From Marine to Managing Multi-£Billion Defense Contracts

Veteran Interview: We spoke with Rob Kelly from Frazer-Nash Consultancy, on how he transitioned from a career in the Marines to Public Sector Procurement.

Rob Kelly veteran
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Meet Rob Kelly, a highly driven individual.

Rob Kelly is a highly driven individual who has not only left the forces and taken everything in his stride, but he has pulled others with him by continuously giving his time to  offer advice. He has helped countless veterans with their C.V’s / resumes, with career advice, and making introductions where necessary.

He is an active supporter of the Royal Marines Charity, a Director of Bootnecks into Business, and established one of the best veteran and recruitment programmes in the UK.

It’s fair to say when it comes to transitioning he knows what he is talking about and so it was a pleasure to speak to Rob Kelly and listen to his thoughts on jobs for veterans.

Who did you serve with and for how long?

I served with the Royal Marines for 12 years. In that time I was on Herrick 12 as a GD (General Duties) Marine where I got pinged on the flight back for stores.

I then completed several drafts to different units before leaving as a SNCO (senior non commissioned officer) back where it all began at Commando Training Centre (CTC) Lympstone, UK

[IMAGE] Not Rob Kelly (he wanted you to know that).

What is your job role now?

Wow that is a question, I will attempt to describe it the best I can… so here goes.

Frazer-Nash (FN) are owned by KBR and I am effectively a ‘C’ suite relationships manager but on paper for Frazer Nash I’m a Business Manager and look after a large sector of defence portfolio, which is the defence support organisation.

At time of writing we have a a pipeline of potential contracts for over £2.3B to chase, which includes 3 procurements in the pipeline ranging from £147m to £1.3B.

It’s great here at FN as I am allowed to chase what I know to be correct from a consultancy perspective. They listen to what I know is an area they should be exploring and going into. At the end of the day it’s my call to be able to win us work to then deploy very deep SME’ed engineers into the MOD to support them with all their growth and capability and learnings which is a big one.

We care about educating clients so mistakes are not made again and I believe that is why it sets us apart from others.

So talk us through your transition from the military

I had no idea what I wanted to do but knew I wanted to get into some form of business. It really was that vague initially.

But defence and security sector seemed a natural path as I didn’t want to go into private security, Close Protection or maritime security. So I thought I would throw my hat into the ring with management and procurement processes. Once I came to that conclusion I did a number of courses at the Royal Marines resettlement centre.

I had no interviews or calls from the CTP* (career transition programme) but instead the wrap around care I got from the Royal Marines meant I subsequently had my first interview in the Sergeants mess at Lympstone (Royal Marines training centre). Which was pretty odd, but subsequently I managed to secure my first job as a Project manager with Jacobs.

I should have done the CTP CV workshop and other courses but I didn’t and sometimes I think there is a strength to blazing your own path and knowing what you want to go off into. Even if it is just a vague thought on the horizon. I thought I could do this, and combined with an element with a Marines background of ‘cuffing**’ it and hoping for the best and making it work, and making it happen.”

After doing a Project managers job for a year I then then moved internally into the sales and Business and Development part of life whilst also creating their veterans and recruitment programmes within that space. I was at Jacobs for nearly four and a half years before I had an offer from Frazer-Nash to become a Defence Business Development & Principle Consultant.

If anyone wants to know more about what I do they can go to my LinkedIn for an exciting read! Joking aside I really enjoy my job and the company has a fantastic culture.

*The Career Transition Partnership (CTP) is a program in the UK that helps military personnel transition to civilian life by offering support, training, and job-finding assistance. It provides resources and guidance to service members as they prepare to leave the military and enter the civilian workforce. 

**In military terminology, “cuffing it” refers to improvising or doing something in an unplanned, ad-hoc manner, often without following standard procedures or formal guidelines. It’s akin to “winging it” or handling a situation on the fly without prior preparation.

You have spoken to hundreds of military leavers over the years. What is your advice to veteran employers?

For a veteran it can be quite a battle to get a foot in the door of a company, But then the employer realises ‘happy days, I have a force multiplier here’. Now often (in the defence space I work in), they wont have a degree in engineering and high voltage mechanics. But they have the ability to help the entire organisation kick on, which is the key differentiator.

For an employer they get a very capable and motivated individual who is used to being adaptable. Before even joining the military this person probably spend weeks if not months getting themselves mentally and physically prepared for the life changing career move. That person would have had a great inner motivation to maybe get up early, or stay up late to either read a book on resilience, or go for a run. They didn’t have to but they knew to achieve their goal they had to.

That is the sort of motivated individual you get from a veteran. So when its their time to leave and they put the same focus in again on the new career path, you know they will pick up the role quickly. There is also an added bonus that an employer gets NI relief*.

