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Care About the Mission

Veterans do well in corporate America

By Patricia Guadalupe

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Serenna Madrid, 32, takes pride in her work and her company. She is an Insurance Manager within the Chief Financial Officer Group at Bank of America in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I negotiate insurance contracts for the bank,” she says. 

It’s a job that her years in the military prepared her to do well. Born in Florida, Madrid grew up in Tennessee with African American and Dominican parents. Like many young people looking at a university education, she saw the military as a way to help pay for college, and she graduated from the University of North Georgia, one of only six senior military colleges in the country, and was in the ROTC. 

After Madrid served six years with the Army as a logistics officer – including a deployment to Afghanistan – a friend mentioned that Bank of America had a great program for transitioning veterans. She jumped at the chance, entering the bank’s two-year Global Technology and Operations (GT&O) Military Development Program in 2017. 

“It was hard to translate the things that I did in the military to the civilian workforce, and the training program helped. In the military, so many things are being thrown at you at the same time because of how tough and demanding the work is, but it prepared me to have the skills for the work I do now, and to be able to receive feedback and ask for help,” says Madrid. “The GT&O Development Program made my transition so much easier.” 

Throughout the pandemic Madrid has been working from home. “The military prepared me for all of the things the pandemic forced us to face. Being adaptable is very important, missions change. It definitely helped me prepare for work, such as working from home and still being really engaged while also taking care of children. Homeschooling and working full time---it’s incredibly challenging but you learn to adapt,” says Madrid, who has a young daughter. The bank reimbursed employees for childcare costs.

Madrid says one of the things she has learned after military life is advocating for herself. “That runs counter to our social behavior for military veterans. The very nature of being in the military is you are part of a team, and a huge part of the process when you go out there and interview is selling yourself. That was a powerful lesson for me to learn.” Madrid says she feels supported and nurtured at the bank. “The bank enables and support us and wants to see more people like me.”  

In 2014, the company pledged to hire 10,000 veterans, National Guard and reservists within five years, a goal they surpassed, and a hiring momentum they are maintaining. Bank of America leadership has said that those with military backgrounds possess traits that make them excellent employees, such as good decision-making skills, particularly while juggling multiple projects, and discipline.  

Like Madrid, Vincent Rivera is a military veteran, serving eight years in the Army after graduating from West Point. He is a Senior Vice President at Bank of America and credits their outreach to veterans as one of the key reasons he’s working at the bank.

“The biggest reason why I joined Bank of America is because of the bank’s commitment to hiring and training veterans directly into the company. I came through the bank’s Leadership Development Program where qualified veterans are hired, provided with 18 months of great training, and then placed into a permanent position. Bank of America is an organization that invests in recruiting diverse talent from every background.”

Rivera was born and raised in New Jersey and his father’s family is originally from Puerto Rico. He never imagined that he would be where he is right now, and says he “absolutely loves” what he does. Four financial centers and the associates who work in each one report to Rivera, and he credits his military background as extremely helpful to his work in the corporate world. “Always putting your best food forward, the discipline in the military, staying focused on the mission and doing it together, those things help me now.” 

Particularly in the last year, Rivera adds: “I operated as company commander under austere conditions [he did tours of duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq] but nothing prepared us for the pandemic. There was no playbook to lead people during a pandemic with so much uncertainty. Bank of America was there every step of the way for us, and what they did for us allowed me to really be effective as a leader. Because the bank supported us, we were there for our clients. We operate as ‘essential workers’ during the pandemic so we are there for each other and for our clients.”

Rivera, 35, offers some unique advice to young Latinas and Latinos, and that includes putting yourself in a position to keep your options open. “Apply yourself and create your own choices. You never want to look back and wish you had done something. Work hard in your current position, create multiple options and don’t pigeonhole yourself into one option. Go for it! You always want to do your best, so that when opportunities arise, you can look at more than one opportunity.”

Rivera concludes with one of the best pieces of advice he received from a mentor in the military, which easily translates in any kind of situation: “Care about the mission, care about your soldiers, care about your job, and everything will fall into place. If you care, people will meet you more than halfway.” 

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