I am humbled when in the presence of veterans, especially those men and women who have experienced combat and horrors that the rest of us cannot imagine. At 56 and having never served, I have a pretty good idea how easy I’ve had it.
Bozzuto is the son of a factory worker and was drafted into the Army in 1968 while in graduate school at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
While he wasn’t a front-line soldier, Bozzuto called his years as a combat correspondent in Vietnam “an out-of-body experience. Really strange.” His brother, who flew F-4 Phantom fighter jets for the Air Force died of cancer, which Bozzuto said was brought on by exposure to the Agent Orange, the herbicide used in Vietnam to defoliate jungle cover.
Foremost in his memory are the two months he spent in basic training, where he learned that he wasn’t all that special, and he’d better show up on time and get along with people, qualities he finds particularly valuable.
“Those nine weeks of basic training still stand out in my mind as some of the toughest weeks of my life,” he said. “You spend four or five hours crawling on your stomach because some [officer] has gotten angry at you, it teaches you discipline. And so much of what we see is people needing the discipline of showing up [to work] on time.”
I love this stuff. After nearly 30 years, I find myself still learning these lessons.
When Bozzuto was discharged, the first thing he did was take off his uniform. Those post-Vietnam days, “when we were all considered baby killers and were made to feel embarrassed,” gnaw at him. So Bozzuto and his business partner, John Slidell, who also saw combat in Vietnam, feel that “anything we can do to create opportunities to use the skills of these fellows getting out of the service, and give them opportunities, is something we want to do.”
Bozzuto is no evangelist. His priority is to find good employees. So he hired Kristen Reese in January 2011 to fill the no-nonsense title of “director of talent acquisition.” Her mission is to address the growing demand for reliable employees.
As Reese sifted through the labor market, she eventually had an epiphany: go after veterans.
In short order, the company started an initiative to hire more veterans and their spouses.
“We’re not looking for a pat on the back,” Reese said. “This is a great demographic for us. We can train people on the technical skills they need, but we can’t train somebody to have high integrity or to smile and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ ”