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THF Featured in the Virginian-Pilot

From battlefields to boardrooms: New CEO of foundation to help Navy SEALs eyes expansion

As seen in the Virginian-Pilot

By Brock Vergakis 
Staff writer

Mar 20, 2019 Updated Mar 20, 2019

It was just a few years ago that a San Diego-based foundation designed to help Navy SEALs transition into the civilian workforce started offering classes in Virginia Beach.

Now the entire foundation is led by someone here.

The Honor Foundation tapped a former Virginia Beach-based SEAL last month to be its CEO, the first change in leadership since the organization was founded in 2012.

Matt Stevens, who was a SEAL for 26 years, said his goal is to bring the unique three-month program that teaches resume writing, networking, self-assessment skills and more to special operators in every branch of service. A major focus of the program is helping special operators show how their leadership, planning and teamwork apply to the business world.

The program offers executive-level education from faculty at top-tier schools like the University of Virginia, mentorships from local business leaders and a nationwide professional network. The students — who can still be in the Navy or recently discharged — go through mock interviews, give presentations on company strengths and weaknesses, and gain an appreciation for entrepreneurship challenges. 

When Stevens left the Navy, he was selected for The Honor Foundation’s inaugural East Coast class in 2016, which helped lead to a job with a company in Boston that made drones. He said his experience with the foundation was invaluable, and he volunteered to serve as an adviser to give back. He said he hopes his new role will allow him to spend more time with his family in Virginia Beach after traveling to Boston about once a month for his old job.

“My family had voted. We weren’t going to move,” he said.

Since its launch, the foundation has opened campuses in Virginia Beach at Tidewater Community College and near Camp Lejeune, N.C.  It’s also offering an online program for special operators around the world. The foundation has more than 400 graduates so far. 

“We want to be able to provide the opportunity for every person within the special operations community to attend the course. There’s 70,000-ish in the SOF community,” Stevens said. “We have to do it in a very methodical way.”

To expand, the foundation will need to rely on financial donations and volunteers from the corporate world. Stevens invites business leaders to come see for themselves the faculty and the students, who come to class in business attire. 

“Spend some time here. Seeing is believing. Become a mentor or coach,” he said in an interview at TCC. “But also hire the talent, because a lot of guys have grown roots here and want to stay in the Hampton Roads community. … I think the natural inclination is to look elsewhere. But I think it’s really important for us to keep talented individuals here.”

And they’re not all SEALs. 

Ted Handler was one of the first Marines to be chosen for that service’s recently created special operations force, the Marine Raiders. After working in joint special operations in Africa and elsewhere, he was ultimately assigned to work with Naval Special Warfare Development Group at Dam Neck, where he spent the last five years of his 22-year military career. 

But once he got out, he and his wife didn’t want to leave Virginia Beach. The feeling of community and genuine friendliness they experienced here was unlike anywhere else in the world they had been.

“The Virginia Beach community hit home with us like, ‘Wow,  this is what friendly people are like. They actually aren’t looking to get something out of it,’ ” Handler said. “They just know what we’ve been through because it really is a military town to some degree.”  

The only problem: That limited where he could job hunt.

“It was immensely stressful,” he said. “As you’re older you have responsibilities, different expectations. You’re not as flexible.”

But the Honor Foundation helped connect Handler with local business leaders. He’s now a senior manager at Stihl, Inc. in charge of overall business process improvement.  He  reports directly to company president Bjoern Fischer.

Even though Handler had prior business experience — after he graduated from college and again after his first four-year tour of duty — he said the experience he gained at The Honor Foundation was vital. The first time he left the military, he said, he was “wildly unprepared.” He didn’t know how to find meaning in his work and ultimately rejoined the Marines on active duty after 9/11, when he lost friends at the World Trade Center and nearly lost family members, too. 

When he left the Marines this time, he said, he was ready.

“It was a phenomenal program. It hands down prepared me for the challenges of the civilian community,” Handler said. “I haven’t seen anything else like it. And I think if the military was really smart they would be doing it this way for everybody.”

