Veterans' Stories: The Right Way, the Wrong Way, and the Army Way

Author: Stratton Date: November 12, 2013

Veterans Day - SmallBizSaluteContinuing our Veterans Day series, NFIB profiles member and Army vet Bob Dion Jr., who parlayed years of experience with structure and accountability into a successful trophy business.

Bob Dion Jr. has left his military stint far behind him: He served in the dark years of 1967 to 1969 in the 82nd Airborne, and while he was glad to move on, he took away some valuable lessons.

"There is the structure, the discipline, the answerability. There's the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way. You learn that pretty quick," he says. Even these many years later, "it adds texture to everything. I saw good examples of leadership, I saw bad examples of leadership, and I thought if I ever had the chance, I would want to be more understanding of the human situation. And it's good that I learned that, because that is the way things are now. You need to have that broad perspective."

Dion applies that perspective each day as co-owner with his wife Carol of Awards Signage & Trophies in the Greater Bangor, Maine, area. The pair are now celebrating their 35th year in business.

In his early days out of uniform, Dion worked as a sales manager for Anheuser-Busch and later for a local beer distributor. A merger cost him his job, and at age 56 he’d had enough of working for others. The moment was right to get out and do something completely different, and when a local trophy firm came up for sale, he made the jump.

"It was a difficult transition after 29 years in malt beverages," he says. "You're going from selling a product that was hugely in demand–Budweiser–to a small company where you are entirely on your own, you have to hustle, you have to make good connections."

I saw good examples of leadership, I saw bad examples of leadership, and I thought if I ever had the chance, I would want to be more understanding of the human situation.

He joined Kiwanis and the Rotary Club, shook hands, made friends and slowly learned the ropes. Turns out, sole proprietorship wasn't so different from what he already knew. "As sales manager, yes, I answered to the people who owned the company, but I also was responsible to that entire product line. I had to know the demands that were being made, I had to know the distributors and I had to produce. And that’s not so different from what it is here."

His big takeaway, especially in the early days: Get all the good advice you can. "When I went to the bank for a loan, a couple of the key questions were always: Who is your legal advisor? Who is your accountant? And so I chose those carefully, and they are still with me now. You have to have that solid underpinning."

RELATED: 5 Management Mistakes First-Time Small Business Owners Make

Read Next: More profiles of small business veterans »


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