Well, you know you're enjoying a conversation when midway through, you're already planning the next interview. Tyler is awesome. I just really appreciated so much about this interview. The thing that stands out to me most is his mastery in sales. He talks about his career, which is a variety of different experiences in the functional role of sales while also having most of that in the industry of energy. What I appreciated about his story is hearing about how throughout his career he's picked up different tools, different tricks, different skills that over time have allowed him to really have a mastery of this field in sales. I also appreciated his ability to communicate extremely effectively why veterans are well suited to sales, why this may be an appealing career path, even if you think it's the least likely career path that you would want to pursue. We talk about executive MBA, why he chose to pursue it, which is pretty unique for most guests that I have on the show, and a whole lot more.
Tyler Johnston is a Sales Director at Black & Veatch. He is responsible for managing global relationships in the technology sector and helping his clients build critical infrastructure and distributed energy solutions. He started out at the Naval Academy, served as an Infantry Officer in the US Marine Corps for 5 years, and has held positions at NRG Energy, General Electric, and Shift.org. He earned his MBA at Columbia Business School.
You can reach out to him through www.greentechvet.com.
This episode is sponsored by Verizon. Are you ready for your next assignment? As a leading communications technology company, Verizon is always looking for experienced leaders to step forward and help us stay competitive in the global marketplace. More than 10,000 veterans contribute their skills across our entire business. We’re proud to work alongside them each day―and fortunate to benefit from their outstanding skills, discipline and experience. To learn more about joining our team, check out www.verizon.com/military
The Leadership Podcast - Have you ever wondered how you could become a more effective and balanced leader? Or how to find a team with a high degree of trust that performs at a level you’re accustomed to? Check out The Leadership Podcast where they study what makes the best leaders tick - including many who have moved "beyond the uniform" to reach new levels of success and fulfillment.
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Houston, TX is Tyler Johnston. Tyler Johnston is a Sales Director at Black & Veatch. He is responsible for managing global relationships in the technology sector and helping his clients build critical infrastructure and distributed energy solutions. He started out at the Naval Academy, served as an Infantry Officer in the US Marine Corps for 5 years, and has held positions at NRG Energy, General Electric, and Shift.org. He earned his MBA at Columbia Business School.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?
My brother was also in the Marine Corps. He enlisted in 2008 and we ended up at Camp Pendleton at the same time. He gave me a really interesting perspective on being an officer. I got connected to a lot of enlisted service members through him. I really learned how impactful officers can be on the lives of the enlisted members that serve under them.
My brother served as a scout sniper for eight years. He passed away 18 months ago in a car accident. Prior to that, he was a contractor working in Afghanistan. I try to bring him up any time I can. I think it’s important to share my story so other people going through something similar know they’re not alone.
Do you have any advice for people going through the grieving process after losing a family member?
Talk about that person whenever you can. The only way we keep these people alive is by continuing to talk about them. The Travis Manion Foundation has been very supportive of my family through this process.
My mom got my brother’s name tattooed on her wrist and it becomes a conversation point for people. She’s able to share her memories of him with other people.
When my brother joined the Marine Corps, I gave him the book Oh, The Places You’ll Go. I wrote a personal passage in the book. We then found the book in my brother’s nightstand when we went to clean out his house.
My brother was a tattoo aficionado. He had “American” tattooed on his chest. That was part of his personality. So I got a Dr. Seuss tattoo after his passed away as a tribute to him.
How do you describe what you do for a living?
I get to hang out with people in entertainment for a living. I didn’t think this was a job that I could get paid to do but it is.
What is sales to you?
I had some preconceived notions about sales as I was getting out. I was a History major at the Naval Academy and then an Infantry officer in the Marine Corps. So getting out, I thought my options were limited. Luckily during that time, I had some great mentors, that turned me on to sales. Sale really isn’t about the used car salesman image. I see sales much more as a function that works with a client to provide a solution for an issue they’re facing.
How do you see sales through the lens of your Marine Corps experience?
Most of my time in the military was spent as a combat advisor. I lived with the Afghan army for 7 months. I oversaw 4 Afghan bases and 20 Marines that worked across those bases. When I was getting out, I described that to a mentor and he told me that it was much like the enterprise sales job function. So that’s how I got interested in doing this.
What was your first job search like?
As I was getting out, I considered the industries that I would be a good fit for. My wife and I believe that the two industries that are most impactful on our society’s future are healthcare and energy.
