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From Machine Guns to Textbooks: Former Navy SEAL is Banking on Private Equity After Tuck MBA

Kevin Williams was a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander in a US Navy career spanning 11 years. He has since studied an MBA at Dartmouth Tuck and has achieved a remarkable career switch into finance!

Among Kevin Williams' employment recommendations is an endorsement by a former Navy SEAL officer who served for ten years under the US Navy. Jeff Bowman worked with Kevin at the dawn of his career inside America's principal special operations force within the United State's Navy. The two were in service during the build up to Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, when the US and Britain launched a three-day bombing campaign on targets in Iraq. 
The special operation preceded months of a crisis in relations between UN weapons inspectors and the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein. Later, on March 20, 2003, the first invasion of Iraq was led by the United States. The movement sparked a war that lasted over eight years.
Kevin joined SEAL Team FIVE in March 1997 as an assistant platoon commander. Two years later, he was promoted to platoon commander in SEAL Team THREE. His career in the US navy lasted 11 years and saw him later become a troop commander for the Special Warfare Development Group and a basic training officer where he led a team of staff in the training and selection of 1100 SEAL candidates per year. 
But Kevin has achieved a dramatic and contrasting switch of career paths. Now, he prefers identifying asset markets in an investment research firm. Gone are the days when Kevin, Navy SEAL commander, was enlisted in one of the most prestigious arms of the US Navy. He has swapped machine guns for textbooks. 
Kevin is now chief of operations at investment firm 13D Research, after graduating from the MBA program at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Like his military career, his MBA program was one of the best: Tuck is ranked #1 by The Economist's global MBA rankings and enjoys a 95% graduate employment rate. 
Speaking to Kevin now, is it clear he is a man with goals. He is passionate, assertive and ambitious. He oozes leadership and speaks with a confidence that befits a man who spent over a decade in the military. 
But even for him, it was a challenge making such a dramatic career switch. "Moving from a  world in which everyone is enacted to toe to line is refreshing," he says. "There's an architecture that's built into (a military) mission that everyone wants to accomplish the mission. Failure is abject failure. They have the capacity to inspire to an instinct that’s greater than themselves and it's intoxicating.
"The shift into finance didn’t necessarily work that way. Not everyone is incensed. It's unhealthy competition with firms and partners, and in many ways we are not part of the same goal.
"There are situations where conflicts of interests arise, even within same firm. Understanding and navigating in that world, in the same organization where they aren't singing off the same sheet, is the most difficult dimension."
Kevin specialized in Finance at Dartmouth Tuck and graduated with an MBA in 2010. In 2009, he garnered his first experience in the finance industry and landed a senior associate position at Chicago Growth Partners, where he worked for three years.
Far from struggling within the industry, Kevin thrived. He actually turned down a job offer because he wanted to study at Tuck. A former Navy SEAL friend of his, who also studied at Tuck, got him the connection. "13D engaged me when was I was thinking about which MBA program to pursue," he explains. "So I reached out to Navy SEALS and friends who had graduated before me. 
"One had studied at Tuck and was now a senior account manager at 13D for five years. He says, 'I talked to the CEO and he wants to hire you, talk you out of the MBA'. This particular CEO had had success with MBAs and he wanted to help me. He knew what he liked and liked what he knew. 
"But I wanted to pursue the MBA program at Tuck so I declined."
The careers team at Dartmouth are absolutely focused on getting their MBAs a foot in the industry. Within last year's cohort, 70% of graduates said that the Tuck alumni network impacted their job search in some way. Many Tuck students, or "Tuckies", as Kevin affectionately calls them, are coached for job interviews or introduced to recruiters by fellow alumni. 
Dartmouth has smaller than average class sizes, which develops tighter connections among MBA students. "This isn't just going to business school, this becomes part of your life," says Deirdre O'Donnell, Associate Director at Tuck's Career Development Office. "Our alumni network is so loyal to the school and its students. There's a great sense of giving back here." 
Kevin actually secured his job at 13D Research through that same Tuck alumni three years later, after graduation. He wanted to go into private equity and got a call from his former Navy SEAL buddy, who told him that the company's new CEO wanted to hire him. "Students' loyalty to Tuck is greater than their organization," Kevin says. "People stop what they're doing when Tuckie needs help.
"You get put in front of banks, corporations and the consulting firms, but the connection to the alumni is great." 
Kevin's transition into finance from the military was a tough switch, and he says that the core technical skills that he learnt while studying his MBA were essential. He credits the curriculum at Tuck to his successful transition. Deirdre O'Donnell says that the industry background that the careers team have at Dartmouth is what sets them apart from other top business schools. "We're not just career coaches," she said.
"We have significant backgrounds in the industry we represent and our own significant networks. We are the corporate development people too: I work with students and companies at the same time.
"Most business schools have career coaches and a whole different team working with companies. So, I have the ability to go and advocate for my students directly with industry." 
Although he has left his combative days behind him, Kevin says that there are lessons he has taken from his military career into private equity. He says you need to "check your ego at the door" in both worlds. "The beauty of the SEAL Team's is that they are individuals that demonstrate that they are proficient; that are world class. So when they problem solve or catch the bad guy, there is no ego at play; no prize - its so dangerous if egos come into play. 
"What was strange is that, when you get into banking, the degree to which egos impact significant decisions... no one wants to do a post-mortem if you weren't successful.
"To watch how egos and pride impact important decision-making was staggering to me. People would rather cut off their nose than make an unwise decision. The degree to which the decision processes were charged with emotion surprised me. It was a meaningful lesson to learn."
Kevin has achieved a remarkable transition into finance after his life as a Navy SEAL platoon commander. He has had a relatively smooth transition to his career with 13D research, based in the US Virgin Islands. There's no doubt he is enjoying his new life in Saint Thomas, an island in the Caribbean sea that remains part of the US.
But would he have been as successful without Dartmouth Tuck?