Patriotic Proprietors

Military service provided the discipline, skills and experience for these entrepreneurs to start successful businesses.

After serving 24 years in the U.S. Air Force, most of which was in the construction realm, Bob Stooksbury retired in 2003. That was also around the same time that former president George W. Bush signed the Veterans Benefit Act [Public Law 108-183], and that planted a seed in his mind: He wanted to start his own business.

“When I retired, I knew that I wanted to work in the construction industry, and I did not want to be counting widgets for Wally’s World of Widgets somewhere,” Stooksbury said. “I wasn’t sure of the venue, but I knew that I wanted to do something other than the typical 9 to 5. My father (the greatest man I ever knew) owned a small business and worked a full time job. I could see how much he enjoyed the small business, and what a chore it was to go to the full-time job every day. I guess that made an imprint in my mind.”

After retiring, Stooksbury worked as a construction manager for a large corporation, but he wasn’t happy with the way business was obtained. So he began researching a viable business partner and after speaking with several government contracting officers that he knew from his military career he partnered with Richard and Jennie Weldin of Weldin Construction in order to obtain their mentorship and to be able to obtain bonding for construction projects. Stooksbury formed Veterans Alaska Construction in 2005.

Stooksbury believes that his military experience has been helpful to his business. “My military experience has been much, much more than vital, he said. “The military offers lessons in leadership that prove invaluable in corporate America. Vets know how to work as a member of a team. They have organizational skills and know how to effectively plan and manage resources. Above all, they know the importance of “The Mission.” The Air Force took me, a skinny, punk, country boy from east Tennessee and turned me into a man that even surprises me!”

Stooksbury still remembers the best piece of business advice that he received 20 years ago. “I heard a general speak at a military function and he said ‘water that is 211 degrees is very, very hot. But, add just one more tiny degree and you can power a locomotive with it.’ His gist was that just ONE MORE push, or just a little more effort, could result in tremendous improvement. I don’t even remember who he was, but that stuck with me.”

For Ray Hill, pursuing his dream was as easy as quitting his job in the information technology field and following his passion. During a business trip to Colorado in 1998, Hill, a Navy veteran, had a chance encounter with a local brewmaster and thus his love for craft-brewed beers began.

“I remember telling him that I thought he had the coolest job in the world, Hill said. “He told me about some different books on the subject and about home brewing. So when I got home, I started brewing beer in my kitchen and giving it to my family and friends.”

In June of 2002 he started Hill Brewing Company with his own money. He approached Anheuser-Busch in 2005 to try to get them to brew his beer on a larger scale. After two years of hard work and persistence, Hill and Anheuser-Busch formed the Hill Craft Beer Company in April of 2007.

“Once we started contract brewing with Anheuser-Busch as a commercial beer, than I could start answering commercial competitions,” he said. “We won six awards with our beer, even beating out nationally-established brands.”

Hill no longer contracts with Anheuser-Busch. He does all of his own brewing now and is opening a 7,700-square-foot fifteen-barrel microbrewery, Ray Hill’s Brewhouse in Ferguson, Mo., sometime this summer.

Hill said he is motivated by the fact that he loves what he does and loves being an entrepreneur. “My motivation when I first started out was to get to the end goal of getting on all of the store shelves,” he said. “Now I’m motivated to get our new brewery all installed. I like that I get to set my own goals and work on them with little direction. I’m not working on someone else’s plan, I’m working on my own plan.”

When Bob Taylor left the active duty U.S. Air Force in 1993, he started working at Richard-Allan Medical, a medical device company. It was there Taylor got his first taste of entrepreneurship. “The owner created an environment where we developed as managers; we had a true sense of management”, Taylor said. “It felt like we were running a small business within his company.”

Taylor co-founded Aspen Surgical Products in 1999. Taylor sold his minority ownership in the company in 2002 and started Alliant Healthcare Products. Last year, Alliant Healthcare Products began a partnership with Stryker Medical. Alliant Healthcare Products is the exclusive provider of Stryker Medical’s products to all government facilities, and they also provide services to Stryker’s customer call center and play an integral part in Stryker’s new product development.

When you run a business like Taylor’s, there is no average workday. “That’s one thing that I enjoy about the position,” Taylor said. “The market changes for small business on a dime. We have to be better at responding to change than a large business. If you’re going to work at a small business, you have to be a change agent. You have to be willing to work in an environment that isn’t as predictable.”

According to Taylor, his biggest motivator is his commitment to helping other people to be successful and truly caring about what the customer needs. “I truly care about the people that work here. They make a lot of sacrifices and I’m much more motivated by their success than I am by my own. I consider many of my customers as friends and I care about how they are meeting their challenges and how we can meet their needs.”

Taylor measures his success more by the success of others. “I look at things like how well do we do at answering the challenges that we’re faced with and how people see themselves developing,” he said. “I’m much more motivated when a person doesn’t believe they can do something and then see themselves accomplishing it. When most people look at a newly planted tree, they see this little sapling, and what I see is this fully mature tree. I see people for what their potential is, not what they are currently doing. I get motivated by trying to help people to reach their potential.”

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