The Honor Foundation Announces Scott Adams As Board Chairman

Board Member J. Scott Adams, President of Colliers | Virginia, Named Chairman of the Nonprofit

The Honor Foundation is pleased to announce that board member J. Scott Adams has assumed the role of the chairman of the board of directors. Adams, who has served on THF’s board for the last three years and has been a longtime supporter of military veteran causes, will help guide the nonprofit organization into its next five years of impact.

Adams brings an extensive business background and a history of philanthropical service in the veteran sector to his new role. He is currently President of Colliers | Virginia and has over 27 years of experience in the commercial real estate industry as a corporate executive and client advisor.  His firm, Colliers International Group Inc. (NASDAQ: CIGI), is a top tier global real estate services and investment management company operating in 68 countries with a workforce of more than 14,000 professionals.  He received both undergraduate and graduate business degrees from the University of Virginia at the McIntire School of Commerce and Darden School of Business, respectively.

Adams has a long association with the Navy SEAL Foundation, a founding partner of THF, beginning as a scholarship judge. His passion for serving the military community also includes board roles for other veteran causes in the social services and college academic areas. He has helped SEAL veterans across a number of other personal endeavors and community needs with caring attention. Adams also helped THF in its expansion to both Virginia and North Carolina and was involved in THF’s negotiations for its new headquarters in San Diego. He assisted in building the THF corporate partner network, hosted treks, served as an industry mentor, and participated in multiple classroom activities including networking, interviewing, and entrepreneurship nights.

“Serving as board chairman of The Honor Foundation is really a dream come true for me as well as a call to even greater action to help serve the most elite men and women of our U.S. military,” Adams stated.  “We have an incredible board of directors as well as a new CEO, so our future has never been brighter to work with our fellows, partners, and alumni to keep raising the bar.”

Adams is assuming the role of chairman of the board at an exciting and poignant time for THF. THF has just transitioned executive leadership, welcoming former SEAL Matt Stevens as its CEO. Stevens is positioning the non-profit organization to significantly increase its impact to reach all of the Special Operations Forces that have not yet been touched by THF’s mission.

“I’ve known Scott Adams for several years and witnessed firsthand his tireless dedication and unwavering support to The Honor Foundation,” said Stevens. “We are so grateful to have him as the chairman of our board. His experience has been invaluable to THF, and I know that his mentorship, insights, and leadership in serving transitioning veterans will help guide THF to a more impactful future.”

Adams will work closely with Stevens to optimize the experience and impact of his fellow board members for all of the current and future fellows that THF serves, so that their next mission is clear and continues to impact the world.

Welcome Letter from Matt Stevens

Having served as a Navy SEAL for several decades, I’ve had the honor and privilege to serve alongside the absolute finest men and women on the planet. My heart and soul has, and always will, be in service to the Special Operation Forces (SOF) community. In that vein, I’m humbled to announce that I have accepted the role of Chief Executive Officer of The Honor Foundation (THF).

When I first encountered THF in 2016, I knew this organization would have a lasting impact on the SOF community transitioning from military service to the private sector. After joining the inaugural class at THF’s Virginia Beach Campus as a student, my journey with THF has come full circle:  from Fellow, to Alumni, to President of the SOF Advisory Board, to a member of the Board of Directors and now as the CEO.

In the past three years, I’ve watched THF thrive — from one campus to four; from a staff of three to 15; to an exponential growth in Fellows, Coaches, Mentors, and Employer Partners. I’ve experienced numerous graduations, witnessed breakthrough moments with Fellows on their transition journey and experienced first-hand the power that this Program can have on not just individuals but on their families. The dedication of the team behind the scenes is inspiring — going way beyond the call of duty to help each Fellow find their “True North”.

As we celebrate the 5-Year Anniversary of THF in June, we’re experiencing our own transition as we continue our journey to impact the lives of the entire SOF community. I am a believer in THF and its unique process. I welcome you all to join us as we write the next chapter in defining what it means to serve others with honor, for life, so their next mission is clear and continues to impact the world.

With deep respect,

Matt Stevens
Chief Executive Officer
The Honor Foundation