Creating opportunity
Coalition for Veteran Owned Business Launches
Free Enterprise Staff | May 22, 2015

For First Data chief executive officer Frank Bisignano, the military has long played a role in his family’s life. “My 13 uncles all served, my dad served, and my grandfather served,” he says.

“My grandfather immigrated to this country, and the first thing he did was volunteer with the military to defend it. I grew up among so many different generations of veterans whose service made them exemplary leaders in the community and business. I believe every American has the obligation and responsibility to give back to those who’ve given so much on our behalf.”

Given his personal history it’s not surprising that Bisignano was among a group of influential industry leaders and major businesses that announced the formation of the Coalition for Veteran Owned Business (CVOB), an organization dedicated to providing thought leadership and support to veteran owned businesses across the United States.

The CVOB was created through a partnership between First Data Corporation and Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. Its ultimate mission, according to its sponsor organizations, is to support the success of businesses owned by veterans, service members, and military families by connecting them with entrepreneurial education and training, business resources and solutions, and commerce and supplier opportunities.

After the idea was conceived, support for the fledgling CVOB developed rather quickly, attracting interest and financial and strategic support from some of the largest and most influential corporations in the world: Founding members include American Express, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, Verizon Communications, Lockheed Martin, SunTrust Banks, USAA, BP America, and Enterprise Holdings, among others.

At its core, the CVOB’s goal is to connect veteran owned businesses, opening the door for increased communication and networking opportunities. According to James Schmeling, the managing director for programming at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, the CVOB is designed to specifically address a number of key issues facing veteran business owners.

“This is the next step in identifying the opportunities for veterans and their families post-service,” Schmeling told Free Enterprise. “While there are many opportunities for veterans to start businesses, this melds the training and education, awareness of opportunities, and demand for products and services provided by veteran and military family-owned businesses.”

This isn’t the first time that Bisignano has spearheaded an initiative aimed at supporting veterans and military spouses. Before he arrived at First Data, Bisignano was the co-chief cooperating officer at JP Morgan Chase. While at the financial institution, Bisignano participated in an effort that led to the creation of the 100,000 Jobs Mission, an organization that works to support military veterans.

For its part, the CVOB represents an evolution in the way that these veteran-oriented groups help the community they are striving to serve. It was only after 100,000 Jobs Mission was founded, Bisignano stresses, that its executive team realized what it really takes to support veterans, military spouses, and their families.

“We learned early on that it’s not enough to simply hire a veteran,” he explains. “We must also focus on the veteran’s total experience – onboarding, retention, career progression, and support for Guard and Reserves — along with programs aimed at supporting military families.”

Drawing on that experience, Bisignano and his colleagues sought to finetune the CVOB’s mission and framework prior to its founding. In this sense, the CVOB will have a narrower scope than other such organizations. Among other goals, the organization hopes to increase opportunities for veteran and spouse businesses within corporate supply chains; it also seeks to “increase awareness of and opportunities for access to capital by veteran and spouse businesses.”

As it works toward these and other goals, the CVOB could have a significant impact on the broader economy. Veteran owned businesses account for just under 10% of the more than 27 million U.S. small businesses, according to the Small Business Administration. These businesses, moreover, have an outsize influence, generating more than $1.2 trillion in annual sales and employing 5.8 million people.

The CVOB is focused on both the macro and the micro. It’s important to remember that, with only 1% of the U.S. population having served since 9/11, there’s a high likelihood that the majority of Americans do not personally know a veteran. Yet the CVOB and its counterpart organizations have the biggest impact when they highlight veterans’ personal stories—along with the hard data that definitively reveals how successful they are in the workplace.

“There is a real disconnect between the experiences of veterans and the rest of the US population. We see this not only in our companies, but in our communities and on our college campuses as well,” Bisignano points out. “Veterans come to our companies with proven leadership, ambition, and effective decision making. For me, it’s no surprise that, when I think back on all the veterans I’ve ever met, the common thread that consistently runs through them all is their determination to succeed at anything and everything they do.”