Don’t let her soft Southern drawl and 5-ft. stature fool you. RaeAnne Pae has led soldiers through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and works alongside the world’s top business executives. After serving seven years as an intelligence officer for the U.S. Army, Pae transitioned to corporate America in December. She set her roots in the Big Apple and is now a board events specialist for the New York Stock Exchange Euronext, where she plans corporate board meetings for the board of directors and bell ceremonies for the opening and closing of the stock market each day. “The fundamentals of integrity, work ethic, being able to process lots of information in little time and execute with minimal guidance can transcend the boundaries between the military and the civilian workforce,” says Pae, a 31-year-old Kentucky native.
As the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have wound down, post-9/11 vets like Pae transitioning into the workforce have faced high unemployment—a rate that, in February, sat at 9.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, much higher than the national average of 7.7 percent. Fortunately for service members, the federal government has made helping them find work a top priority. The Obama administration’s programs like Joining Forces and the Veterans Employment Initiative challenge businesses to recruit and hire veterans. The Returning Heroes and Wounded Warriors tax credits give companies monetary incentives to follow through. Leading companies see value in veterans’ skills and have expanded job initiatives during the past few years. In programs such as Veterans on Wall Street and 100,000 Jobs Mission, top companies have teamed together to help support and employ former military men and women.
Some of these initiatives are gaining press coverage. In May 2012, The Wall Street Journal spotlighted Goldman Sachs’ Veterans Internship Program, an 8-week internship that trains veterans for future finance careers. It attracted 300 applicants for 16 slots. According to the story, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein told the interns, “After I saw what you achieved, I don’t think there’s a person here we wouldn’t have been happy to have if you hadn’t come out of the military. We’re getting more out of this than you are.”
The NYSE presents a similar yearly initiative called the Veteran Associate Program; a 10-week paid internship that gives 20 veterans meaningful, professional, hands-on work assignments accompanied by a comprehensive educational program. NYSE also has the annual Veterans Career Workshop, a one-day conference that started in 2011 and allows veterans to network, build their resumes, and gain interviewing skills. It was this workshop that helped Pae land her new job. She talked with Collaborate about her experiences in the Army and on Wall Street and discussed what the transition process has been like for her.
What skills did you gain in the Army that has translated to your current position?
My time in the Army enhanced my decision-making skills, and that goes for any vet. There were times when I had to lead under intense pressure in austere environments without many resources. Combat was unique because I multitasked and managed complex dynamic operations under rigid timelines and amidst the reality of dramatically affecting others’ lives. That’s given me a certain level-headedness while leading and making decisions here at the NYSE. It’s given me the ability to put stressful situations in perspective, react calmly and collectedly and, in turn, keep those I’m working with from getting too stressed. In the Army, I was constantly put in situations where I had to step back, note the possible courses of action, and then analyze them quickly and effectively. I think adequately mixing reason or logic with emotion is the art and science of leadership.
You led soldiers through deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Is there a story you can tell us from combat experience that has stayed with you?
Definitely. A similar story from both countries. To give you a little background, in Iraq, my responsibility as an intelligence officer was to investigate the complexities of the battlefield—the terrain, the human landscape, and threats to the area. To gain that understanding, I went on patrols with infantry units. I remember going out on convoys to attend school openings, where we met with local leaders to discuss ways to make the area safer or to build facilities to enable [locals] to attend school to be educated. There were usually children there or along the way who would approach me, always seeming mesmerized and immediately comfortable. They would touch my blonde hair and act intrigued by my watch and the pens in my sleeve.
Similarly, in Afghanistan, I joined men from my unit to go on foot patrol in search of a mortar site that had been used to attack our base. As we walked through the village, children from the area would line the dirt roads and perch on mud walls to get a glimpse. They would smile with big beaming eyes and tug the sleeves of parents nearby. Seeing a woman there in uniform disarmed them in a way. Those simple interactions were essential to me because they more broadly aligned with my unit’s efforts in engaging the locals and connecting with the population.
What challenges have you had to overcome in the military that you think will help you now in the civilian workforce?
Because I’m a petite person, sometimes I have to work harder than others to meet specific physical criteria, but I’ve always felt that, as women and leaders, if we’re going to blaze our way, then we need to exceed the standard. We need to lead by example. It was always important to me to do justice to the path that women trailblazers in the military had paved before me, and I hope to do the same in the corporate arena.
When did you decide to transition to the business sector? What appealed to you about event planning?
Planning was the bread and butter of what I did in the military. It was familiar and enjoyable but would also challenge me since I’d be doing it in a different arena. I love being behind the scenes, choreographing it, and making things happen. I grew up doing that. My parents were always the first to get somewhere, like a church event and the last to leave. It’s rewarding to know that an event is a success and that people enjoy it because of your behind-the-scenes work.
