Network and recognise your commercial value to secure your future outside of the military

Just two of the key insights former England rugby star and RAF officer Rory Underwood MBE highlighted during his talk to a packed audience of serving and former officers in Bristol this week.

Having left the RAF 18 years ago, Rory has faced the challenge of working out what he was going to do next in his career: “I was an RAF pilot who played rugby as a hobby but still needed to earn a living.”

Unable to rely on a full time sports career from rugby at that time, he found himself using his network of contacts to build training and coaching programmes for businesses. Rory is unequivocal about the value of networking, “It offers all Service leavers the potential to convert conversations into real opportunities that you can benefit from in the longer term, so make the effort to speak to people because you never know where and what it might lead to in the future.”

Understanding the value of team work and being able to measure a team’s effectiveness has also been a key driver to Rory’s post military success in business. Rory’s experience as a top sports person combined with his military insight, where team building is ‘inbred’, has provided him with an appetite to ensure businesses and organisations are able to create the right working environment to help people succeed.

Rory said: It’s all about putting people into the right roles. This is relatively easy within the military as you know everyone has undergone the same level of training, unlike in the civilian workplace, where everyone’s training, experience and approach isn’t uniform and is therefore more of a challenge to get right.”

Having undergone several career changes, Rory is frank in acknowledging the uncertainty change can bring about, especially when it often doesn’t go to plan. “Change is something I have coped with. There are no guarantees, plenty of uncertainties and you may have to look around for support. However, military personnel are adaptable and trained to cope with uncertainty. There’s a job, here’s a challenge, and they just get on and do it. That is military people for you.”

Rory also highlighted the need for Service leavers to be more ‘self-aware’ and challenged the audience to value their training, attributes and skills developed during their military careers, commenting, “If you don’t recognise your own skills then how can you sell them to employers and apply them in your civilian career?”

Having been a Service leaver and as an employer himself, he calls on more employers to understand the culture and environment military personnel have come from, asking them to support Service leavers as they work to adapt to their civilian environments. Whilst former military personnel are quick to adapt, there are some things they may take longer to get used to and one of those is the more relaxed approach to timekeeping that civilians have!

Lee Holloway, OA’s CEO, said: “We were delighted to hear Rory give a frank and honest talk about the challenges and rewards of his successful sports, military and business careers to date. It was reassuring to hear Rory positively endorse the training and skills sets that we know former officers and military personnel are able to offer business.”

The event is just of several opportunities offered by the OA, the veterans’ charity that supports serving and former officers to build sustainable and successful careers after leaving the Armed Forces.


About Rory Underwood

Rory Underwood MBE is a legendary international rugby player, scoring a record 49 tries for England, winning six caps for the British Lions and playing at Leicester Tigers for 14 years. He also spent 18 years as a pilot in the RAF, spending more than 3,000 hours flying Tornados, Canberras, Hawks and Domines. Rory is now an experienced facilitator, psychometric profiler and performance coach.