Talent Circles

Friday, March 21, 2014

Veterans Series: Veterans will help your company succeed: Conversation with Brenda Bell

By Sophie Delphis

This post is part of a series that already includes conversations with:

My mother (Marylene Delbourg-Delphis) hired Brenda Bell in the late eighties to work for her company at the time, ACIUS, the maker of 4th Dimension. Back then, Brenda was barely out of her teens, with two children, a limited college education, little job experience and a place in the Army Reserve (Military Police670 MP Company California Army National Guard), but my mother was interested in this young woman in spite of her less-than-perfect corporate package. During and after her time at ACIUS, Brenda was called in to First Gulf War, earned two college degrees and worked her way through a series of high tech jobs that eventually landed her in her current position at IBM. I grew up hearing her interesting and inspiring story, and I was excited to learn that my mother was interviewing her as part of her ongoing series on hiring veterans. 

Brenda was very young, and not necessarily an obvious hire... In fact, both women laugh at the memory of my mother teaching Brenda how to put on make-up, how to talk to a diverse group of people, etc.
Brenda Bell: I was twenty years old. You took a chance on me, and you taught me a lot. It really helped, because you deal with a lot of people. And I’m comfortable to be dealing with lots of different people on a day-to-day basis.

Brenda was the first veteran my mother hired. Since then, she has been able to experience first-hand how flexible and versatile veterans can be when given a chance.
She did not see it as a problem that Brenda was in the Reserve, nor that she ended up taking some time off because of the first Gulf War – ultimately accommodating an employee was worth a bit of restructuring. And Brenda’s choice to enter the military made sense.
Brenda Bell: I had gone to college, and I wasn’t successful. I didn’t have parent financial support, so I had a lot of student loans. The military paid off all of my loans, and they provided me educational benefits: for staying in the Reserve after I got out of the military, they paid for further college. That’s really why I went into the military: I had a lot of student loan debt, and I didn’t have a lot of job skills, and it was a good way for me to start paying back my college debt and then gain some skills and allow me to go back to school.

After initially earning her two-year Associate’s Degree in Management, she returned to school after the military to earn two Bachelor’s Degrees in Organizational Management and Computer Science.
Brenda Bell: After I left ACIUS, I went to work for Sybase. And, you know, just being immersed in that environment, working with development tools, I really had to understand software development and design, so having this degree in organizational management wasn’t enough. I had to continue to grow. And that’s another thing you learn in the military, because they keep having you take leadership courses to grow and learn, so that helped me to be willing to go out and get that second degree, to learn more.
So I went back to school, part-time in the evenings, out here in New England, and I got a second degree and continued to work for some software companies and a couple of start-ups. One of the start-ups I was working for was going out of business and sold their code to Rational, which was then acquired by IBM and so I was able to branch out to other divisions within IBM.

Brenda's background in the military has proved immensely useful.
Brenda Bell: The relationships I formed in the military and my understanding of military structure help me pretty much everyday. In my particular environment, I sell to federal customers on a daily basis, so being able to understand what their needs and their challenges are is very helpful. Being able to speak the same language that they speak puts you in a better rapport with them. And also the relationships: I don’t think anybody can discount the value of the relationships that you build in the military, and that a lot of military veterans, once they go out, are willing to help other veterans. So you can use those relationships, too, to help improve your career and help your company to succeed.

This does not mean that veterans have an easy time transferring to civilian careers, however. This is particularly true in the current economic climate, in which employment is tough for young veterans, and tough for young adults in general.
Brenda Bell: My son just came back from a couple of tours, and he was going back to work, and I think one of the hard things, not just from my own experience, but from seeing his experience, is that they don’t know how to translate military skills to civilian skills. He had a very hard time with his resume: he was in the infantry and he was a team leader, but I had to help him translate “What does a team leader do?” into civilian terms.

Brenda is a fantastic example of a single mother who had to get through some rough patches in her life but eventually made it work. She is now a client executive in the Federal Business unit for the Americas at IBM. She lives in New England with her husband and has come a long way from the unfocused, insecure kid she was when she started working at ACIUS. My mother took an interest in seeing this ex-employee develop, and “will always be proud of the role that [she] played in [Brenda’s] career.”

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