I went through Orion recruiting and found a great opportunity with Siemens Energy. It was a great position where I really had the opportunity to learn a lot. I started to see a lot of parallels between what I had done in the Marine Corps and what I was doing at Siemens.
Once I decided that I wanted to go into energy, it was important for me that I end up at one of the top companies. Siemens is one of those companies. I think that was valuable for me to go to a large company because it provided a lot of structure for me. I think it was have been a tougher transition to go from the military right into a startup or small business.
For me, I identified early on that building relationships with my clients was going to be key in allowing me to succeed in enterprise sales so that’s what I’ve tried to do.
Can you provide some additional details about your role at Siemens?
Siemens was a great introduction to enterprise sales. There was a division called power system sales that sold all of the equipment that Siemens sold. I was able to do various rotations in marketing and technical sales. I also spent time with folks out in the field that were managing client relationships. Through that I gained an appreciation for the fact that the equipment that generates power but there are also other pieces of the value chain.
Eventually my wife got into grad school and we moved to Houston. There, I took a role with GE where I was a project manager - so not doing sales at all. I was basically a punching bag for customers. A lot of times, our salespeople would make a sale but not think about how it would actually be executed.
GE’s foray into the oil and gas space was through the acquisition of Nuovo Pignone in Florence, Italy. So a lot of our resources and people were working out of Italy. There were a lot of communication disconnects. Early on, I saw an opportunity to improve those processes. I went to Italy and build relationships with the men and women that were working out there. Then when I got back to the United States, I was able to call more directly on the people in Italy to help us solve the issues that we were working on.
How did your experience at GE ultimately make you a better salesperson?
I think it taught me the importance of building internal relationships. In thinking through a project, it’s important to fully understand all the stakeholders that will need to take part.
In the Marine Corps, junior officers can be working with their enlisted men and women one minute and then briefing a flag officer the next minute. That ability to move back and forth between different groups and stakeholders was also vital to my success at GE.
Can you explain your career progression to us?
At GE, it was more of a traditional 9-5 schedule. At Siemens, though, I was doing a lot of traveling and scheduling various meetings with my clients. I think the most successful salesmen and women are people who are constantly in front of their clients helping them solve their organizational problems.
I realized early on at GE that most of the senior executives had a background in finance. I realized that I lacked those financial skills. That’s when I decided to pursue an MBA. I wanted to go to the best school that I could get into. I was accepted into Columbia’s Executive MBA Program. So for two years, every other Friday, I would fly to New York and go to class. Ultimately, I built some relationships at Columbia that are even stronger than some of my relationships from the Marine Corps. My MBA program gave me not only credibility but also the ability to look at a company or industry and break down a value chain and evaluate opportunities for growth.
After I finished my MBA, I decided that I wanted to get a job at the front end of deals. I got a job at NRG Energy in 2016. At the time, they were going through a large internal transformation. My role was in business solutions. The group was lead by an Army veteran that had served in Kosovo. He was a phenomenal mentor for me.
After I had been at NRG for a couple years, I met a veteran named Mike Slagh. He was starting a company to connect veterans to tech companies. I did some consulting work with him to work him during his fundraising efforts. Ultimately he got the funding he was looking for and I ended up going to work for him full-time. It was a really rewarding experience and it diversified my skills and tools. Ultimately, I decided that my heart was in energy so I left Shift to get back into the energy sector.
Would you consider yourself to be an extrovert?
Yes - absolutely. My wife is an introvert so I think we balance each other really well.
What makes someone good at sales?
One type of person that finds success in sales is someone that is extremely organized and very process driven. These people can keep track of every interaction they have with clients.
The second type of person is one that is really energized by building relationships with the client. They might struggle a bit on the administrative side but they are able to drive client relationships forward in really powerful ways.
Why are veterans particularly well-suited for sales?
Most veterans have a strong ability to build internal relationships. In enterprise sales, those skills are important as you try to push a deal forward.
Another ability veterans possess is mission planning. Veterans are very good about planning for success in any mission. A lot of those same tools can be applied directly or modified slightly to achieve success in the business environment.
What else would you like to share with our listeners?
I encourage veterans to think about your service experience as an advantage in the civilian sector. Veterans think that they don’t have any transferable skills coming out of the military. But I really disagree. You just have to think about how you can apply what you learned to your new work environment. The military gave us a really invaluable skill set. Think about where the parallels are between your time in the military and your current job and identify ways you can bring those skills you learned in the military to your new job.