How one man’s time in the military prepared him for a successful career in the corporate world
BY RON EDINGER
Not long after I graduated from Columbia University’s MBA program in the mid-1960s, I joined McKinsey & Company, a well-known international consulting firm. For the next few years, I worked with clients like Shell, General Electric, Weyerhaeuser, Boise Cascade Co. and Georgia-Pacific on projects to improve their profitability and operations. For a young man fresh out of school, it was an exciting chance to collaborate with powerful and experienced executives. But it was also a job that was demanding and stressful.
I remember one meeting in which it fell on me to sit down with the CEO of a large company and explain why the McKinsey team had determined that he needed to step down. I was more than a little nervous, a feeling that was exacerbated after the CEO told me that he agreed with everything we were saying but that his wife would take it very badly and would I mind breaking the news to her? At that time, many of the occupants of the top positions in the corporate world were veterans of the Second World War, the Korean War, or both. These corporate executives could be intimidating, but I felt confident that I had something worthwhile to say to the CEOs of these Fortune 500 companies.
The source of my confidence: my military background. After all, these guys may have been scary, but at least they didn’t carry guns. My military service began in 1964, during the conflict that Americans would later recognize as the Vietnam War. Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, I graduated from the New Mexico Military Institute and an ROTC program and was committed to a minimum of three years as an officer in the U.S. Army. Until my discharge as captain in 1968, I served both as platoon leader, leading a group of up to 45 soldiers, and as combat unit company commander, where I led as many as 180 soldiers. As a young officer, I had to quickly get used to making unpopular decisions that others with more experience might question. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this loneliness of command was the perfect training for a long and successful career in the business world.
After I left McKinsey—where I spent most of my time in the San Francisco office working with the fast developing high technology industry—I become chief financial officer at Cetus Corporation. Later known as Chiron Corporation, Cetus was one of the first venture capital-funded biotechnology firms. To put it mildly, Cetus had some serious star power behind it. Stan Cohen, one of the two principal scientists who pioneered genetic engineering testing at Stanford University was a co-founder and Donald Glaser, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1960, was a board member and founder. I was surrounded by luminaries.
In February of 1982, I headed the team that took Cetus public. The initial public offering (IPO) was the largest in the history of the stock market up to that point (I’ll note with satisfaction that the stock did better post-IPO than Facebook). The following year Cetus needed another $100 million, and my role was to convince Wall Street that our second round of financing was worthwhile. I was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal and explained about the length of time it took to obtain Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a drug and speculated that it might take even longer for the first genetically engineered drug. The Journal labeled me a “straight-shooter” but the scientists and board at Cetus were not thrilled with my candidness.
I was told to stay in my office and not grant any more interviews. A week later our lead investment bank—a major Wall Street investment house—confronted the Cetus CEO and board and said, “If we can’t talk to your CFO, Ron Edinger, we are backing out right now.” The result: We raised the money. Once again, I can thank my military training for emboldening me to make unpopular decisions that ultimately maintained the trust and respect of subordinates and superiors—in this case, brilliant, confident scientists.
I went on to become group vice president of another large, publicly traded high-tech firm and then CEO of a computer hardware and software company. Later, I co-founded and managed an asset-based management company in Central America. After a decade, my family and I chose to move to San Antonio because of its diversity and because it would allow my three kids to put their knowledge of Spanish to good use. Today, I own Liquid Capital Southwest, which provides working capital solutions for small- to medium-sized companies. As has been the case throughout my career, the ability to make tough decisions and lead others—skills I learned in the military—has helped Liquid Capital Southwest become an award-winning company. But the military has been a boost to Liquid Capital in other ways, as well. About 25 percent of my clients are veteran-owned businesses, which gives me confidence that they are run in a clear-headed and responsible manner.
In many ways, I feel like my career and life have come full circle. Being located here in Military City is like being part of the brotherhood that had helped me throughout my career, from battlefield to boardroom.
Original article source : Business Boot Camp – San Antonio Magazine