Interviews

Making the transition from the army to business success

6 min read

16 October 2015

As the first anniversary of the departure of British troops from Afghanistan approaches and the British Army faces cuts that could reduce it to its smallest for nearly 250 years, more and more soldiers are finding themselves looking for new careers. In many cases, the move from military to civilian life will come as something of a shock.

When PJ Farr left the services he decided to found his own company, Countrywide Telecoms, an award-winning independent communications provider offering bespoke broadband, landline and mobile solutions to the construction industry.

When a house builder or construction company starts work on a site, where very often infrastructure and utilities are minimal, Countrywide’s products can help the various teams get online and use the internet quickly and cost effectively. The idea came about from Farr’s experience of travelling the world with the army.

“While I was in the British Army, I was often posted to remote locations, such as the Falkland Islands,” he said. “It was here that I learnt about the specialist, portable technology the army uses to communicate across vast distances, and, in an age where the internet is so fundamental to day-to-day life, it got me thinking about how businesses survive in areas where broadband is not available and how this sort of technology could work in the commercial world.”

Today Countrywide’s ‘Office in a Box’ product provides instant broadband wherever it’s installed, creatively combining and utilising the powers of 3G, 4G and WiFi technologies.

This remote broadband ensures that a business can operate from the moment construction starts on site to the point when the cables are in place for broadband to be permanently installed. The practicality of this product also ensures that when its services are no longer required, Office In A Box can simply be picked up and moved to another location.

His time in the army taught him important lessons that are applicable for an SME. “I learnt about determination and the ability to pick yourself up when you’re having a bad day,” he recalled.

“I’ve also found that we have broken the mould when dealing with customers. We don’t believe in B2B but ‘human to human’ or H2H personal contact and we follow a strict set of core values that were imprinted on me when I was in the army – courage, discipline, respect, integrity, loyalty and selfless commitment.”

Read more on crossing over from the armed forces to business:

Farr, who served in the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment for four and half years, now employs a number of ex-military personnel.

“After being made business ambassador for Guildford, I decided that I would like to help other ex-forces personnel, who were in the same boat as me. I now visit large business to explain the benefits of employing ex-forces personnel,” he explained.

“It can be very difficult to settle back into to ‘civvy’ life as you have come from an institutional style of job. I found the way people operate in civilian life was very different to army life. In the army, each task is very direct and when a problem presents itself we have rehearsed solutions called Actions On – in civilian life the processes are more drawn out.”

He pointed to a number of charities that help ex-servicemen and women start up their own businesses. “But it’s not just about starting up yourself. I think it’s important that mainstream employers are also helped to recruit ex-military personnel,” said Farr.

“Last year, I was recruited by the Department of Business and Innovation to talk at a series of events aimed at helping mainstream businesses recruit ex-servicemen and women so the government is beginning to invest more in this area.”

In Farr’s case, the British Legion initially offered him a grant of £10,000 to help him to found Countrywide. However, they then withdrew the offer – a serious blow – but Farr raised the money himself. His biggest break has been winning contracts with some of the country’s top house-builders including Linden Homes, Barratt Homes and Bellway – achieved, in part, thanks to his role as Guildford business ambassador.

“I believe that networking is key, that and identifying good marketing opportunities. It’s not necessary about flooding the market with your brand but choosing key areas to focus on to get your brand/product in front of the right people,” he said.

His aim is to be the UK’s biggest and best-known telecoms business for the construction industry within the next three years, and to become a well-respected business telecoms provider to other verticals within the next five years.

Farr is conscious that not everyone who leaves the armed forces enjoys his success and that many need additional support and so he’s a proud supporter of Help for Heroes.

He also works with an organisation called social enterprise X-Forces, which helps ex-military service personnel and their families startup business. His own success in business should also provide an example to many other ex-service personnel.