Many of the most productive Americans in our history started out from humble origins, and many of those who became the most successful owe some of the credit to the discipline and work ethic they learned while in the military. The military history of the United States is filled with stories of individuals who rose to the upper echelon of the civilian corporate world.
Perhaps the greatest success story in all of the history of American military veterans is that of Malcolm Forbes, the publicist who would turn a magazine into a media empire that took in well over $100 million dollars per year by the time of his death.
Forbes, born in New York City in 1919, volunteered to join the US Army after he graduated from Princeton University in 1941. He enlisted right after the start of World War II and saw action in Western Europe, serving in a heavy machine gun unit of the 84th Infantry Division. He was awarded the Purple Heart as well as the Bronze Star for his service.
Upon returning home, Forbes pushed his father’s magazine to new heights and also gave millions of his own dollars to charity each year.
Though not as famous as Forbes, DeWitt Wallace, another veteran, proved extremely successful in the publishing industry. Wallace, fresh from graduating from Macalester College, attempted to open a publishing business specializing in agriculture in 1912.
He enlisted in the US Army during the First World War and saw action in the trenches of France. An injury forced him to spend months in a hospital where he had little to do but read magazines.
The experience led him to develop a magazine that condensed and republished easy-to-read articles on a number of topics. Reader’s Digest was born and soon become one of the most widely read magazines in the world.
A man from humble origins started one of the largest food chain restaurants in the world. Dave Thomas, founder of mega chain Wendy’s, began his food service career overseeing several thousand meals per day during the Korean War.
At 18, Thomas enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve in the Korean War. He requested that he be trained at the Fort Benning military cooking school, because he had experience working in restaurants. He was deployed overseas as a mess sergeant, and was responsible for the meals of entire battalions, until he was honorably discharged by 1953.
With the money in his pocket, Thomas first purchased a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, and 10 years later began his own Wendy’s restaurant in Columbus, Ohio.
The science of biology did not come easy to Craig Venter at first. He earned poor grades in primary and middle school. Upon being drafted to serve in Vietnam, however, Venter took a keen interest in medicine. He only served for a few years but would continue to pursue the sciences his entire career.
He became one of the pioneers of the Human Genome Project and currently leads the health science industry in genome sequencing research.
Many former soldiers become politicians and even presidents. Few left a legacy like Ross Perot. Perot entered the US Naval Academy in 1949 and was instrumental in the academy’s implementation of their personal honor system. He graduated as president of his class and served out a four-year commission before retiring.
After the service, he entered the sales field, and became a major success, in one instance, meeting an annual sales quota in only ten days. He amassed great personal wealth by founding the Electronic Data Systems Company. With his own money he financed a presidential campaign in 1992 that drew support from both Democrats and Republicans, though ultimately falling behind Bill Clinton and George Bush.
When one thinks about military service they rarely think about statistical efficiency. Yet that was the hallmark of Robert McNamara’s career.
Enrolling in the United States Army Air Force during World War II, he served as a captain and studied the efficiency of bombers. McNamara drew up schedules that lowered fuel consumption and increased payloads. A decade after leaving active duty, he became the first president of the Ford Motor Company who was not a Ford family member. During that time, the company enjoyed one of its greatest economic expansions.
About the Author: Alexander Green is a writer who produces articles in the field of history. This article was written to shed light on past entrepreneurial endeavors by veterans and to encourage further historical study with a Military History Master’s Degree.