Mission Accomplished: Post-Military Job with a Purpose

By | January 19, 2012

One of the things Shane Crockett loved about being in the military was the sense of purpose he felt on the job every day, something he said was missing from his first post-military job as an engineer.

So like the veteran he is, Crockett set out on a mission to hunt down that missing intangible. Today, he is once again inspired with a sense of mission—in his underwriting job in the private sector with Liberty Mutual Insurance.

Crockett first enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1993 at age 18. Initially, he enlisted as an electrician, doing technical work. He gained additional training as an engineer and in 1999 was commissioned as an officer and subsequently served on submarines, splitting time between operating the nuclear reactor in the back and the working on surveillance and tactical war fighting upfront.

Crockett served in the Pacific, at first out of Hawaii, and was deployed to the Persian Gulf for Operation Iraqi Freedom in the early 2000s, where he was an operations officer on an aircraft carrier. He left the military in 2006.

Crockett learned a lot more than engineering skills in the Navy. Running the team of 11 operators on the submarine called for people and leadership skills. His work for the weapons and tactical team also required knowledge of analytics and number crunching.

When he first left the Navy, Crockett had no trouble finding a job in an area where he felt comfortable.

“So I left the Navy and I went to an engineering job. I didn’t face a lot of challenges transitioning from a technical engineering position to another,” he recalls.

Something Missing

While the work was familiar, there was something missing.

“What I think was a big challenge for me was I lost that sense of purpose in life,” he told Insurance Journal. “You join the military, you do it to serve your country, you do it to help other people. And so that first job I had sort of lacked that. I looked for something else.”

That loss of purpose was not something he anticipated.

“The Navy, as you transition out, will provide training on how to find a job, how to put a resume together, what types of clothes to wear, behavioral interviews. I don’t think they ever talked about that sense of purpose; you’re going to be losing that,” he said.

While he was in that engineering job, he went to night school and got his MBA. Then one Thanksgiving, he caught up with a friend — a former pilot in the military— who worked at Liberty Mutual and who told Crockett about the work he now did and about the insurer’s corporate mission to help other people. His friend’s enthusiasm piqued Crockett’s interest in insurance.

“The [Liberty Mutual] mission is help other people live safer, more secure lives, and that really appealed to me,” he said.

With his leadership experience and his MBA, the appeal was mutual and Liberty brought him onboard.

Fitting In

While he and his employer have since figured it out, it was unclear to Crockett at first how his engineering skills might fit into the Liberty Mutual picture.

“As I went through both talking and also the interview process, I learned a lot more about how I could translate those skills. Maybe not so surprisingly now that I’m in the industry, but to some outside people, it’s probably surprising how, I guess, high tech the insurance industry can be. The engineering skills actually apply really well, especially when you’re trying to control risks and improve upon the quality of a risk,” he said.

Over time he has come to appreciate that there are other ways he can draw on his military experience for his job.

“The deal making aspect of it, I think it’s kind of similar to some of the operational stuff we do in the military,” he told Insurance Journal.

There is also the “gathering of resources, getting people on your side, moving in the same direction — that type of thing. There’s a big element to that, actually, in my current job.”

Corporate Development Program

Crockett was hired at Liberty in early 2009. He entered through what’s called the corporate development program in which he spent two years getting to work on different projects and rotating into various positions.

“I would go see different parts of the business. I would work with different senior managers and business leaders,” Crockett said.

Crockett had a senior executive as a mentor in the program, someone he could ask, as he puts it, “the dumb insurance questions,” and someone who would talk with him about insurance fundamentals and provide some career guidance.

“It is a developmental program, and it’s an opportunity to get outside your comfort zone and do different things. So a couple of my rotations, I went to my mentor and said, ‘Hey, I’ve never done sales before. I’d like to try it out.'”

He went out and worked with Liberty’s regional companies, with their territory managers, and visited agents.

“I had a close relationship with underwriters as we were trying to write business,” he said.

Then he moved to Charlotte, sat in an office, and “fell in love” with being an underwriter.

“I really, really enjoyed the different elements of underwriting from analyzing risk, understanding how a small business operates to what’s the different hazards they have, … the analytical piece of that… to managing relationships with agents and the deal making aspect,” he said.

Each corporate development program involves a dozen or more recruits. For Crockett, the experience of going through the rotations with the same group of people brought back feelings he missed from his military days.

“You lose, coming out of the military, a sense of camaraderie,” he said. “I mean, you think of the civilian work force as 8 to 5. You have people you work with that you don’t see after hours. But in the military, you do; you’re with them 24 hours a day. You go out and you work hard, you play hard. I really missed that.”

He said there were about 15 people in his corporate development group, including another military veteran. “I got to talk with them about the problems I was having in learning the insurance industry or a project I have. We could share good ideas. But we also spent time after work together and got to know our families. I really liked that,” he said.

Crockett believes that his military career is helping him in his current job in several ways.

“You’re responsible for people without a whole lot of training but obviously you learn over time. That leadership, the ability to make people move in one direction and influence outcomes and make a difference in employees’ lives, I think is a huge part of what the military helped me to develop,” he said.

He also gained important operations experience. “It’s never the same situation you get yourself into. It’s the problem of war thing. So, thinking on your feet, being able to adapt and get to the right outcome in ambiguous situations is pretty important, too.”

Civilian View

What about things he had to unlearn or overcome? Mainly, he found he had to change a certain faulty view many in the private sector harbor about the military:

“Something I had to overcome as I joined the organization and explain who I am is the misconception that the military is a highly hierarchical organization. One person gives orders, the other person takes orders, and you start marching. That really isn’t the case. As a junior officer in the Navy, when you’re put in charge of people, you’re put in charge of people that have 15 to 20 years experience operating a reactor or off putting the electrical system or doing mechanical work. So your ability with no experience to influence them doesn’t come from giving orders.”

He said his success at Liberty Mutual does not depend on simply giving orders either. “I have to influence outcomes, not through demanding that the work gets done but by getting people on board with the ideas, putting a vision out there, everything that you need to do to lead an organization,” he said.

He learned the importance of getting things done, done right and on time in the military, and this sense of discipline is valuable in his civilian career. But, Crockett said, the military also taught him that simply “demanding people” is not how to get things done.

To hear Crockett in his own words, click here.

More from P/C Insurance Mission: Military-Friendly Recruiting

Insurance Journal set out to learn more about how the insurance industry is turning to veterans as part of its strategy to win the talent war and how veterans are turning to the insurance industry for new careers. Insurance Journal asked several veterans who have transitioned to careers in the insurance industry to tell how they got into insurance, how their military training has been an advantage and how they made the transition into the private sector.

Insurance Journal is publishing stories from a veteran who is now a vice president of underwriting, former soldiers who are now members of a unique global crisis team and a Coast Guard veteran who is now a Main Street independent agent, along with a story about two agents and their dream of building a program to employ disabled veterans in virtual insurance jobs. Watch for:

Topics Agencies Talent Market Training Development

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