Although not a Veteran, I share the same passion as Co-Founder Lee Kirby for helping military heroes and together we hope Salute will have a monumental impact on thousands of veterans and their families. My role has taught me that you don’t have to be a veteran to support them.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Okroy, CEO, Salute Mission Critical.
Jason is a technology industry leader with a proven track record of building high-performing teams, creating innovative solutions to operations problems and generating revenue growth. He has provided IT consulting for major technology firms, created strategic plans and execution roadmaps for critical facility infrastructure and improved operations for data center environments. He has specialized expertise in the implementation of custom energy efficiency solutions. His experience includes a stint at a top technology staffing firm, where he honed his skills at identifying and developing talent.
Jason applies innovative thinking and a healthy entrepreneurial mindset to every role, wearing many hats as needed. He is uniquely skilled at bringing together disparate teams, vendors and subject matter experts and building consensus around a strategy or solution. The hallmark of his leadership is getting all parties to drive towards achieving a common goal.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Like most people in this industry, I lucked into the digital infrastructure industry. When I graduated from Western Michigan University (go Broncos!), my first job was as a recruiter. That eventually turned into a sales position as the company shifted focus to hot aisle containment solutions. I gained a lot of knowledge in airflow dynamics and the value that it could bring a data center to minimize energy consumption and was hooked on the industry’s complexity from then on. After about five years, I met my current business partner (Lee Kirby). We started Salute Mission Critical to solve two problems: military veteran unemployment and the data center industry talent shortage.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
My journey has been the best part of this venture. On the personal side of my life, I got married and had two beautiful children I adore. I have worked hard but have been able to balance work and home, which I think is a win, especially in these trying times. Professionally, I have learned so much and more than anything, I have learned that doing good generates far more reward than you could imagine. We have grown significantly over the years. By trying to help reduce unemployment for military veterans, we have found that the workforce you build is a competitive differentiator because the leadership and critical thinking that they learn in the military are not taught in many colleges and tech schools. The business has been successful, and the impact has touched so many lives. Of those we have hired, 10–12% were homeless when we hired them and the job gave them the ability to change everything. There are so many stories that have touched me but the two I remember the most are:
· We hired a young man that was living in his car with his 3-year-old daughter and pregnant wife. It was bad luck that got him in the situation and all he needed was a job to get out of it. I am so proud of everything that our team did to embrace him and help him grow.
· We had just started in 2013, had hired a team in Chicago, trained them and their first project was in Minneapolis. A few of the team members were living in the homeless shelter on the south side and I went to pick them up so that they could drive my car to Minneapolis for the project. They were so thrilled that I would trust them with my car and did an outstanding job on the project that led to more business with that client. One of them is still in a leadership position with us today and I am so proud of him. It is all about empowering people and this simple small act of trust and empowerment propelled us.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Many to choose from but I think the notion that we could be a non-profit was the funniest. Our mission was not a commercial business but we found out after hours of trying that a non-profit cannot compete for business. To get our veterans the experience they need in order to have jobs in the industry, we have to compete and win the jobs. Ultimately, we wasted almost a year, finding out that we needed to be a for-profit business in order to achieve our mission.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
We provide a path for veterans who want to work and learn in a fast-paced environment to start a career that will be personally and professionally rewarding. Thousands of veterans have moved through our program and 10–12% of them were homeless when we hired them. We also hire military spouses to give them the same opportunities and believe that society as a whole has overlooked both veterans and their families for too long. Finally, we hire veterans with the aptitude and attitude to work in our industry and pay them a living wage, not a minimum wage to allow them to support their families while training. While the human side of the story will resonate, the industry is benefiting because we are developing a workforce for the future that will “raise all boats” with individual levels of performance honed in the most austere environments.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
https://salutemissioncritical.com/from-the-streets-of-chicago-to-data-center-engineer-for-amazon/ There is so much more to this story and we think that it is one of many at Salute. It is among the most inspiring to me.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
There are things at many levels. The military spends millions of dollars to train service members to do their job in the military. They could contribute more to prepare service members for civilian life than they do but it would require support from politicians and society. There are many programs trying but they miss so many because they do not consider the entire veteran population. In our industry the thought of military veterans was focused just on technically trained veterans from nuclear submarines or telecommunications. At Salute Mission Critical, we train infantry, cooks and truck drivers to be data center technicians.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I believe that great leaders are servant leaders. Many examples abound to learn from and a lot has been written but it comes down to the mindset of lifting those you lead to excel collaboratively. A good leader builds a team of respected and listened to individuals while motivating them to achieve far more than they could if they were pushed. This example then perpetuates itself to continue building as the company’s culture becomes ingrained from top to bottom. This values-based leadership style is inclusive and ensures that everyone has a chance to learn and grow together and Salute Mission Critical is living proof that it works.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
· Hire a bookkeeper to post transactions correctly so that you can ensure financial integrity
· Your most vocal advocates will not be your best customers (if at all) but they still help spread the word
· Your mission is noble, but it still comes down to price and performance
· Being veteran owned does not help you competitively but being veteran-focused does
· No matter how much good you do, no matter how hard you try to please people, there will always be people that are against you and that is ok
· Although not a Veteran, I share the same passion as Co-Founder Lee Kirby for helping military heroes and together we hope Salute will have a monumental impact on thousands of veterans and their families. My role has taught me that you don’t have to be a veteran to support them.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Give people opportunities and empower them to succeed. Be inclusive. Listen.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Leaders don’t create more followers, they create more leaders. — Tom Peters
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Bill Gates — He is a person who has changed the world and he continues to inspire every day with his philanthropy work. I would love to know how he stays so motivated when he has so much and could just relax.
How can our readers follow you on social media?