Mission driven

Elite Meet matches highly skilled veterans with potential employers

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John Allen, the CEO of Elite Meet, describes it as a “highly curated network”
of veterans and employers. Photo by Mark Rhodes

John Allen began a program helping veterans of special operations forces transition to civilian jobs because of a need he saw firsthand.

A 30-year-old Virginia Beach resident, Allen is a former Navy SEAL who suddenly found himself looking for a new career outside the military.

Allen joined the SEALs in 2010. On April 19, 2014, he was on his first deployment when his team was attacked in Afghanistan.
In an online narrative, Allen recalls the moment:

“I watched a hand grenade come over the wall in front of me, bounce off my right shoulder and land in the mud between the six of us. I had enough time to realize that we were most likely going to die before the explosion sent thousands of pieces of metal flying in every direction.

“I vividly recall the searing sensation in my legs and hip as the shrapnel slashed through. I was knocked to the ground in a heap, shoulder badly dislocated, and bullets flying overhead as our enemy tried to finish us all off.”

Luckily, no U.S. servicemen died in the attack — an airstrike was called in and helicopters evacuated the wounded. Allen and nine of the 24 members in his platoon received Purple Hearts.

By the beginning of 2016, pain from his wounds and a desire to spend more time with his family led Allen and his wife, Amanda, to decide that it was time for him to leave the SEALs.

His long-term plan was to go to business school and earn an MBA. He already had earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and English from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

His military contract called for him to serve through 2018. But in 2017 what Allen describes as an obscure Navy policy required him to either separate early from the military or re-enlist for an additional two or three years.

“All of a sudden, I had to make this huge life decision,” Allen says, describing a conversation that he had with his wife. “I knew we weren’t going to stay in. She knew I had to go find a job. She was pregnant with a second kid — full-chaos, full-panic mode.”

A fateful message
Then fate intervened. Allen saw a LinkedIn message from an executive trying to connect with special operations forces members and jet-fighter pilots transitioning to civilian life.

The executive was Jordan Selleck, the CEO and co-founder of DebtMaven, a New York-based deal management platform for debt financing. One of Selleck’s friends was a former fighter pilot who was having trouble adjusting to life outside the armed forces.

So, Selleck posted the Linked­In note, asking others about their experiences in making the switch.

Allen replied immediately. “My response to him was like insane,” he recalls. “It was nine pages long. I told him, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing; I need help.’  I was desperate.”

What people don’t understand, Allen says, is that moving from military to civilian life is a big jump.

“Whether you’re a fighter pilot or a Navy SEAL or you’re a chef, it doesn’t matter,” he says.

Selleck and Allen teamed up to bring corporate executives and other business leaders together with special operations forces veterans from various military branches.

Elite Meet created
That partnership led to the creation of Elite Meet in 2017. The first event was March 30 that year.

Selleck leveraged his business contacts, while Allen used his connections with service members. Money was raised and the Elite Meet event was held in New York with 50 people attending. Twenty were veterans.

The $50,000 needed to stage the event and pay for the veterans’ flights and hotel rooms came from a variety of sources, including the SEAL Foundation and Hope for the Warriors, another veterans organization.

“Within 72 hours of the event, five of our [special operations forces] attendees had job offers,” Allen recalls.

Since then, Allen, now CEO of Elite Meet, has been raising money and making contacts to organize events to bring together other elite veterans with executives from business and industry.

Elite Meet has hosted more than 50 events, most of them single-day meetings. More than 250 veterans have received at least one job offer through the program.

“At its core Elite Meet is just this: a highly curated network on both sides. Your veterans are chosen to be here for a reason and your professionals have been chosen to meet those metrics,” Allen says.

“The idea was, they want to meet each other even if they don’t know it yet. It would create an immediate interaction, and both sides would wow each other. It’s all about highly curated matchmaking,” he says.

‘It’s a powerful event’
Nick Creasey, the former member of a U.S. Navy special operations team now living in Delaware, says all the stars aligned during that first Elite Meet event.

“So, we got to New York City. They flew us up there, they put us up at a Marriott, and then we had an event the following day,” he says. “It was just several different speakers, a lot of different breakout sessions where we could just go mingle and talk with the professionals in the room, and we ended up going to have dinner and drinks with the same professionals.

“I personally met my current CEO at one of the very first breakout sessions, and we just hit it off. It’s a powerful event,” Creasey says.

Today, he is managing director, strategic partnerships, at Resourcive, a Mount Vernon, N.Y.-based firm that focuses on cost reduction and network improvement for multilocation companies.

His CEO, Tom Gesky, says he wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for when he attended that first Elite Meet event.

But when he saw the elite veterans attending the meeting, he got the answers he needed.

“I have come to realize that in the business world, mental toughness and mindset is really, really important,” Gesky says. “These guys have it. They’re not into politics in the office. They are really focused and they have integrity.

“These are characteristics that are fabulous for any company’s culture,” he says.
So far, Gesky has hired four Elite Meet members.

Part of company culture
Kyle Hall of Chesapeake, a former Green Beret who is now director of operations at Resourcive, says hiring former Special Operations veterans is now part of the company’s culture.

He points to one of the characteristics of  special operations forces veterans that often hinders them in their job searches: an unwillingness to mention their individual accomplishments, part of the team mentality built into their training.

“In the Green Berets, for example, one of our monikers is ‘quiet professionals,’” Hall says.

Gartner Inc., a 15,000-employee research and advisory company based in Stamford, Conn., is another firm that has formed a good relationship with Elite Meet.

“Gartner values a set of qualitative traits such as executive presence, will to win and lifelong learning,” says Sarah Spenelli, the company’s senior recruiting specialist.

“Based on our prior experience hiring military talent, and in partnership with our Veterans Employee Resource Group, we know that Special Forces military personnel embody these traits at a much deeper level. Elite Meet has helped us to hire several individuals who fit this profile,” she adds.

Allen, the Elite Meet CEO, says the organization is still in its startup stage, with only three full-time employees.

He says the organization’s future depends on employers and donors who see the value of bringing together some of the military’s most well-trained veterans with business executives.

“We want our members, as they take up spots in business, to support the community they came from,” he says.

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