Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Orion 25th Anniversary Spotlight: Founding Partner Bill Laughlin

Bill Laughlin’s career has taken him from flying an Orion (P-3 Orion that is) to founding the nation's leading provider of best-in-class Military Talent Programs, Orion International. But the journey was not as simple as that. This USNA graduate (1981) also served as a Navy Officer Recruiter, Aide to Chief of Military Personnel. After separating from the Navy, Bill found a civilian career with a military recruiting firm.

Fifteen months into his new career, Bill was dissatisfied and sure that there had to be a better way to match transitioning veterans with America’s top companies. Together with Jim Tully, Randy Nelson, Bill Gaul, and Will Gates, Bill founded Orion International and new military recruiting paradigm was born.

Bill Laughlin ( standing center) and Randy Nelson (left) in 1991
As Orion celebrates its 25-year anniversary, we caught up with Bill, who now serves on Orion’s Board of Directors. Below, he recalls the early years of Orion, both the challenges and the successes, and shares his advice.

What was the most fulfilling part of starting Orion? It was a heck of a lot work (and risk); but the stars aligned, and we were able to create a company that represented more of what our values were, as opposed to my previous employer.  At the time, they were the largest military recruiting company in the US. It was nice to surpass them, and also be the first company to work with enlisted service members.

What was most challenging? My wife and I had three kids when we started and not a lot in the bank. I thank my wife for having faith in me and encouraging me to do it. The fact that Desert Storm started pretty much the same week we did and a stop-loss program was implemented is actually something I look back on as a positive. It allowed us to be competitive with the big players in military recruiting at the time.

Bill today
What was one of the funniest things that happened during the early years of Orion? Conferences were an adventure when we first got started with limited clients and candidates. It is easy to look back at a lot of our screw-ups now. (They weren’t funny then.) I remember having a conference in California where we had a client fly in to interview eight candidates, and none of the candidates showed up. (They kept dropping off all day.) One of us to meet the client when he landed and let him know we wasted his time.

We had another conference in Cincinnati where our hiring companies didn’t show up, and I had to write checks for travel and hotel to candidates, because many came a long way and had zero interviews.

It’s amazing we succeeded at all!

What has your career path been since moving on from Orion? I did some traveling when I first left Orion, and visited all the continents and all 50 States. I then did Mergers & Acquisition consulting and still work with one to two companies a year in helping them sell or buy a business. I was also on the Board of Directors for about five companies, started the Triangle Sales Leadership Association, and was an Interim President of a Clinical Research Company (Health Decisions, which employs about 150 people). Currently, I have another start-up company, Systematic Business Consulting, with seven employees, that focuses on making placements in the Foundry and Forging Industries.

What advice do you have for other would-be veteran entrepreneurs? If you start a service business, it is all about making sales and cash flow -- extensive business plans are a waste of time.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?  Military Recruiting is a unique business in that you consistently work with interesting people of high caliber and ethics, while chasing new industries that are expanding and changing. What better window to the world than having a front row seat to where industry is headed and providing the people that make the change.

I continue to enjoy being on the Board of Directors for Orion and following the changes that are being made. You guys do wonderful work, and I enjoyed my trip to the top of Whitney last year with the group!      

Thank you, Bill, for sharing your memories of Orion’s early days. Your leadership and innovation helped build a strong foundation from which Orion has continued to grow 25 years later!

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