Alex Panosian: Life as a Servicemember and Entrepreneur

May 26, 2016
Oliver Stahl

Tribe likes to support the military and veteran community whenever we can. You see, this is because we are ourselves a veteran owned and operated business. Our CTO and Founder Sam Harris began working on Tribe during the first cohort of Bunker Labs, in the home office of Bunker Labs here in Chicago. Bunker Labs has done so much to support us and our ambitions that we can’t help but feel a sense of responsibility to give back to those who were there to help us.

I thought that it would be fun to highlight one of the active duty servicemembers who are participating in the Bunker Labs Fellows program, Alex Panosian.

(From L to R: Captain Alex Panosian, Colonel Glenn A. Waters, Todd Connor – CEO of Bunker Labs)

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Alex is originally from Milwaukee, WI. After graduating high school, he was selected to enroll at the United States Military Academy (West Point). While there, he was active with the Varsity Army Lacrosse team, the Black and Gold Leadership Forum, and with the Undergraduate Journal of Social Sciences. Alex graduated from West Point in 2011 with the degree of B.S., International Relations with Honors. Additionally, during the summer of 2010, he interned for the Office of the Mayor of Milwaukee (Mayor Tom Barrett), and with Senator John F. Kerry (MA) of the United States Senate. Here is a link to his LinkedIn profile.

After graduation, Alex became a commissioned officer in the Army as a Field Artillery Lieutenant. He served in Grafenwohr, Germany and Logar, Afghanistan. He served as a fire support officer, platoon leader, executive officer, and assistant logistics officer while working in the 173rd Airborne Brigade. In May of 2015, he was promoted to Field Artillery Captain where he served as an executive officer responsible for the logistical requirements of a training unit that educates over 900 soldiers annually with $57M worth of multimedia technology and counter-fire radar equipment stationed at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.

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Selected as a Bunker Labs fellow, he now is working in Chicago and will be attending University of Chicago’s prestigious Booth School of Business. I sat down with Alex and was fortunate enough to interview him!

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Q: What is one thing that the military could learn from private business?
A: Efficiency. For example, it took me less than half a day at Waterton to get operational. It was “here’s your computer, here’s your workstation, here’s a quick orientation presentation, and here’s a project – now get to work.” In the military, you have to spend weeks checking into the various offices on your post, then you begin chasing down the S6 (IT people) so you can sign for a computer to begin working through the litany of online training courses, and so on. That’s just one example, but it is indicative of the culture as a whole. In the civilian world, who gets things done is more determined by the quality of the idea and the numbers behind it than it is determined by who navigated the bureaucracy the best.

Q: What is one thing that private businesses could learn from the military?
A: There is a clear difference in the level of camaraderie. Now, the people I work with are very friendly and good people, but I think it is hard to match the level of commitment and brotherhood achieved by an airborne unit in Afghanistan – which is where I grew up in the military. As one of my friends once put it, “There are a lot of things in the military you don’t necessarily want to do, but you are really proud that you have done.” The benefit of going through all those challenges and tough times is that you get very close to the people that you go through them with.

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Q: What are some of the advantages that come with hiring a veteran?
A: The thing about military members is we have the world’s best experiences for the development of emotional intelligence and other leadership skills, things that are typically hard and expensive to teach. You can teach a service member how to read a financial statement much easier than you can replicate for a civilian the high-pressure and complex situations that most veterans have gone through. I mean, after you sit in a crowded room of upset Afghans trying to explain why their Taliban cousin was detained or help to quickly deploy your unit to eastern Europe because the Russians are gallivanting in Ukraine, you really should be able to confidently handle anything the civilian world throws at you. Again, the challenge is being able to polish those stories and then relate them to the particular problem set that your civilian employer is facing.

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Q: Finally, in a short amount of time, you have had a lot of exposure to ideas and models that are radically different than where you are coming from, what is one big idea that has sparked your interest thus far?
A: One idea that I’m excited about is entrepreneurship through acquisition. Right now, there are over 5 million small businesses that employ less than 20 people, meanwhile 51% of small business owners are over the age of 50 (which is increasing as baby boomers age). This means, a transfer of wealth and responsibility is coming in this country. Furthermore, while a lot of those businesses are solid cash generators, they are often too small for institutional private equity investors. So, there is an opportunity there if you could build a model to decrease acquisition cost and timeframe, especially if you can bring in people with top-notch leadership experiences and quickly train them on the business side (i.e. Veterans!). That’s a problem set I’m starting to explore with a few of my former classmates. It’s also one of the reasons I am so thankful for the Bunker Transition Fellowship. Yes, the program has helped expose us to this level of thinking, but the reason this program exists is so we can become force multipliers for the success of the veteran community. Todd Connor (Bunker CEO) and the people that have made this program happen on the military side have really encouraged and motivated me through explaining that responsibility.

Authors Note: I want to thank Alex for giving his time for this interview, his service to our country, and providing his unique perspective. We here at Tribe wish him well in his endeavors both in the Military and in his civilian life.

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