Leap of Faith: Transforming a Military Career to One on Wall Street

After putting the wraps on his more than 30-year career in the U.S. military, retired Brigadier General Michael Fleming didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

Like many veterans he found himself trying to decide on a second career but facing a road full of challenges as the unemployment rate among recent veterans sits near 10% -- higher than the average for most Americans, according to the Council of Economic Advisers.

But Fleming didn’t let stats stand in his way. After all, the job description of a military man is to overcome obstacles and find ways to work in near-impossible situations.

"I was not being hired because I had 30 years of financial services experience, but what I did do was bring a different perspective."

- General Michael Flemming, Head of Deutsche Bank Jacksonville

That’s when he aimed his sights on Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB) – a prestigious international bank with its U.S. headquarters anchored on Wall Street.

“Initially I was quite surprised because when I initially interviewed I was interviewing to run a veterans program,” Fleming said. “But they indicated they would like me to run the whole (Jacksonville, Fla.) site. And, in fact, I really didn’t have any corporate investment banking experience at that point.”

Against the Grain

The bank hired Fleming as a managing director and head of Deutsche Bank Jacksonville in 2010 after serving 27 years in the Army National Guard and nine years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“My hiring was part of Veterans on Wall Street (VOWS), which started in 2010,” Fleming said. “And Deutsche Bank, one of the co-founding members of VOWS, wanted to increase veteran hiring."

What he thought would be an extension of his military career quickly turned into a whole new start – and despite having no real experience in the financial services sector  he wasn’t afraid of a new beginning.

“They wanted someone with leadership because they thought the site was going to grow and they wanted someone who could handle large organizations,” he said. “And I thought to myself: I can do that.”

Through a tailored training program Fleming learned about financial management and financial services and quickly began his career on the Street. He said throughout his learning curve everyone he worked with was open and helpful, recognizing  his background offered something new they could turn to and make work for the company.

“I was not being hired because I had 30 years of financial services experience," he said, "but what I did do was bring a different perspective."

Now he leads one of the essential pieces in the backbone of the bank’s global business service organization, tasked with client services, transaction processing, and ensuring trades are settled timely and cost effectively with minimal risk. In addition, he’s become an essential part of the bank’s growth outside of New York.

Never Leaving a Soldier Behind

Confident and comfortable in his financial services shoes, Fleming also works to help encourage veterans hiring practices not only within Deutsche Bank, but within other employers on the Street.

He joined the bank while serving as the co-chair of the VOWS program – the same organization that helped him find a job fresh out of the military. Now through a partnership with the Jacksonville Military Veterans Coalition, an offshoot of sorts of VOWS, Fleming has the opportunity to explain the value of hiring veterans to more than 180 companies in the Jacksonville-area. Through the program he helps potential veteran employers identify new ways to think about how to transfer  military experience into useful positions within the financial sector.

In addition to offering veterans resources to employers and companies, Fleming also provides advice to his fellow servicemen. He said the worst thing a veteran should tell a potential employer is, “I just want a job.”

Fleming said the first thing any veteran coming out of the service should do is think hard about the best career move in the civilian world for them, then research various employers where they might want to work to learn about their missions and how to leverage talents and demonstrate value to the team.

But most importantly Fleming advises veterans to think big.

“Probably four or five years ago if someone told me I’d be doing this I would have probably laughed at them. Because about three months after I got hired, I looked at the job description and the first thing in the job description for my job was 15 years of financial experience, which I don’t have. But Deutsche Bank looked at it very innovatively and said this individual has strengths that we need in the company,” he said.