Problem-solving, critical thinking, risk management, adaptability…In this fascinating #NomadFuturist podcast, Lee Kirby, our first guest with a military background explains with great clarity, why the skills learned in the military can lead to success in the critical infrastructure industry. 

A retired Colonel and technology industry leader, Kirby grew up on a farm in east Tennessee but left for broader horizons. Kirby shares how his 36-year experience in the military led to his developing Salute in 2013, as a way to continue “serving.” The organization, which he describes as “a workforce development strategy put into action” trains veterans and places them in the data center industry.

Kirby was drawn to technology early on. After his first active duty tour ended in 1981 he managed to transition into tech jobs, initially in programming, then project management for networks, followed by involvement with data centers. Over the years, he successfully shifted back and forth between civilian life and tours of duty in Haiti, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Kirby found that his military training gave him a competitive advantage in terms of leadership skills and communications, allowing him to move up through the ranks both in military and civilian life. This realization was key to the founding of Salute. 

“One of the biggest assets of hiring vets is their problem solving and critical thinking. They don’t address symptoms, they look for root causes.”

He highlights how transferable these fundamental skills are.

“Whether it’s a combat situation or a peaceful one you can go through the analysis in the same way: Identify the problem, come up with alternatives, understand the costs, get continuous feedback to make sure that what you did solved the problem and didn’t create any consequences.”

Kirby, who has transitioned over 2000 vets into the data center world, finds that the discipline, sense of personal responsibility and can-do attitude that are ingrained in military training make vets ideal resources.

“Veterans are far more loyal as employees. If you transition and train them and get them hooked into your mission…vets love a mission bigger than themselves.” 

Kirby stresses the importance of treating people with respect, establishing an inclusive culture and having transparency all the way up the chain of command.

“I’ve always believed that leaders are servant leaders, if you set the right environment you can bring people along and develop them.”

His advice for the young emphasizes the value of broadening one’s horizons.

“Learn a foreign language! Get exposed to it and learn the culture. Get to know people and be able to communicate with them…this opens your eyes to a lot of things, no matter what the language is.”

In addition to his military career, Lee Kirby has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of information systems, strategic business development, finance, planning, human resources and administration both in the private and public sectors.  Kirby has successfully led technology startups and turn-arounds as well as built and run world-class global operations. He is a trusted advisor and independent consultant for various organizations in the data center sector and focuses on improving the performance of critical infrastructure through sustainable solutions. 

In addition to an MBA from University of Washington and further studies at Henley School of Business in London and Stanford University, Lee holds professional certifications in management and security (ITIL v3 Expert, Lean Six Sigma, CCO). He also serves as a frequent contributor for industry conferences and publications.

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