Susan Schieren is the former manager of the Junior Officer Leadership program at General Electric. There, she hired thousands of veterans to work in a special leadership program, which allowed them to work eight-month rotations in a two-year span and gain valuable work experience and business contacts. She left the company in 2010 to form Transitioning Leaders, a private consulting company that educates other companies on hiring veterans, and an informal veterans-hiring consortium, featuring 40 Fortune 500 companies. The informal consortium provides invaluable consultation resources to companies free-of-charge on improving their veteran hiring practices and creating a workplace that allows former and current military members to excel. An Air Force veteran, Schieren is a valued member of The American Legion’s Business Task Force. The American Legion sat down with Schieren to discuss veterans hiring practices, her military consortium and her experiences as an amateur inventor.
Q: What is your background in veterans hiring?
A: I served as the manager at the Junior Officer Leadership program at GE... We developed a website for GE’s corporate area, did all the advertising, I hired thousands of veterans into GE through those years. I retired in 2010 from GE.
The Junior Officer Leadership program was a two-year, three-rotational program where the veteran officer would come into GE. We’d usually give them two years to go around and do three different rotations. It’s their choice what rotation they want to do. They can go into that rotation field, network and choose another rotation. The result is at the end of the two-year period they’ve gained job experience in different fields and had a chance to build numerous business contacts. My biggest problem in this program was actually that these veterans performed so well that managers came after me and kept asking me to hire more veterans and hire more. Managers ended up fighting over my people because they performed so well.
Q: What kind of services does your military consortium perform and what gave you the idea for it?
A: I knew I was going to retire in 2010 from GE. In July of 2010 I thought, I don’t want to lose contact with all of my partners out in the industry, so I developed the military consortium. It’s made up right now of 40 companies that are Fortune 500 companies and some that are not. It’s a monthly call that I run, plus an annual face-to-face meeting. Basically, it’s an area free of charge where people can share best practices on hiring military, enlisted, disabled veterans or officers, or how to set up a company website best to attract veterans. There’s so much information involved to be used out there.
Some companies like GE have a tremendous track record for doing well in veterans hiring and tracking them once their hired. But there are so many companies that don’t know how to track veterans. I now run a company called Transitioning Leaders. It’s a consulting company. With all the veterans coming back, there’s such a huge need to teach companies how to hire veterans and improve their military employment numbers.
Q: How exactly would you describe the consortium?
A: It’s semiformal. We don’t have a board of directors. I guess you’d just call it an informal consortium. It’s just a group of interested leaders in the industry who go out and recruit veterans. It’s members of the consortium that participate in the phone calls and face-to-face meetings with other companies that want to hire more veterans. But it’s not part of anything that any of us get paid for. Most of the people on the consortium are the military recruiting leaders from each one of those companies.
Q: How would a company come to you to get help hiring veterans?
A: A lot of times they hear about us through the grapevine. I will get emails to add a company that someone has heard of. The consortium is a free service.
There’s so many resources out there already to help companies learn how to hire vets. It’s just that there are so many it’s hard to tell which ones are good and which ones are bad. So our practice is to point a company in the direction of a website that is really good in a particular area or has really good information on say, the government regulations or a good checklist for what companies need to do to hire veterans. I think there is so much information out there that to have our consortium develop another website would just confuse the issue.
Q: You invented a hair dryer for women who only have use of one arm. How does it work and what was that process like?
A: I injured my shoulder in 2009. I don’t know if it was from throwing the luggage in the car or me swimming too many laps in my swimming pool. I injured my left arm and couldn’t raise it over my shoulder. Being a woman, who dries her hair and uses a hair dryer, I couldn’t really use a hair dryer anymore. I looked on the Internet to see if there was anything to help me with that disability and I couldn’t find anything. I sat down at the kitchen table and sketched a drawing. Over a period of 18 months I refined, refined and refined and finally ended up going to a patent lawyer. I got a patent on this invention, and now I have 10,000 units produced. And it’s called the HALO SS1 - SS for Susan Schieren. It’s simply a hair dryer holder. It’s just a simple injection molded piece that holds over 40 different hair dryers. It’s attached to adjustable straps, and you can suspend it from the ceiling so you no longer have to hold your hair dryer. You can stand under it while your styling and drying your hair. It’s useful for even regular hair dryer users because it can be dangerous to pick up the hair dryer, style your hair, blow it and then put it down, reposition the hair and blow it again. It can actually be dangerous.
Q: Is it your experience that companies want to hire veterans and just don’t know how to do it?
A: I think there are an awful lot of companies out there that really want to hire veterans. Some of them do extremely well because they’ve done the right advertising. They’ve done the right outreach, and they’ve hired enough veterans that they have a base of people who refer veterans. There are several companies that are doing a very good job of it and hiring veterans in a large number.
There are also a lot of companies that really want to hire veterans but don’t know how to do it. Many of those companies have joined my consortium over the past year to learn from those companies that are doing it very well.
Then there are companies who say they really want to hire veterans, but they’re not giving the resources or the head count to the people who are going out and hiring veterans. It’s been my experience in the past where I recruited top-talent veterans, but my head count kept getting chopped and chopped to the point that I couldn’t really run a program anymore. I think there are companies out there who say that they love veterans and want veterans, but politics gets in the way of actually hiring them and it just becomes a smokescreen.
It’s one thing to hire veterans. It’s another thing to keep them. A lot of times companies will do a good job attracting veterans and hiring them, but once veterans get into the job, the veterans are lost. The veterans don’t have the infrastructure they were used to in the military to help them thrive. When I took over the Junior Officer Leadership program in 1999, I basically took it over to evaluate why the veterans were leaving. For the most part, we found it was what I just said. The company had a great program and made lots of promises to the veterans, but once the veterans got in, they didn’t see those promises being fulfilled.