Empowering Your Workforce to Build a Better Workplace

Lee Kirby of Salute Mission Critical shares a veteran's approach to workforce empowerment.

Most peo­ple under­stand that vet­er­ans have been trained for com­bat and con­flict. But they may not real­ize how much that train­ing has appli­ca­tions in the workplace.

Some­one who has lived that train­ing and works to employ more vet­er­ans is Lee Kir­by, Chair­man and Co-Founder of Salute Mis­sion Crit­i­cal. He recent­ly stopped by The Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture Pod­cast to share his jour­ney and the dif­fer­ent ways that vet­er­ans can be strong con­trib­u­tors to an organization.

Salute Mis­sion Crit­i­cal deploys, man­ages and decom­mis­sions data cen­ter sites with high-qual­i­ty results and mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion. It has been rec­og­nized by the indus­try as an exam­ple of a busi­ness with a social con­science and is on a mis­sion to help thou­sands of mil­i­tary fam­i­lies and their sup­port­ers start careers in the data cen­ter industry.

Why is Lee so pas­sion­ate about vet­er­ans? Well, to start with, he’s one him­self, so he knows a thing or two about them. He served for 36 years on both the enlist­ed and offi­cer sides, in both the active and reserve forces. Dur­ing that time he learned a lot about the jour­ney from mil­i­tary to civil­ian life and the chal­lenges vet­er­ans face when tran­si­tion­ing out of the mil­i­tary. One of the sta­tis­tics that both­ered him was the aver­age unem­ploy­ment rate for a first-term sol­dier: 25%. He want­ed to bring that lev­el down.

Lee also want­ed a chance to give back. He says that when peo­ple tell him, thank you for your ser­vice,” he feels the need to reply, thank you for let­ting me serve.” He sees tremen­dous hon­or and priv­i­lege in hav­ing had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to serve in an all-vol­un­teer force, defend­ing what his coun­try stands for. Start­ing Salute Mis­sion Crit­i­cal was one way he saw to give back.

Unskilled Veteran”

Along­side that high unem­ploy­ment rate, Lee was both­ered by the term unskilled vet­er­an.” No mat­ter what your job was in the mil­i­tary, you had to learn about some form of com­plex machin­ery, how to oper­ate it, how to repair it and how to main­tain it. 

That tech­ni­cal train­ing was a com­ple­ment to the basic train­ing, in which all vet­er­ans were taught how to make deci­sions on which life depend­ed, with min­i­mal infor­ma­tion under time pres­sure. That train­ing, while nec­es­sary for the mil­i­tary, also has real-life applications. 

So the term unskilled vet­er­an” has nev­er made sense to Lee, which is why one of his mis­sions is to end the use of that term.

Bootstrapped Beginnings

Salute now has more than 800 employ­ees but Lee says it was get­ting to his first 20 employ­ees that was per­haps the most mem­o­rable and chal­leng­ing time. He and his co-founder financed the busi­ness them­selves and then did their best to help the line of vet­er­ans that were look­ing for work. Their first project had 12 peo­ple on site and, while that job was going on, he went out to sell the sec­ond project so that the team could move from project to project.

As the team grew, they were able to spread that work out and get fur­ther in front of their work, which also let the com­pa­ny shift from pure­ly project-based work to recur­ring ser­vice con­tracts. When you have recur­ring rev­enue you can also have sta­ble and pre­dictable jobs for your workforce.

Some of our best employ­ees have been cooks,” reflects Lee, when think­ing about a stan­dard pro­file of some of his team mem­bers. If you’re feed­ing 300 peo­ple in all kinds of dif­fer­ent con­di­tions, three times a day, there’s plan­ning, logis­tics, exe­cu­tion and safe­ty that all has to go into pulling that off.” But that’s exact­ly what his data cen­ter tech­ni­cians have to do. Same skills, dif­fer­ent ingredients.

Hidden Jewels

Lee also refers to mil­i­tary spous­es as the hid­den jew­els” of that com­mu­ni­ty. When­ev­er some­one in the mil­i­tary is trans­ferred, often the fam­i­ly comes along on that move and a spouse may have to get re-cer­ti­fied or re-licensed in order to con­tin­ue in a career. To make those moves eas­i­er, Salute works hard to get remote jobs for mil­i­tary spous­es so that they can find a career that won’t just move with them while they are in the mil­i­tary but will be avail­able to them when they leave that more nomadic life.

Team-Sourced Values

Founders are often respon­si­ble for cre­at­ing and instill­ing the val­ues of an orga­ni­za­tion but Lee took a dif­fer­ent path: he asked his team mem­bers to help come up with the val­ues. The ques­tions were simple:

  • What’s impor­tant to us?
  • How do we want to be known?
  • What are the val­ues we want the entire com­pa­ny to embrace?

The val­ues that came from those dis­cus­sions led into the train­ing cycle at Salute, which starts with cul­ture, is fol­lowed by safe­ty and ends with tech­ni­cal training.


One of the core val­ues that the team came up with was being inclu­sive. Lee sees this val­ue as key for any orga­ni­za­tion that wants a strong work­force. He thinks the best way to solve prob­lems is by sit­ting around a table with peo­ple of dif­fer­ent back­grounds, per­spec­tives and expe­ri­ences. Lee doesn’t miss a chance to talk about vet­er­ans and points out that diver­si­ty isn’t just about race or eth­nic­i­ty: many orga­ni­za­tions could use the per­spec­tives and back­grounds that vet­er­ans — who have often lived and worked all around the world — bring to the table.


We often end our dis­cus­sions with lead­ers by ask­ing about lega­cy and we love what Lee sees for Salute and for oth­er com­pa­nies that share its val­ues. He has a vision for com­pa­nies to suc­ceed com­mer­cial­ly, of course, but to do so with moral­i­ty and with a social con­science. If those met­rics become the new base­line, then com­pa­nies will be able to address even larg­er issues, like inequities in our social sys­tems. Do well by doing good,” Lee says.

Check Out the Full Episode

Want to hear more about Lee Kir­by and how he leads Salute? Lis­ten to the full inter­view on Apple or Spo­ti­fy.

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