This is Beyond the Uniform’s first live podcast, and it took place in downtown Denver at the TIAA building. For those of you who are not familiar with TIAA, it is a 100 year old company, that is dedicated to helping those who teach, heal, and serve achieve financial well-being. TIAA is the leading provider of financial services in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields, serving more than 5 million people.
In this live podcast interview, I speak with two TIAA team members about their military transition, and it was an honor to join each them on stage.
There were a whole host of people at TIAA who worked to put this together, but I wanted to say a special thanks in particular to Kadeem Collins. Kadeem came across my interview with Frank Van Buren, all the way back in episode #33, where we talked about Frank’s 18 years at Wells Fargo. That set in motion a journey that started nearly 6 months ago, putting together this first live show.
If you enjoy this format of a panel, write to us and let us know and we will try to do more episodes just like this. So with that, let’s dive in to my conversation with Joseph and Brian at TIAA.
About Joseph & Brian:
Joseph Kaniatobe is a Financial Services Consultant at TIAA. He started out in the US Marine Corps, where he served as a Sergeant and Forward Observer for over 7 years. After his military service, he worked at JPMorgan Chase as a Financial Advisor before joining TIAA.
Brian Fox is a Client Relationship Consultant in Wealth Management at TIAA. Brian started out in the Peace Corps, after which he served in the Navy for four years. He has worked at TIAA for over 14 years.
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What lead you to the military?
Joe: I was born into the military so I didn’t have much choice. I’m a fourth generation military member. The last time I saw my father before he passed away, I promised him I would join a military service. I started a career at a community bank and I was making really good money so I was reluctant to drop down to a Private’s salary which was below minimum wage. I got a call from my uncle when I was about 26 years old and he pretty much told me he wasn’t going to talk to me any more until I joined a military service so that made up my mind.
This was right around the time of 9/11. I was overweight and not immediately available to join the service but I started working towards it. It took me about 2 years to lose 30 pounds. After that I shipped out.
Brian: I went into the military with a college degree. I graduated and wanted to go into the Peace Corps. I was hoping for Eastern Europe because I’m a huge soccer fan. But I got assigned to Kenya. So I went there and did the introduction training. There were a lot of refugees in that area from Mogadishu. Our own Peace Corps volunteers were beaten up. So I elected to leave the Peace Corps and join the Navy instead. So I enlisted and ended up in Japan.
How did you approach the decision of wanting to get out?
Brian: For me, I met my wife in Japan and we got married in Las Vegas. The military has its benefits but I was ready to try something else and my wife also wanted me to get out. This was in 1997. My dad sent my job clippings in the mail. I had a desire to work in the sports industry, especially with Nike. After I got out, I saw an ad in the paper that Nike was hiring. So I got a job there.
My son is serving in the Air Force now so I feel like I can now provide a lot of perspective and insight for him.
Joe: My story is quite a bit different. I was doing recruiting out of our Denver office. Shortly after that I deployed to Iraq. Our unit was involved but we weren’t taking a lot of casualties. I got home and was told soon after that I was deploying again. My son was a baby and was pregnant with our son. I signed a two year extension and then got out. It was a hard decision. I loved the work that I was doing. But I realized I needed to spend time at home with my family. Normally there are about 300,000 in the Marine Corps. But during Iraqi Freedom, that ballooned to 550,000. Then that number started to go down and the Marine Corps was downsizing. So that added to my decision.
What was your first job search like?
Joe: I tried to avoid going back into finance because I thought it would be boring. I went to Halliburton and talked to them. I also talked to a security firm that was involved with veterans but I would have had to travel quite a bit in that position. I was serving in the Reserves at the time and one of the other guys with me worked at Chase and he was telling me more about his position. So I decided to go that route. I started out as a banker and eventually found my way to TIAA.
How did you find your way to the financial services sector?
Brian: I was working for Nike when my wife and I divorced and I wanted to be as close to my kids as possible.So, I relocated with Nike out in Wisconsin. There was a company there having interviews and got a job at Merrill Lynch. So it just kind of happened to me. And then my financial journey continued from there. And eventually, I ended up at TIAA.
What were some of the surprising aspects of life after the military?
Joe: One thing I always tell people is that being deployed isn’t that stressful. Your life is very defined, you know exactly what you need to do. You don’t worry about bills or other commitments. The only thing you have to worry about is taking care of the guy next to you and yourself. You don’t need to multitask different facets of your life. So that was a big transition. In the civilian world, there is stress coming at you from different directions.
Brian: The first priority was to protect the guys around you and that becomes the routine. When you get out, suddenly you’re worrying about your resume and doing interviews. I agree that there are a lot of things coming at your from all different directions.
Joe: One of the things I miss most about the military is the defined structure of everything that you do. THere are specific checkpoints with everything you do. But in civilian life, there’s no such thing. You have to create your own structure. One thing that has helped me is to build my own structure and task lists.
Brian: In the military, you’re even doing PT together and the times that you do that are defined. So something as simple as that, when you get out, you have to figure out what gym you want to go to after you get out and how you want to exercise.
Was there anything from the military that you felt like you had to “unlearn” as you transitioned out?
Brian: For me there wasn’t anything I had to unlearn. The manner of talking, I had to shift a little bit, use less acronyms, things like that.
Joe: I stopped using the Marine Corps vocabulary and started using the Marine Corps vocabulary. I was very authoritarian in the Marine Corps so I feel like I had to change that a little bit in the civilian sector.
How would you explain TIAA?
Brian: There are a few people in my son’s unit that have asked me about working in finance. I tell them that you have to look for a company that matches your values and work ethic. My work ethic from the military carries over here. I tell people that they should seek a job that makes them feel like they are doing good. I feel like I am helping people achieve their financial goals.
Joe: I agree that the service of the client is what drew me to TIAA. When you’re in the military, you’re protecting American citizens. When you come back, you miss that service oriented behavior. In this job, I feel like I am able to help people achieve their financial goals. We really dig deep into different financial options that will be best for people in particular situations.
Brian: In the military our job was to protect. One of the benefits I feel like in this job is that I feel like I am part of a team that is protecting their financial interests.
How have you engaged with the military community since leaving the military?
Joe: I have a large network of veterans and military members that I’ve stayed in touch with. We talk about things over a beer or barbecue. Especially when I first got out, that was important for me. And I try to help out transitioning veterans because I know that the transition can be a challenging time. I’m also part of the American Legion and the VFW.
My son is very involved with homeless veterans so I’ve gotten involved in that as well. I want to help my veteran brothers that are living on the street. We’re working with community leaders to see what we can do to get them off the street. My ship also has a Facebook group and we have reunions every year. Those events bring back that camaraderie that you had in the military.