What kind of planning goes into the board meetings and bell ceremonies you organize?
For the board meetings, planning is mainly logistical, so a few months prior, I begin arranging venues, transportation, flights, and menus for each event. Each board member comes from a different corner of the world to convene for a meeting so that the logistics can get intense. A fantastic perk, though, is that dinners are typically off-site, which has given me a chance to explore the NYC restaurant scene. We have a quick system for bell ceremonies since they occur twice daily. I reach out to a particular company and arrange security logistics, catering, and facilities for the number of people I expect. It’s all about ensuring that the people we invite have a meaningful experience from when they enter the door to when they leave. The sheer number of events that occur here each year—900 plus—amazes me. Watching my colleagues work together to pull everything off successfully is very impressive.
Do any specific circumstances at your job parallel what you did with the Army?
I worked with many senior leaders in the government and military, and here, I work for many senior leaders in the financial industry. I appreciate them and the large-scale decisions they have to make, and if I can make their jobs more accessible, the company will run more smoothly. In my position in the military, there were times when my unit influenced the direction in which a campaign would go while we were deployed. Here at the NYSE, I’m part of a company that is influential in the financial, local, and global communities. It impresses me that the NYSE is much leaner than the U.S. military, yet its impact is relatively significant. Being able to harness the value each employee brings to the table is something the NYSE does very well.
Having been raised in the South, how are you adjusting to life in New York?
The city has pleasantly surprised me because it can have a small-town feel. I always run into familiar faces in my neighborhood or even on the subway on the way to work. The green space and public parks make the city seem much more open than I had anticipated. I grew up on a horse farm in Kentucky, and I was used to playing outside without my mom worrying about anybody snatching us. Here, I see parents letting their kids run around on the playgrounds in Central Park and dogs running loose; I would never have expected it. I also appreciate that it’s here if you want to get involved in a cause you believe in. You can do it, meet people; can establish networks quickly, which is comforting. The city is a living, breathing being with which each New Yorker has a relationship. The pace and grandiosity, the tight quarters, and learning to navigate the public transit system can all be overwhelming at times. There are days when it seems like it will eat you alive. Luckily, you have no choice but to dive back in, give it all you’ve got the next day, and possibly fall in love.
What has surprised you most about your new job?
When I first started, I remember how little things seemed so funny, like the idea that I could show a bit of emotion or use exclamation points via written correspondence. I didn’t know whether people were yelling at me or excited. The Army was much more formal in that regard. But I’m proud to say I’ve become more comfortable with the exclamation point. I’ve also had to get used to casually addressing people in person. I recently called a colleague “Sir,” and he jokingly called me out on it, ensuring I knew I didn’t have to do that. And I want to call my boss “Ma’am”—it just feels wrong not to. It’s also so different from wearing my hair down and wearing earrings and accessories on the job. I can choose a wardrobe and outfit; I haven’t done that since high school. It’s been fun and maybe even a little overwhelming—looking at my budget in New York, I’ve spent the most money on clothes shopping.
What’s been one of your favorite on-the-job experiences thus far?
The first time I planned an opening bell ceremony was a favorite. I immediately thought of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. This nonprofit group assists veterans in the transition process and introduced me to the NYSE’s Annual Veteran’s Career Workshop, and reached out to the group’s representatives to ring the bell. I hadn’t had the opportunity to share my story with them, and there I was, four months later, post-active-duty military, working full-time with the NYSE. It’s just been beyond what I could have imagined, and I wanted to immerse them in how their work had gone full circle. As we made our way to the trading floor that day and the group walked to the podium to ring the bell, all of the traders on the floor burst into applause. It is breathtaking to stand in a room that is such a part of history, not just for NYC but for the financial industry and the world. But to have witnessed the bustling operations of the space come to a halt like that and to have experienced the entire room’s eruption of applause as we entered was truly indescribable. I’m honored to work for a company that values service. The IAVA’s bell ringing brought global attention to its mission, yet it seemed like such a simple gesture to coordinate. The experience opened my eyes to the fact that my job with the NYSE could allow me to play a significant role in bringing the world’s eyes to companies and shaping our society in such a positive way.
What advice would you give to others in the events industry or veterans transitioning to the business sector?
To succeed in the events industry, organizational and interpersonal skills are critical. Both short- and long-term planning are essential alongside staying aligned with your client’s goals. For transitioning veterans, having an open mind and finding and reaching out to a mentor is most important. Many people, organizations, and companies are committed to helping vets find work.