The story of how veterans transition to military life in America is centered on a well-known dichotomy: on the one hand, there is homelessness and crippling cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). On the other, we see individuals gaining key leadership skills through their military service, leaders who are characterized by keen organization and discipline and who quickly find success. In fact, America’s economic success following the conclusion of World War II is often attributed to the application of military methodologies to business and manufacturing, led by returning heroes of that conflict.
Charlie Garcia’s life and career falls very much in the latter camp, even though he was born and served in a much later era. Now the founder and managing partner of R360, an invitation-only, values-based organization for persons of high net worth ($100-plus million), Garcia has been on an exceptional path of success from an early age. Raised in Panama, he spent his childhood summers in Florida and went on to become a graduate of the US Air Force Academy, with graduate degrees from Columbia Law School and the University of Oklahoma.
Those factors alone improved his odds of success following his discharge from the military. As the Pew Research Center reported in their 2011 report “The Difficult Transition from Military to Civilian Life,” individuals who graduate from college and become commissioned officers “are more likely to have an easy time readjusting to the post-military life than enlisted personnel and those who are high school graduates.”
Those Pew stats notwithstanding, it’s hard to assign the word “easy” to Garcia’s path from a military to civilian career. It seems no job intimidated him: he was one of only fourteen White House fellows—and the only Latino among them—during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. He has been a CEO of financial firms (including Sterling Financial and Garcia Trujillo) and has served on boards and in other leadership capacities for organizations such as the Florida Board of Education, US Air Force Academy Board of Visitors, Winn Dixie Stores, Latino Advisory Council, Empowering Latino Leaders, Young President’s Organization, and Tendrel. For a few years, he was an adjunct professor at the MIT Sloan School of Business.
None of that was by happenstance. “When I was twenty-four years old, I read about the White House Fellow program,” Garcia says. “I studied it and dreamed about how to qualify.” He found the connections necessary to get the appointment, and during his time in DC he served as a special assistant to William J. Bennett, director of the country’s National Drug Control Strategy program. Twenty years later, Garcia wrote a book about the experience, Leadership Lessons of White House Fellows.
While a large portion of his career has been outside of public service, Garcia has been bipartisan during the times that he has served in a public office, including in the 2000s when he served the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. During that period, he advised on the integration of veterans into full-time employment opportunities, working alongside Obama’s Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis from 2009 to 2013.
Programs that enable returning soldiers to find relevancy in the marketplace are a matter of life and death, Garcia suggests. “There are Navy Seals who said they’d rather do another tour of Afghanistan than work in the private sector.”
He wants to change that, in part because veterans have so much to offer. “You have some enlisted men that are running something like $100 million or more operations,” he says. “The skill set around that is incredible. I mean, imagine being a cyber [specialist] in the military. Those guys can get jobs right away in an industry that is growing by 30 percent per year.”
Garcia also sees hope in younger veterans. “The millennial generation is purpose driven. They just want to get the job done. They want to work a four-day week because they want to have a balanced life. But if they must work seven days a week, they will. And they tend to be humble, not entitled.”
Described by one book reviewer as having a “George Plimpton-esque” career (Plimpton was a writer, actor, and athlete who some regard as a twentieth-century version of a Renaissance man), Garcia has worked successfully in many capacities, including as a writer. He has both books and bylines to his name: his first publication was A Message from Garcia, published in 2003.
R360 was started in 2020, and the organization already has hundreds of members in the US and across the globe. But it’s also turning away some individuals who meet the wealth qualifications but don’t seem to understand the values proposition. “Wealth is about more than money,” Garcia advises.
Garcia sees a great future for military-trained Latinos in business, in entrepreneurialism, and in boardrooms. In part, it’s simply about numbers: “If you go back twenty years, 50 percent of the babies born in the US were Latino,” he says. “Now they’re in college and going into the military and are very patriotic. They like what this country has done for them. It’s what they do.”
And if Garcia is the model for that, it’s a type of patriotism and service that lasts a lifetime.