We connected with Mark Coles to learn more about Veterans at North Highland (VAN), his inspiration for starting the group, how North Highland's enviable culture helped make this possible and more. Check out the full interview below!
What inspired you to start VAN?
"As a Reserve Soldier, I have a lot of experience with being a member of two groups simultaneously; my civilian workforce and the Army Reserve. At my previous employer, a firm much smaller than North Highland, I was the only reserve component Soldier, and one of three or four veterans in the firm, all of which were veterans of WW II or Vietnam. I recently attended several events with other companies' veterans' groups, and the comradery is amazing, as well as the way that professionals are inspired and equipped by their time in uniform. I thought that surely a firm our size has to have several veterans, which turned out to be the case. I've been able to connect with other veterans at the firm, which has been a wonderful way to help bridge the gap between the professional world and the military. I also learned that I wasn’t the only North Highlander to think of starting a veterans group, as several other members of the group had brought up the discussion within their teams and offices. I just had the privilege of being new and pushy."
How was the firm helpful in helping you organize this group?
"The firm has been overwhelmingly helpful in organizing the group. I started by attending events by the Black Employee Network and Women in North Highland, and let me tell you, those groups have it together and have helped us a lot in our initial phase. By taking their lessons learned and incorporating them, we have been able to avoid a lot of pitfalls that many new groups face. At the executive level on down, the support has been amazing and has been critical to getting the group off the ground. From the first mention of interest, we were met with an astounding amount of support, and at every turn, and within every capability, folks have been willing to set aside their time to help us further our goals."
What challenges did you face starting up VAN?
"We’re still in our infancy, so we are still working through a lot of things. However, we’re following the lead of more established groups at the firm and with the support of everyone here, I’m certain we will be successful. I would say that one of the more difficult things to do is establish an organization in a company with a global footprint like ours, as each market and office is in a unique environment with regards to both potential business engagements as well as opportunities to serve the community and ways to support our veterans and families within the firm."
What have you learned about your fellow North Highlanders in VAN?
"I have learned that even busy professionals are willing to set aside some of their time and efforts to serving a community that almost all of us have something in common with. At an office-wide event, Scott McGinnis (the executive sponsor for VAN) and I asked the audience to put their hand up if they are a veteran, then if they had a significant other or close family member that is, then if they had a friend that is a veteran. At that point, almost everyone in the room had their hand up, and all of us learned that although veterans make up a small percentage of the population, almost everyone in the office knows a veteran in some way."
What is the group’s goal for this year (and beyond)?
"Our goal is broadly captured in our mission statement: To provide a support group and advocacy for the military veterans and families of north highland while raising awareness of the many issues surrounding the worldwide military veteran community. For this year, we’re focused on sustaining the energy past the initial “honeymoon” phase, and trying to add one or two vet-centric events to the spectrum of activities here at North Highland. We intend to have some influential members of the veteran community and current North Highlanders bring their perspective to the table for some panel discussions, volunteer with some veteran-centric businesses and charities, and help educate others in the firm about what it is like to be a veteran, live with a veteran or to work with one."
What successes have you seen so far?
"The first event that VAN attended/supported was just a few days after the inception of the group, and we were able to take some branded materials and dedicate our time to a charity football game that I had committed to play in well before joining North Highland. We were blown away with the rapid response and ready availability of support for an event on such short notice. Additionally, we were able to get the support of the executives and push out a blurb about the group on the all-employee call, which resulted in several new members joining the group. Our recruiting team immediately took action and will be obtaining additional training and developing the skillset to recruit top qualified veteran talent to the firm and leveraging the previous experiences of some of the recruiting team’s leadership."