a Marine.

Alex: [00:02:16] Still a Marine.

Nick: [00:02:17] 25 years in the Marine Corps and you’re in logistics. Can you tell me a little bit about what you did?

Alex: [00:02:20] Sure. So, I started as a Marine Logistics officer, and what I did back in the late 1980s, it was a relatively new occupational specialty at that time. Logisticians, in the broadest sense, we were responsible for embarkation on amphibious shipping. We also were responsible for maintenance and maintenance management of equipment, and then combat logistics, or combat service supports. So “beans, bullets and Band-Aids” on the battlefield.

Nick: [00:02:45] Does it ever disappoint you that Trailer Bridge probably does not have any amphibious landing vehicles in its fleet?

Alex: [00:02:50] Well, yes, it does. You see some of those vessels sometimes when you are in the Florida area, especially when I worked for a while down in South Florida. One of our sister companies, SEACOR Island Lines, uses landing craft to run around the Bahamas.

Nick: [00:03:05] Do they really?

Alex: [00:03:06] They do, because it’s mostly islands in the Bahamas, it’s all just boat ramps. They don’t have any docks or piers so they run those things off, drop the ramp and offload them. So, I felt very much at home when I would see those. 

The Importance of Networking 

Nick: [00:03:17] Well, let’s talk about your transition. You being a logistician in the Marine Corps and now you’re doing logistics as a civilian. Was that what you wanted to do when you were looking for your second career, having retired out of the Marine Corps?

Alex: [00:03:28] To be quite honest, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do when I left the Marine Corps. I didn’t spend a lot of time focused on it, which I don’t think is terribly unusual. For one thing, you don’t know what you don’t know unless you spend a lot of time researching it. And the other thing is, veterans are often very busy until the time that they transition. And to an extent, you think, “Well, I’ll figure that out one when I get there.” And so, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was very fortunate after having done a lot of the typical kind of application approach, where you find job opportunities and you apply without a lot of success. I reached out to another Marine who had worked with for years before and he connected me with a gentleman named Jim Hertwig, who was the CEO of Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) at that time. And Jim had made a point of hiring Marine colonels, and I was his 3rd or 4th Marine colonel hire. A week later, I started at FEC after I got connected with Jim, so it was that quick.

Nick: [00:04:30] It’s interesting what you just said. It was a connection that you had, that you reached out to. It was a little networking that you did.

Alex: [00:04:35] A hundred percent.

Nick: [00:04:36] And I think it’s something that we don’t encourage transitioning military members to do enough of. And we’re hoping shows like we have here will help veterans realize that there are others like them who have been through similar things. So, reach out and ask for help.

Alex: [00:04:50] The networking is the most important thing as far as I’m concerned. And the reason it is, is because a resume goes in blind. Let’s say there’s a vice-president who wants to hire somebody. The HR person, the recruiter is not going to give them a resume when they say, “Hey, give me 5 resumes.” They’re not going to give one that is not an obvious with the skills they are looking for, which means the military resumes get sorted out right from the very get-go. But if somebody they trust says, “Hey, you should give this person a chance,” boom! That makes all the difference right there. That’s why networking is really important.

Upskilling Your Financial Acumen

Nick: [00:05:24] Absolutely. And you and I talked before we start filming the show. And we each had one particular weakness we thought when we were coming out of the service and that is financial acumen. Because maybe you learn to manage a budget because you’re responsible for a people, or department, or division but you don’t really understand the profit motive when you’re in the military. And it’s something you need to understand when you’re out and in industry. Tell me how you overcame that challenge.

Alex: [00:05:48] Well, that is absolutely the case. Finances is what you’re working with in the commercial world. You don’t even really give it much of a thought when you’re in uniform. And I was a logistics guy, so around budgets like that. As you know, you get rewarded for spending money fast out there, not necessarily preserving it. I paid attention. That was the big thing that I did. I did a lot of self-study though as well, and there are some great books out there that you can use. Financial Intelligence: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean, which is put out by Harvard Business School, is a really accessible book to just understanding the lingo. And what I found over time is that, if you intentionally study that, you’ll find that you actually understand what that means. Sometimes more than the people who are actually at work every day.

Nick: [00:06:40] Naturally. From an intuition standpoint.

Alex: [00:06:42] That’s right. And so I did pay a lot of attention to it. Obviously, because it’s what you have to do. And the other piece that was interesting for me was that, as a Marine logistics guy, you get paid for being effective, not efficient. And so, you don’t worry about what anything costs to make something happen, you are going to make it happen. In the commercial world, you are making decisions whether you’re even going to do something based upon whether or not you make money.

Nick: [00:07:09] Great point.

Alex: [00:07:10] And that seems really obvious, but sometimes the most obvious things in life escape you unless you think about it.

Upskilling for Going into Business

Nick: [00:07:18] What fantastic advice. I mean, we know that coming out of the military, regardless of what position people were in, they understand the mission-driven concepts. They understand work ethic. And that’s an amazing benefit to companies that are out there. And some of the hard skills they gotta brush up on, but they can do that on their own, like as you just pointed out a few resources for financial acumen. That’s really important for people getting out who want to go into business, or who even own and operate their own business.

Alex: [00:07:43] That’s really true. In the military, at least in the Marine Corps anyway, we focused a lot on self-improvement, self-study through a reading program. They have the Commandant’s Reading Program. And I’ve heard a lot of that veterans talk about having made a transition themselves when they’re about a year out and they knew they were about to transition, to shifting from reading kind of military-focused leadership-type books to stuff that was more focused on business, and I would certainly encourage that. I think that could really be helpful in making that transition.

Nick: [00:08:12] Terrific advice and sounds like a great company at Trailer Bridge with a wonderful culture. They want to hire veterans, which is fantastic, particularly in Northeast Florida with so many active-duty military transitioning out to veteran status every year. How can people find out more about Trailer Bridge?

Alex: [00:08:27] Go to our website. That’s probably the best place, the best thing to do is to look at our website, and through there you can see what opportunities we have. And you could also reach out even if we don’t have opportunities. And I’ve talked with our HR team and our recruiters, and they are looking for veterans. As a matter of fact, they came to me to say, “Hey, what can we do that to encourage more veterans to come to Trailer Bridge?”

Nick: [00:08:50] Awesome! Alex Vohr, thank you so much for being on our show, “From the Sea Suite to the C-Suite.” We really appreciate the advice that you were imparting on veterans.

Alex: [00:08:56] I appreciate the opportunity. It’s great to think about these things and if we can help veterans, that’s awesome.

Nick: [00:09:02] Absolutely. Thank you.

Alex: [00:09:03] Thanks.

Nick: [00:09:04] Thanks for joining us on “From the Sea Suite to the C-Suite”. Again, this is a show sponsored by The Fire Watch. There is a role for everyone to play in ending veteran suicide in Northeast Florida. Visit thefirewatch.org. click on “Being a Watch Stander,” and learn how you can help. Together, we can end veteran suicide. Thank you.