Retention of the talent

Now the piece of work I have found very interesting is the challenge of retention of the talent. Often I have seen from 12 to 18 months there is a ‘what now’ question in veterans heads.

That person may be trying to make changes, which in the civilian world is hard for people to grasp. But in the military everything can change in a second and everything is fine.

For instance we could be waiting for our dear friends in the RAF to turn up that day and maybe they don’t and that is fine, we will wait another day. That’s not a dig at the RAF they are fantastic, it was just the first example that came into my head.

So it’s that what next point that it become tricky because these companies spend a lot of money bringing these people in whether its through an armed forces programme they have got, or they have been referred by an individual. But its been a lot of time, effort, and money to bring these guys and girls into their organisations.

Then retaining them is the key and there has to be that very honest forecasting decision when bringing people on, is there something bigger for them to kick onto after learning the ropes and getting to grips with everything.

Another factor is often these veterans are used to having a big change every 2 years, and moving about and settling into a new environment, new scenery, a slightly new role, or a completely new role. So often that comfortable feeling is actually ‘uncomfortable’.

*In the UK National Insurance (NI) relief for employers employing veterans is a scheme in the UK that allows employers to claim relief on National Insurance contributions for up to 12 months when they hire military veterans. This initiative is designed to encourage businesses to employ veterans by reducing the financial burden associated with hiring them, thereby supporting veterans’ transition to civilian employment.

“For an employer they get a very capable and motivated individual who is used to being adaptable”

Rob Kelly

What advice would you give military personnel who are due to leave?

The bare minimum time to properly plan your future is 3 months before you leave. But even then you are going to be really close to time and put pressure on yourself. The earlier the better!

As soon as you request to leave or you know your time is up, its like a clock that starts ticking and you need to treat it ruthlessly. Some people want to go down the education and re-education route, so that means 2/3 hours a day carved out on top of your daily schedule. This takes the pressure off immensely as this not only gives them the educational qualifications but it mentally prepares them for leaving.

If you want to go into Cyber for example you need to lay the cement of knowledge foundation and you need to understand what is going on in that world. If you are a complete generalist then that is a huge arc to start with and therefore you need to network, to understand where you might fit. That is my call to veterans. You have done it before, you can do it again.

Rank can certainly help with initial network but the civilian world rewards hard work, resilience, and is an open playground to carve out your own success.

[IMAGE] Rob Kelly presenting at a networking event

You mentioned the need to network. Please explain?

As you know I am a Director of Bootnecks into Business* and networking is the thin green line in industry, you will rarely hear veterans speak about themselves in a third person context highly. They wont say “I achieved this, or I did that” which may comes easier to civilians who can put  down examples of how they reduced supply chain by 12% and made the company X amount of money.

Networking is a real sweet spot for those leaving but also with those who have been outside for a while already. Maybe  they are 5 / 10 years out already and they might be looking for a small professional change, or a complete career change. Or they might be trying to take what they have been working on and built into other areas or industries where another veteran just so happens to be.

Its those eco systems where you are back in a room with trusted folk from the same cap badge which makes it a safe space immediately and they can let their guard down and not have to worry that they won’t say the wrong thing. Which people will naturally do in a corporate environment. Often I have to think before I speak as I was used to talking without thinking  but now I have to stop myself and think “will I get into trouble if I say that?”.

Maybe a higher thought within these ecosystems, networking events, transition events is why do they exist? Why do Governments want their veterans to be looked after and helped and the country wants to have the best veteran care in the world. It’s the protection of UK PLC as well as the duty of care and essentially, the right thing to do.

Above all networking is great for being inspired, I certainly have been and continue to be. You start to see people who you recognise from your time served and from you outside you think he’s doing well. You say to yourself “I never thought he would have done so well, I wouldn’t have followed him to the chip shop in the military, how have they gone and done this?” Then you speak to them and find out and that belief in yourself grows.

*Bootnecks in2 Business (Bi2B) is a networking organization that connects former Royal Marines with business and recruiting opportunities. The group leverages the extensive Royal Marines network to provide support and facilitate transitions into civilian careers. Bi2B organizes events and fosters connections between former Marines and business professionals, aiming to bring the values and skills of Royal Marines into the business world.

What do you mean when you mention ‘duty of care’?

Of course duty of care covers a lot but in this context I meant that if you have a service leaver, fall into homelessness or prison the cost on the taxpayer is astronomical.

The cost of housing a prisoner a year is around £48k, and a prisoner with PTSD or other complex mental health issues as a result of recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan for example creeps up which has a huge knock on effect into other government departments purse’s.

So having those communities and safe spaces, it allows those safety nets to be there and all different groups has their own USPs.

Any final words of wisdom?

Empowering veterans and tell them they have transitioned 180 degree pivot in their lives before when they joined, and so they can do this again.

Keep networking, and keep moving those chess pieces around the board because you never know what direction the economy may go, or which direction your career may go to.