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Getting from the Marines to Finance

Community was key in making pivot for Marine Corps veteran

Ford Duncan
Finance MBA Leadership Development Program, Johnson & Johnson

Vanderbilt MBA 2022

Like many veterans, Ford Duncan was looking to transition to a civilian career after eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps. And, like many, he looked at business school to help him make that transition.

“Leaving the military, I knew that an MBA would springboard me into a new area that I wouldn’t be able to access without education,” he says.

Two key factors drew him to Vanderbilt. “First,” he says, “it was the small scale. I knew it was really important for me to get to know the people in the program.

“And second, it was the really supportive veteran environment here. Vanderbilt is a Yellow Ribbon school, which meant I was able to leverage both the GI Bill and the state-supported Yellow Ribbon Program. I could come here and not have to take out enormous student loan debt.”

As Ford saw it, having a strong veteran community of peers with similar experiences was critical to making a successful transition. “A lot of us have been in the military since we were very young,” he explains. “As we try to pursue a new career, being surrounded first, by a community that understands, and second, by other veterans trying to make the same transition, was very helpful.”

At Vanderbilt, Ford served as president of the Owen Armed Forces Club, which works to strengthen the veteran community and assists with recruiting veterans as students. For potential students, he says, guidance from veterans who are already in the program can be invaluable: “Coming from a very structured background, it can be difficult to impress on veterans who are MBA candidates how many options they have at Vanderbilt, getting them to think about their career goals and where they want to be in five or ten years.”

He knows from personal experience. “Vanderbilt,” he says, “was critical in helping me align to my post-MBA career goals” of pivoting to a career in finance. “Having an MBA from Vanderbilt was a critical part in my transition. I would not have been able to do it otherwise.

“Now, I know I can hold my own with a competitive peer group and will really benefit from the high-caliber education I received here.”

Fun Fact: Ford has served overseas as a military advisor in the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, Colombia, Chile, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain.

Being surrounded by a community that understands, and by other veterans trying to make the same transition, was very helpful.