Today, we’re taking a personal look at one of our veterans, John Ferrante. John was a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force (1989–1993) and has been an advisor with Chicago Oakbrook Financial Group (Oak Brook, Illinois) since 1998. He told us about his experience being a service member, how his military service has affected his career, and ways we can all help veterans in our communities.
A: First, I’ve always loved the military and knew enlisting would give me the opportunity to serve my country and see the world. Second, I knew the military had college tuition assistance, and I wanted to earn my education. Third, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I did know that having a military background would look good on a résumé and thought that at least four years in the military would prepare me for whatever came next.
A: Basic training was at Lackland Air Force Base (AFB) in San Antonio, Texas. It was six grueling weeks of physical activity and even some mind games. While there, I earned high scores on my ASVAB tests (similar to SAT/ACT for college) and was given the rare and exciting opportunity to be in the intelligence field as a target intelligence specialist.
My technical training school was 13+ weeks at Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo, Texas. The class had a 25–30 percent failure rate, but I was up for the challenge. In tech school, you filled out a “dream sheet,” indicating where you’d like to be stationed. Although I selected Hawaii, Germany, and Italy (I’m 100 percent Italian), I ended up at Strategic Air Command Headquarters, smack dab in the middle of the U.S. at Offutt AFB in Nebraska.
I didn’t love my first job there, pulling classified information requested from air bases around the world. But my second job at Offutt was awesome. I worked with something called an APPS, which essentially derives precise bombing coordinates. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Desert Storm conflict began, and my job suddenly became vital. I worked 16- to 18-hour days, but I felt as invigorated as ever, as I was actually doing something meaningful. Pilots were flying their F-15E fighter jets into harm’s way and taking out mission-critical targets in Iraq. If I didn’t do my job correctly, these pilots would have to go back and the troops’ safety on the ground could be compromised.
I earned several ribbons and promotions while serving—something I’m very proud of. When it came time to reenlist, I had grown up quite a bit and was looking forward to the next chapter. I left the Air Force as an E-4 senior airman, which was the top rank you could earn in a four-year period.
A: As a child, I used to reorganize our refrigerator, our pantry, anything! The regimented nature of a military career put my organized nature into overdrive. Not paying attention to detail wasn’t an option in the military. And it’s a skill I use every day in my practice. I have about 300 households, and I have to keep on top of all the details. It’s not always easy, but having an organized staff is essential—and the tools from Commonwealth are fantastic.
As advisors, we’re a source of confidence for our clients, so they can feel more secure about achieving financial independence. I feel privileged and blessed to be doing what I’m doing and to have such wonderful, loyal clients. We pay attention to the details, and it’s one reason we’ve maintained such high retention rates over the years.
From joining an elite division to serving through Desert Storm, my military career also taught me how to overcome challenges. When your country goes to war, failure and excuses aren’t choices. But when you have everyone working toward one goal, pulling on the same rope, it creates a lot of momentum. I feel like I’ve learned that in my business as well. Our firm has always had a mission statement, we’ve had lofty goals, and we’ve overcome many challenges over the past 20+ years, including the tech wreck, the great financial crisis, and this year with COVID-19. Life will always give you challenges. In my opinion, it’s how you deal with them that separates you from the competition.
Serving my country reinforced that I love to help people—it’s one of the reasons I became an advisor. It pushes me to seek new clients and try to change their lives for the better. Along with this, the military taught the value of being respectful and polite. I’ve seen time and again how my clients appreciate that level of sophistication in our personal communications. It’s amazing how being polite and respectful can help strengthen relationships with clients and prospects.
A: I recently went to my local Veterans Affairs office to learn about the issues veterans in my community are facing and to share my ideas. I was shocked they had virtually no social media presence, so I discussed how to build that on Facebook and LinkedIn. I also hope to volunteer one to two days a month to help those veterans who aren’t sure where to go for financial guidance.
I have many clients who are veterans. In my view, some hadn’t been served appropriately by their former advisors. As a veteran myself, I feel connected to them and do everything I can to get them on the path to financial success. I even give them a sizable discount on their fee because I feel like I owe it to them.
Then there’s the small things that mean a lot. I send out cards to my veteran clients on Veterans Day and even to my veterans’ parents, as they’re proud of their sons and daughters. I also make annual donations to the Wounded Warrior Project. For my birthday this year, I raised more than $1,400 for the charity on Facebook. I was elated to see many of my friends donate and am so grateful.
A: I would encourage them to reach out to their local Veterans Affairs office, as well as VA hospitals and rehab centers, to talk to them about volunteer opportunities. Making a difference to veterans in your community is so rewarding, especially in times like these when many could use a helping hand. There are also many national organizations that are doing wonderful things, such as the Wounded Warrior Project and the USO.
To John and all of our veteran advisors, staff, and colleagues, thank you for your service to our country. Happy Veterans Day!