In honor of Veterans Day, NFIB presents a series of profiles featuring veterans who run successful small businesses. We begin in Alaska, where NFIB member and Air Force vet John Baker takes to the outdoors with RV resort and fishing charters.
For John Baker, business success grew out of personal passion. Even while still serving in the U.S. Air Force, he had parlayed his love of fishing into a commercial enterprise.
"During the latter years of my Air Force career, it became apparent that I was ready to do something else," says Baker, who left the service in 1994 as a lieutenant colonel.
While on his final tour in Alaska, he and his wife Sharon had already taken to the outdoors. "We were doing so many fishing trips and outdoor activities on our own, it started to make sense to go through the Coast Guard licensing process," he recalls. "It was already a lifestyle thing, so the business grew out of something we were already doing."
Today, he and Sharon own Alaskan Angler RV Resort, and they lead fishing tours as Afishunt Charters. But at first, it wasn't easy to make the transition from happy hobbyist to work as a sole proprietor.
"When you go out fishing on your own or taking your friends out, the amount of pressure on you to produce is very low. They aren't paying for it. But when someone pays you go out fishing, there is a new pressure that comes with that," he says.
At the same time, life in uniform didn't always translate well to the civilian business world. "The biggest challenge was learning to work with people, both employees and customers, on a different level. When you work in the Air Force, everyone is there with a singular purpose, they have similar training. They are very dedicated people. We came to realize it is not necessarily so in the outside world."
Still, his long tenure in uniform helped to prepare him for whatever the business world might throw his way. "The integrity that was instilled was a big deal to me, and the ability to stick to it. If you are given an assignment, you do it and you don’t give up when things turn bad," he says.
The biggest challenge was learning to work with employees and customers. In the Air Force, everyone is there with a singular purpose. It is not necessarily so in the outside world.
As he got the businesses up and running, Baker found that industry-specific associations could help get him on his feet. "The organizations that support our industries were very helpful, especially the organization that promotes RV park owners, the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds. It's an association of RV parks and campgrounds, and they have educational seminars. There are associations for the charter boat industry, too, that also are very supportive," he says.
Overall, he says, success has come as a result of deep personal passion. "We wanted to start a business, and if we were going to do that we wanted it to be something more than just a way to make money. We wanted it to be something we truly enjoyed doing."
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