Above: Michael Montelongo (center) with members of Ingersoll Rand's Veteran Employee Resource Group.
Michael Montelongo didn’t know what West Point, the United States Military Academy, was when he was growing up in the projects of New York City. His father taught him the essentials of leadership regardless of your circumstances, so when a mentor suggested that he apply to West Point, he knew it would be tough, but that it would lead to an amazing experience to serve his country. After being commissioned as a second lieutenant and fulfilling a number of senior leadership roles in the Army, he became the first Hispanic to ever serve as Under Secretary of the Air Force at the Pentagon, the second highest ranking civilian official. In this capacity, he reported directly to the Secretary of the Air Force and was responsible for all fiscal management including overseeing a budget of more than $124 billion before transitioning to private industry.
On Tuesday, July 9, he shared some of his lessons learned with an audience of about 180 members of Ingersoll Rand’s Veterans Employee Resource Group (VERG). In a talk titled, “How to Leverage Your Background to Manage Your Career,” Michael drew parallels between his military and corporate experiences. Interacting frequently with his audience, he discussed effective leadership styles and offered advice to veterans on how to transfer their military skills to a corporate environment.
The timing is perfect for veterans to leverage the leadership skills they learned in the military, Michael said, noting that today’s army is a far cry from the dispirited one he joined in 1977. And, unlike the bleak job prospects Vietnam veterans faced, today’s veterans are sought after. “Companies are falling all over each other to try to be the company of choice for returning veterans,” said Michael, who now is senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Sodexo, a global food services and facilities management company.
Diversity is Key Component of Strong Leadership
One of the strong suits of military service is the opportunity to exercise leadership, said Michael, who believes that leadership is the most important factor in a company’s success. Michael, who is Hispanic, also believes that diversity contributes to strong leadership.
Creating a workplace “where everyone’s opinions are welcome” is very important, he said. In the military that’s known as a “command climate.” Noting that “some folks might describe this as being ‘touchy feely,” he said he’s found that “The hard stuff is the soft stuff.” If you “create a positive command climate, you set yourself up for success. And the reverse is also true,” he said. Michael also stressed the importance of communication: “Employees crave communication. It is insatiable. You can’t do too much communicating.”
“You have some great brands,” he told his audience, “and you have strong leadership focused in the right direction.” Incorporating the human talent component as part of the strategy bodes well for the success of the company, he concluded.