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Former military CEO says hiring veterans makes good business sense

Col. Barry Cornish, 99th Air Base Wing commander, speaks to local and state business leaders and politicians about the benefits to hiring veterans at City Hall June 5, 2014, Las Vegas, Nev. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Spangler)

Joshua Broder and Drew Ludwick served together in the Army in Germany and Afghanistan in the mid-2000s, forming a bond of mutual respect that endured many subsequent years of separation.

After the two soldiers parted ways, Broder returned to Maine to work for Portland-based Tilson Technology Management, while Ludwick went on to serve 12 more years in the Army as a warrant officer. Still, they kept in touch.

When Ludwick retired from the Army in 2017 after 20 years in the service, Broder, by then Tilson’s CEO, began dropping serious hints that he wanted Ludwick to come and join the company.

“I was always hopeful we could work together again, and somewhere along the way I think I started sending Maine Magazine to his house in the hopes of tipping his family over to the move to Maine,” Broder said with a chuckle. “It was a psychological operation.”

The operation was a success. Ludwick relocated his family to Maine, where he now works as Tilson’s director of network services.

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Tilson is a major developer of next-generation “5G” wireless network infrastructure across the country, with clients ranging from tiny local carriers to global telecommunications giants. The company places a strong emphasis on hiring veterans and has employed at least 200 former military personnel.

In 2001, Broder was a young Army lieutenant who had just received orders to deploy to Japan as a military intelligence officer. But when a commercial jetliner piloted by terrorists slammed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, all records of those orders were destroyed.

In the aftermath, the Army reassigned Broder to the signal corps, a division that manages communications and information systems. The training and experience Broder received there ultimately led him back to his home state of Maine and Tilson, one of the fastest-growing privately owned technology companies in the state.

Broder, 41, said his time in the Army taught him the value of soldiers’ work ethic, team-oriented thinking and the leadership training they receive. He also understands how difficult it can be for former military personnel to transition into civilian careers. With Tilson, Broder found a way to help his own company while helping other veterans – by offering them jobs.

“One thing we have found that has been really successful has been to try and cater to employees who are still in the (National) Guard and Reserve,” a high percentage of whom are active-duty veterans, Broder said. “We find that by making work flexible for reservists and guardsmen, we can attract and retain them better.”

One example of that flexibility: Tilson offers two weeks of fully paid leave each year for employees in the Guard and Reserve to fulfill their minimum annual military training requirement.

In September 2018, Tilson hired Adria Horn, former director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services, as its vice president of workforce development. Horn is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and an Army veteran who worked to improve veterans’ programs in Maine during her time with the bureau. She is now in charge of hiring at Tilson.

Tilson now has about 600 employees nationwide, including 120 in Maine. When the company’s staff was at around 450 in 2018, Broder estimated roughly half of its employees were veterans, but Tilson has been hiring many more entry-level workers since then and doesn’t keep an exact count of its veteran workforce.

“Veterans by definition are not entry level employees – they are coming from another job,” Broder said. “Our last couple of hundred people have been largely entry level, so much fewer veterans in this wave.”

Ludwick, 44, said the idea of working with Broder after he left the military had been in the back of his mind for a long time before it became a reality.

“I was watching Tilson as it was growing, and I was telling myself, ‘Jeez, I better get involved here before it’s too late,’ ” he said. “I always knew I wanted to end up at Tilson.”

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© 2019 the Portland Press Herald