War hero credits MBA for transition from battlefield to corporate suite

19 Dec 2016

He may be one of Australia’s most decorated servicemen, but University of Queensland graduating student Ben Roberts-Smith said he faced the fear of failure while studying.

Today he becomes Australia’s first enlisted Victoria Cross recipient to complete a degree after receiving the honour.

Mr Roberts-Smith graduates with a Master of Business Administration, a qualification he says was integral to his transition from a distinguished career with the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) to becoming General Manager of Seven Network Queensland.

He says he felt the pressure to succeed in his studies to smooth the path for his veteran colleagues.

“My wife will tell you that while I was doing the MBA it was very much like I was back in the unit,” he said.

“I needed to do well because I was representing my colleagues, and I needed to balance study with my family, work and charity commitments.

“To have succeeded at something doesn’t take away from the fact that I went through fear of failure like everyone else, and that fear of failure is what really drove me not to fail.

“I likened it to passing the selection course for the SAS - I put a lot of effort into it and I’ve been rewarded with a degree, and that’s something anyone would be proud of.”

UQ offered Mr Roberts-Smith a scholarship to study his MBA with a view to setting up a program to support other elite SAS soldiers transitioning to a corporate career.  UQ is now one of two universities in Australia providing scholarships through the Wandering Warriors program.

“From the day I read my first book about Gallipoli, I always wanted to be a soldier,” he said.

“I joined the army at 18 so I hadn’t gone to university for a Bachelor degree and I didn’t have the base level of business knowledge because there were many things I just hadn’t been exposed to.

“The best thing about the MBA is it taught me what I did know.

“You don’t fully comprehend how much you have been given through military service and so you’re able to give back on the course.

“You’re able to contribute to group discussions with a unique perspective.”

Mr Roberts-Smith said the physiological demands of serving at an elite level meant it was a career with a “limited shelf-life”, and the fact he had already lived his dream was part of the challenge of transitioning to a corporate career.

“It’s actually the catalyst for many of the social issues veterans face,” he said.

“You lose your value, your sense of worth, your motivation and that’s when you start to see the issues we are facing in Australia in veteran suicides, domestic violence and substance abuse. 

“These can be mitigated to some extent by empowering veterans to be able to find employment or re-educate themselves.

“UQ’s commitment is the beginning of what can be a truly significant part of assisting veterans’ transition to civilian life.”

Mr Roberts-Smith served in East Timor, Fiji, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East and is also a recipient of the Medal for Gallantry and Commendation for Distinguished Service.

Upon retirement, he set up a management consultancy advising organisations on corporate culture, strategic restructuring and change management.

In 2015, following a consultancy at Seven Network Queensland, he was offered the position of Deputy General Manager and was appointed General Manager six months later.

Mr Roberts-Smith also has leadership roles in several charities as Deputy Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council for Veterans’ Mental Health, Patron of both the White Cloud Foundation and The SAS Association’s Wandering Warriors as well as a National Ambassador for Legacy, among other roles.

UQ MBA program director, Dr Sarah Jane Kelly said Mr Roberts-Smith had done very well in the course and had brought a unique perspective to his fellow students.

“The other students really benefited from his insights into character, leadership and strategy,” she said.

“We value servicemen and women in our program and are proud to offer support.  As a result of Ben's enrolment we have since attracted several former SAS, military and air force students to the program.” 

The Economist has consistently ranked UQ’s MBA the best in Australia for the past five years and this year ranked it 10th in the world.

Media: Danielle Koopman 07 3346 0700 or 0402 968 131, d.koopman@uq.edu.au