As a part of National Military Appreciation Month, and as a continuation in our series on balancing mental health in the workplace, I sat down with Schwabbie Robert W. He is an IT Project Manager III on the Server Provisioning & Lifecycle Management team, and the Phoenix area Chairman for the Military Veterans Network (MVN) Employee Resource Group at Schwab. Robert shares the impact MVN has made on his career at Schwab and sheds light on the invaluable sense of community and family the ERG gives to its members.
How long have you been with Schwab and what is your current role?
I've been with Schwab for a little over 13 years. I’m a Systems Engineer by trade but have held a variety of roles in IT support, project management, and engineering during my time at Schwab. In my current role, I am the owner of the Decommission process. Basically, what that is, is making sure I remove from our environment all the servers that contain security vulnerabilities with the goal of keeping Schwab safe.
Can you share a bit about your time serving in the military prior to joining Schwab?
I was in the Army for eight years. I started off in the Reserves and got kicked out because they wanted me to go directly to the Army. In the Reserves, you do your basic training, then you come back to the unit. By the time I got back to my unit, I was ‘rah, rah’ ready to go; at that point they told me I needed to go active duty, so I did. I was an IT guy in the Army as well. I spent most of my time between Korea and the Pentagon area, going back and forth. Those were primarily my assignments, dealing with security data—anything IT security related.
When did you join the Military Veterans Network (MVN) here at Schwab? What has your involvement looked like during your career here?
There’s a crazy story behind that. I want to say it had been maybe four or five years that I had been with Schwab, and I got a call where I learned both my parents were diagnosed with cancer at the same time. Schwab was kind enough to allow me to go home to D.C. for three months. I was working weekend shifts at the time and probably only had around two weeks’ worth of leave, but they sent me home for three months so that I could be with my parents, and that meant the world to me. When I came back, I was just pro-Schwab everything; I really appreciated the company on a whole new level. I told my manager, ‘I am a totally new person; I need to go to the new hire class.’
It was there that I met someone who introduced me to the Military Veterans Network group and invited me to one of their meetings. I hadn’t thought of going before because I always worked the weekends, but I decided that was the time to go, and in the first meeting, I fell in love with it. Charles L. was the chair and he was trying to get the group off the ground. We probably had about nine people at the time. Charles asked me to help and before I knew it, I was one of the Co-Chairs of MVN. I’m currently the Phoenix area MVN Chairman and I’ve been doing this for about six or seven years now. It’s my love and passion. When people ask about my career at Schwab, I normally talk about that role more than the one I get paid for.
Mental health has been a more prevalent topic over the course of the last year. Has the pandemic changed the way you think about and address mental health personally? If so, has MVN played a part in that?
It has on several levels. As the chairman of MVN, we do a lot of networking both internally and externally, so under normal circumstances, I spend a lot of time in the community helping at-risk veterans; we go to schools teaching financial literacy and we help Talent Acquisition with recruiting. I’m used to being out in the community, high-fiving, hugging, smiling, and just sharing the Schwab gospel. So with COVID, it really has changed the way that we do business, to the point where I don’t have that luxury of being able to shake people’s hands so they can feel the intensity of what we’re trying to share. Even though I can look someone eye-to-eye over video, it’s different and that has impacted what we do; we’ve had to be creative and work around it. So, we haven’t stopped, but it’s a different feel. MVN members have approached me and shared that it has left an impact on their mental state as well.
I can relate because it’s impacted me personally too. You’re considering your older parents, your teenagers, your job, and all these different things—it weighs a lot. Before, I had so many things to do, so many places to go. I’ve always kept my mind occupied, but now, I’ve found myself in moments just busting out crying and not knowing why. I had been teaching the new hire class, I’d been out in the community, keeping myself occupied—but now I have a moment to sit still and that’s when all these things come crashing on your mind and it weighs heavy. The good news is, we’re talking about it at Schwab.
Some companies have the response of: ‘Hey, that sounds like a personal problem. Do something about it and you better be here ready to go at 8:00 in the morning.’ But at Schwab, we have so many resources, whether it’s internal, external—the Employee Resource Groups are great. I know in MVN, we set up an environment where people can talk openly and freely and that’s really the highlight of my day. The work we do can range from helping people who have had to deploy and then just needed someone to watch their dog, to simply IMing someone to ask how they’re doing. I’ll randomly pick a member and just say ‘Hey, I’m checking in,’ or ‘Hey, I miss you,’ and it means a lot. At the end of the day, you can work anywhere, you can chase the dollar, but it’s those little things you’ll find at Schwab that make our environment so unique.
Is there anything you would share with veterans considering joining Schwab who are curious about what mental health support will look like for them here?
For veterans coming in, MVN has a significant presence. It’s like family—you do have a family here. When you come on board—day one—we’re reaching out to you if you want to be reached. You’ll have the option and just to know you have family here, just like day one arriving in basic or a new duty station, you have a family that’s there for you. Whether that’s just listening, if you need information, we’re there to help you with that transition. We’ve all been on the other side of the table. I think outside of signing up for the military, getting out is the second scariest thing—because there are so many unknowns. In the military, things are already kind of pre-structured for you; you have a checklist and there’s always somebody there to walk you through and that’s not necessarily the case in the civilian world. That’s why we’re here to help and support where we can.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with prospective talent coming into Schwab who identify as veterans?
Don’t sell yourself short. I do a lot of recruiting through MVN, and even today when I look at some of those job descriptions, they look out of my league, but it’s not the case. If you’re interested in Schwab, trying to network is very big. In fact, I helped two people get hired at Schwab recently and that was just from networking—getting an inside contact to help you through the process or stay connected is important. Don’t be intimidated by networking or by the job descriptions.
Know that your skills are very valuable and in high demand. Some soldiers struggle with the transition. For instance, I worked with one guy whose job in the military involved fixing the eject button on an aircraft, but within that role, he led an entire team and was responsible for constant projects, logistics, and operations. I told him, ‘All those skills are in high demand. If you just put ‘fixed eject button,’ not everyone will know what that means. Double-check your resume is converted into civilian terms and be yourself. Some people think you must be this cookie-cutter candidate, but I know for a fact that Schwab looks for people who are themselves.
You also don’t have to have a financial background to join us. Schwab offers more than financial roles. If you are looking for a new home with strong leadership, a clear mission, and team chemistry, then you should strongly consider Schwab as your next destination. We want to give you the training that you need to adjust—we’re just looking for strong people, and if you’re a person with values of helping people and building relationships, we have a home for you.