David Neal’s Transition from Military Life to Running a Company

David Neal’s Transition from Military Life to Running a Company

June 23, 2020 0 By Stephen Callahan

David Neal served in the Australian Army for 13 years. He is the co-founder and the CEO of the Eight Mile Consulting, a company that assists private enterprises with leadership consulting, strategy, change, and project management. Neal’s initial business experience came when he was 14 years; he worked at a liquor store performing duties like stacking shelves and sweeping. The job taught him the power of establishing rapport and talking to people.

David Neal’s Early Influences

Neal’s parents grew up in Elizabeth, Adelaide, which was Australia’s suburb with the highest crime rates for a long time, but through education, they overcame tough times. On a scorching summer day, his father went to an air-conditioned school hall and had to take and IQ and aptitude test to stay. That random visit landed him a government-funded scholarship to study accounting; he established a career from there and worked with his wife on the same projects.

Neal took up Shotokan Karate as an adolescent and found opportunities to compete in the world championships and being part of the national team. His father was his coach, and the sport consumed a lot of his early years.

The First Leadership Role in the Military

David Neal deployed to Afghanistan immediately after completing infantry-focused training. He took part in combat operations, was in charge of 27 soldiers for 10.5 months in Afghanistan at the age of 22.

His early observation in the military was the differences in approach and style between the Australian and US forces, and that taught him that what works for one organization may not work for another. The Australian Army has less structure in its hierarchies and casual approach in dealing with soldiers while the US was more structured.

Benefits of Transparency in Leadership

People will positively take what you have to say if you can frame your conversations well. It took David Neal a lot of time to understand that becoming more vulnerable made him stronger.

He believes that it is counter-intuitive for a trained individual to safeguard their reputation. Sharing his vulnerabilities with others helps you develop stronger rapports and enabled him to leverage his networks to achieve unexpected outcomes.

David Neal uses his vulnerability in business as well; he makes a point to explain his weaknesses upfront, and the more he did so, the more people trusted him. For example, in a meeting with two-star generals, he honest about the areas the company had let them down, their weaknesses, and the progress on particular projects.

The Decision to Start a Company

He had no intention of establishing a business; however, while working a project manager to roll out an enterprise in a large non-profit organization, he saw the existence of fundamental leadership problems and a toxic working environment in the organization.

Together with his friend Jonathan Clark, David Neal started taking notes. After the project, they decided to establish a business to help others using the skills they learned in the military. They set out to assist others in developing high-performing teams where everyone performs their responsibilities and knows their role and place.

The company determines the best ways to engage people because a lot of problems faced by businesses present as something else, but the majority are people-related. Neal’s role in the company is to build relationships, find opportunities and gaps, and to be the forward-learner. Jonathan Clark deals with management, systems, operations, structure, processes, organization, and design.

David Neal’s advice to people looking to start a business is to write down their strategy that includes a link to their personal lives. He urges them not to commit to a new business if they think it will not interfere with their private lives.