Lee Goldberg is a former Army Officer who served in Vietnam. He is also an experienced business executive who has guided hundreds of companies through a variety of financial, operational and governance issues.   Because Lee understands the value of a professional network, decades ago he helped start the Northeast Chapter of TMA and served as one of the chapter’s initial presidents.

TMA is global non-profit organization numbering more than 8,300 members in 55 chapters. TMA professionals come from a variety of business disciplines. Members help companies improve performance, manage disruption, navigate change and enhance value.  Last year, I had the privilege of serving as the Northeast TMA chapter president — stepping into a role Lee created and held many years before. This year, I began serving on TMA’s Global board.

Over the past few years, Lee has worked hard to establish and build an independent non-profit enterprise called VETRN — Veteran Entrepreneurial Training and Resource Network.  VETRN is dedicated to helping military veteran entrepreneurs succeed in growing their small businesses.  In addition to commending Lee’s forward thinking and hard work  in making his vision a reality, this post is intended to help raise awareness of the program enabling others to benefit from it.

Coming Home

Lee returned home to Boston from a year-long deployment in Vietnam in the late 1960’s to an unwelcoming world. Despite holding both an undergraduate business degree from Northeastern University and a MBA from Boston College, Lee’s tour of duty had put him off track for employment opportunities.

Determined to find his path, Lee wrote application letters to many area businesses. Eventually, he heard back from John Quincy Adams, a Senior Vice President of  John Hancock Life Insurance Company, and a descendant of two of America’s earliest presidents. As Lee discovered only later in life,  “JQ” extended an employment  opportunity in appreciation of Lee’s military service and “JQ”‘s own personal military experience – a moving story Lee shared in this interview at the 1:45 mark.  In short, JQ “paid it forward” resulting in Lee commencing work in the company in the fall of 1968.

The Vision

Lee knew that military training provided veterans with many invaluable skills — dedication, commitment and perseverance to name a few.  But he also knew that military training did not necessarily provide business-focused training, mentorship opportunities, and ready access to a professional network.

Lee knew the importance of such resources in leading companies to successful outcomes and envisioned a program that could provide these essential items, free of charge, to any military veteran (or family member) responsible for running a small business.  Lee shared his ambitious  vision with others who provided invaluable encouragement, assistance and guidance. And he made it his mission to succeed.

The Program

In building the program, Lee focused on forging partnerships with others.  For business education, VETRN partners with Interise, a Boston based national nonprofit, which developed and administers the highly successful, award winning “StreetWise MBA”program in more than 80 locations across the country on behalf of the Small Business Administration. VETRN  now holds a  license to teach the program exclusively to veteran cohorts in New England.  Those enrolled into the program commit to attend thirteen sessions covering topics such as strategic growth goal setting, financial statement analysis, positioning a business within a competitive landscape, sales strategies, accessing capital and developing a three year growth plan.

Each program participant is provided an industry or financial mentor at the outset. For mentoring and networking, VETRN partnered with the Northeast Chapter of TMA to tap the expertise of professionals including those who had personally served in the armed forces, had family members serving or  those just looking to give back as a means of thanking veterans for their service.

Lee achieved the objective of offering the  VETRN program at no cost by enlisting financial sponsors (listed on the VETRN website) from his own vast network to cover all program costs.  The website also provides information about the organization’s dedicated board and advisors who have been instrumental to supporting Lee’s founding vision.  Marie Shirley, who serves as Executive Director of TMA Northeast, provides invaluable support as program manager for VETRN.

The Results

The impact of the program is best understood by listening to statements of those  who have gone through it.  The interview noted above and other videos and materials on the VETRN website includes first hand  testimonials from participants who express appreciation for the education, mentorship and networking access they experienced as part of the program. Program graduates often speak of business growth leading to the need for more employees – with military veterans of course often highly desired to join as team members.  By creating a program to pay it forward, Lee has enabled others to do so as well.

The Future

The success of the program has not gone unnoticed. In a 2017 celebration in Cambridge, the Massachusetts SBA awarded Lee with the  District Director’s Award for founding VETRN and his  “outstanding contribution to the entrepreneurial success of veterans and small businesses throughout Massachusetts and New England.”  I was pleased to attend along with many others.

The national SBA based in DC  invited VETRN to submit a proposal to rollout the program to other locations. The SBA approved the submission for a pilot project but unfortunately has not yet approved funding. In the meanwhile,  VETRN is now actively seeking private grant funding in order to roll out to other locations in New England.

The next class of VETRN in the Boston area starts in the Fall of 2018.  The class is filling but space remains. Detailed information and applications can be found on the VETRN website. Know a military veteran (or the family member of one) running a small business in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire or Maine with a  demonstrated desire to grow the business? Point them to the site and have them fill out the application – it is an easy way to pay it forward.