From Soldiering to Sales

Jan de Haldevang certainly enjoys variety and being immersed in different cultures, evident in both his commercial and military careers. Since his commission into the Scots Guards in 1982 he has seen operational action in Iraq, Northern Ireland and Cyprus.

Following a final three year secondment to the Royal Army of Oman, Jan was recruited to join the staff of the Sultan of Oman’s Special Forces in 1998. He spent five years in a multi-lingual, multi-cultural, diplomatic/military appointment combining training, coordination and close cooperation with foreign Special Forces. He was awarded the Sultan’s Special Forces medal in 2003.

Since the beginning of his commercial career, he has continued to thrive in a variety of roles within Aegis Defence Services, Thales Defence and Avionics, in countries as diverse as Kenya, Bahrain and Kuwait. In 2013 he was appointed Director Land Business EMEA for US Gentex.

Here, he shares his passion for sales and marketing and discusses why he believes ex-military have the relevant skills to succeed in this sector.

Fundamentally, sales is about people, people, people (be they your clients, your own sales team, your distributors) – the military forte has real value.

  • You bring or will be but ‘one or two clicks away’ from a contact – your network is greater than you might think, while your ability or confidence to network will be second to few.
  • By nature or instinct, you will be well organised and efficient – no one can, or will, purchase services, product or technology from an organisation that is in chaos, nor will the organisation sustain a sales delivery.
  • You will present both yourself and your subject well, often reducing the most complex technology to an understandable sales pitch.
  • Adaptation and fast learning is key – how many varied, different appointments have you held, and in which you were required to master the art within a few months?
  • You have travelled the world or at least seen more parts of it than most in your age group – recognise and sell that as a skill. Your broader understanding of, or at least interest in, many cultures will be of great value in the international sales arena – make the most of it and treat Terminal 5 as your new home; many sales folk do not!

As ever, there will be chinks in your armour and it is advisable to address them soon, ideally before you leave the services:

  • No matter how great your working experience, very few former soldiers can understand at a glance a company balance spread sheet. Even less can honestly claim to be comfortable immediately with a ‘bid-no bid’ supporting document or pricing schedule. A short accounting course will address 80% of that weakness.
  • Find and secure that USP – learn a language. The more challenging, unusual or niche the better (Russian, Chinese, Arabic). Visit, immerse yourself in the culture, learn to live and love it … you will soon become the expert fish in a very deep pool of cultural misunderstanding.
  • Make the first few months easier and take some time to become the subject matter expert (SME) in your technical area. No longer will you be supported by the Tech Warrant Officer or Signals NCO – now is the time to learn, absorb and know the detail.
  • Finally, consider a short Miller Heyman type sales training course. It is there that you pick up the new vocabulary and can add the qualification to your CV.

Welcome back to your all too familiar fast-paced world of travel, people contact, presentation, multi-tasking … except that this time you will be rewarded for success!

If you would like to contact Jan with any questions regarding sales and marketing please email on