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What do You Want to Be When You Grow Up by LTC (R) Ron MacKay

Boots2Amazon is proud to publish its first invitational article written by Army Veteran and Retired LTC Ron MacKay. He shares his transition story and highlights key decision points that has seen him elevate as high as the VP of a start-up and now as a high performing Operations Manager at one of the largest companies in the world, Amazon. If you would like to share your story send it to Boots2Amazon for publishing.



I spent a total of 24 years serving as a Soldier in the United States Army. From an early age I was drawn to service, and I couldn’t wait to pursue a career in the military. I enlisted in the Army as soon as I graduated high school, and I shipped out to One Station Unit Training to become an Infantryman. It was what I wanted to be when I grew up.


At the completion of that first enlistment, I got out and went to college at the University of Arkansas in search of my next ‘why.’ But I still had the itch- I missed the pace, I missed striving to meet high standards, and I was growing my leadership skills. I was drawn to go back to the Army, and soon found myself in the familiar realm of ROTC. Four years later with a college degree in hand, I commissioned as an Armor Lieutenant. I picked Armor this time for two reasons: 1) I got tired of walking and 2) I was drawn to the speed and power of mounted warfare (who DOESN’T want to drive tanks???). The next 18 years were an amazing experience that took me all over the world, challenged me on all levels, and left me with lifelong friends.


In 2012 I arrived at the fork in the road that is common to all serving in the military: Retire when eligible or keep going. At this point in my career, I had been gone 3 ½ of the last five years I was in (two of which were in high stress jobs in Iraq), my daughter was into her teenage years, and my wife’s career was off and running. If I stayed, my short-term future with the Army promised at least one move (uprooting the family and career) and more physically demanding positions which my body was starting to have trouble with after years of abuse. So, at the age of 42 I faced the question most face between the ages of 18 to 25, being “what do you want to be when you grow up?”


To this day the hardest thing I ever did in the Army was get out of it and find meaningful purpose and work in something else. The gifts from 20+ years of service were fantastic experiences of applied leadership, honing a strong work ethic, and a desire to win. What 20+ years of military service didn’t give me was any idea of the business world, including what fields of business were even out there, or a network to leverage in finding the next purpose. In general, I had a terrible transition experience and learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Further, I found it very difficult to find an employer who was willing to take a chance on some raw clay in a middle management role: I had a lot of leadership skills, but no experience at any industry. The role I ultimately landed in was safe, familiar, and comfortable; I opted to stay in my comfort zone, and before I knew it, seven years passed in a dead-end job.


One afternoon I got a call from a friend I had previously served with; his post-retirement job was with The Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors program, and he invited me on a trip with five other Veterans to walk the last 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail. It was on that trip I decided to get uncomfortable and confront my anxiety about exploring the options for my professional career. While this second career transition, I was slightly better equipped. I had the chance to develop a network, and more importantly I had a better grasp on what my leadership skills were worth and how they could be applied to a business setting. I learned I preferred a bigger company vs. a startup or smaller company. I learned I like to run things more than build them. I also knew my strengths were in operations management, and as I explored new opportunities, it was clear Amazon was a perfect fit to explore for a third career.


The interview process was clearly defined, there were no surprises, and I found out within days of each interview where I stood in the hiring process. Overall, the onboarding was very smooth, thorough, and comprehensive. Because I knew nothing of Amazon’s processes or warehouse operations, my site leadership had me shadow Area Managers and then progress to run shifts through Peak 2020. FTW3 and 4 is unique in that it’s two lines of business housed in the same building, and inbound managers oversee inbound operations on both sides. In January I shifted 100% to an Inbound Operations Manager at FTW3 and FTW4 on a night shift to learn more of the business (which is not uncommon), and seven months later I transitioned to a day shift to understand more of the planning aspects. The pace is fast, it’s sometimes physical, it’s very engaged in human interaction (leadership and development are practiced every day), and it’s familiar to Veterans, but much more supportive at all levels.

What I love about working at Amazon is every day I can apply the Amazon Leadership Principle of Learn and Be Curious- there’s always a chance to learn something new, and every day is different. One thing I missed from the military was developing people and practicing leadership: Amazon has demonstrated tremendous growth over the years and it’s not slowing down. There are tons of opportunities to Hire and Develop the Best. And lastly, I get to demonstrate Ownership every day: The business is mine to run, and I’m empowered to perform and get results.


In summary, transition from the service takes time, but the destination in transition is truly the journey. I’m grateful to work for a company that values leadership, provides tremendous opportunity, and has the resources to make history. Amazon is huge on customer feedback and surveying both internally and externally- If you are considering a career with Amazon but still have questions, I’m more than happy to meet with you and discuss my experience.


Ron MacKay is a retired LTC with 24 years of military Service and is currently an Operations Manager at Fort Worth 4 (FTW4) in Fort Worth, Texas.