21 Mar 2019
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Helping Veterans Build Careers

How Dan Goldenberg is working to ensure his fellow veterans find their post-service professional path
Re: Brian Bechard (MBA 2003); John Byington (MBA 2002); Ralph Cacci (MBA 2000); Tucker Bailey (MBA 2003); Bradley Boyer (MBA 1993); Brett Odom (MBA 2005); Robert Simons; Youngme Moon; Kim Clark
by Jill Radsken

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Photo by Robb Dickehut

Navy veteran Dan Goldenberg (MBA 2003) was a week into life as a HBS student when the 9/11 attacks occurred, compelling him to join the Reserves just months after leaving active duty. It was a defining moment in the balancing of his military/civilian life, and one that inspired him to help others successfully reenter the working world after military service.

“Three out of four people who walk into a recruiting station are rejected, so even the most rudimentary military job is held by a talented person,” says Goldenberg, executive director of the Call of Duty Endowment, which has raised and designated more than $28 million to high-performing, nonprofit grantee partners across the United States and the United Kingdom, helping to place more than 50,000 vets in high-quality jobs since 2009. “But veterans often struggle to translate their time in the military into skills valued by civilian employers. The value is almost always there; they just need to communicate it more effectively,” he notes.

Goldenberg offers as an example D. J. Watson, an infantryman from Georgia. A tough, confident Army sergeant who successfully led his soldiers in Afghanistan despite vague objectives, hazardous climate, and limited resources, Watson nevertheless lost all self-assurance when he returned home and had to find a job. There’s a common refrain among vets like Watson, says Goldenberg: “I’m just a door kicker. What have I done that a company could possibly value?”

Goldenberg meets servicemembers like Watson regularly in the Reserves and has helped the Call of Duty Endowment—the largest private funder of employment for veterans—create a solid path forward for them.

“Veterans tend to leave their first jobs after military service faster than non-veteran peers, which makes it all the more important to get that first job right and connect them with the services they need to be successful in the job search,” he says.

Goldenberg, who lives in Los Angeles and joined the organization as its executive director in 2013, says Deloitte (a pro bono partner in the effort) spends up to five days on-site with a potential grantee, using the Endowment’s strict screening protocols to evaluate nonprofits in four areas: financials; performance; background checks on leadership and how the nonprofit takes care of its employees; and compliance. The Endowment then awards the highest-performing nonprofits its Seal of Distinction, along with a $30,000 prize and access to restricted grants that average more than $500,000 annually.

“One of the few textbooks I kept after HBS was from a performance-measurement course taught by Professor Robert Simons. I’m a data nerd, and I loved it. That experience has been so core to what I’ve done in my career after HBS and now at the foundation,” he says.

At HBS, Goldenberg served as co-president—along with Brian Bechard (MBA 2003)—of the Armed Forces Alumni Association, from 2002 to 2003. Through that association, he became part of a network of HBS Navy Reserve intelligence officers who have also risen to become commanding officers, including John Byington (MBA 2002), Ralph Cacci (MBA 2000), Tucker Bailey (MBA 2004), and Brad Boyer (MBA 1993). “AFAA members were definitely my people at HBS,” Goldenberg says.

Faculty members were equally as impactful in Goldenberg’s experience. He still recalls lessons from Professor Youngme Moon on discontinuous thinking, from her course on consumer marketing. He also remembers a welcome message from then-Dean Kim B. Clark about being “warmhearted and tough minded.”

“It’s a powerful mantra, and it’s stayed with me,” Goldenberg reflects. “We want to be warmhearted in helping veterans, but it’s done through tough-minded assessments so that we can maximize our impact,” which includes placing more than 50,000 vets into high-quality jobs at one-sixth the cost of the US Department of Labor’s efforts. “Through our program,” he says, “every $516 places a vet in a job.”

Goldenberg’s path to the Endowment began in 2008 when he was working at the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. As the financial crisis hit that year, he witnessed sailors who were returning from Afghanistan and Iraq struggle to find work. Goldenberg focused on helping each one of them, often through his HBS network. Five years later, HBS alum Brett Odom (MBA 2005), a veteran Navy pilot and Top Gun instructor, reached out about Activision Blizzard—publishers of the popular Call of Duty entertainment franchise that bears homage to military members—and its search for someone to lead the Endowment.

“Activision wanted to take a different, business-minded approach to a growing social problem, one where government assistance wasn’t succeeding,” Goldenberg says. “We actually have a Professor Simons–inspired scorecard that tracks our progress on a quarterly basis. We also aggressively monitor the quality of these job placements. Almost 90 percent of the vets placed through our grantees are in those same jobs six months later; and the salaries they get (averaging just under $58,000) exceed the national median, which is an indicator of both the quality of the jobs and that employers recognize the value of veterans.”

The success has benefited vets like Watson, who landed an IT job for a small business owner and was quickly promoted. That’s the kind of result, Goldenberg says, that makes him “spring out of bed.”

“D. J. takes care of his family, bought a house, and is helping other vets,” he says. “We were able to add a lot of value, and he’s definitely paid it forward.”

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Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2003, Section I

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