Program Aids Veterans Entering Corporate World

Six large firms participate in American Corporate Partners, founded by Sidney E. Goodfriend.
Six large firms participate in American Corporate Partners, founded by Sidney E. Goodfriend. (Courtesy Of Sidney E. Goodfriend - Courtesy Of Sidney E. Goodfriend)
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By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 7, 2008

NEW YORK -- Ed Pulido joined the Army at 18 and spent 19 years in uniform. He lost his left leg four years after being wounded by a roadside bomb in Baqubah, Iraq. And when he was discharged in 2005, with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, he decided to the devote the rest of his life to work with a foundation helping the families of veterans who have been wounded or killed.

But he had one problem, he said: "How to initiate the contacts with corporate leaders, to be able to fundraise and to network."

That's where Sidney E. Goodfriend came in.

Goodfriend spent 25 years as a banker on Wall Street, mostly at Merrill Lynch. But, he said, he had made enough money, he was looking for a career change, and he wanted to make a contribution through public service.

With his own money, and using his Wall Street connections, Goodfriend, 48, founded a group called American Corporate Partners, which pairs returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with mentors from the corporate world. He has enlisted six companies -- Campbell's, PepsiCo, Home Depot, Verizon, General Electric and investment bank Morgan Stanley -- that have each promised to offer returning vets 50 mentors, in eight cities.

The mentors pledge to spend four hours each month for a year meeting with their assigned veteran, and the meetings could take most any form: lunch, a fishing trip, a golf outing.

"These folks come back, and in their first year, they don't know anybody, and they especially don't know anybody in the corporate sector," Goodfriend said. "There is no way for them to transition easily into corporate America."

Goodfriend said the priority is helping disabled or severely wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, or the spouses or relatives of soldiers killed in action. "If you had to give preference, you'd probably give preference to those who sacrificed more," he said.

Pulido, who lives in Oklahoma City, said he will be driving once a month to Dallas to meet with his mentor, from Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo. "The transition from military to civilian, it's a very hard transition if you don't have the skills and the education," Pulido said by telephone. "I'm going to be driving down to Dallas to be part of that program because I think it's important for my future."

Another veteran, retired Capt. Sara Skinner, 31, spent 12 years in the Army, including four at West Point, and did two tours in Baghdad -- the second time replacing a platoon leader who had been killed. She was injured and received a Purple Heart. The married mother of three is now working as an operations manager for SunGard Availability Services, an Internet company in Atlanta.

Skinner, who is waiting to be matched with a mentor, is looking for advice on how to leverage her military skills in the private sector. She heard about American Corporate Partners in an e-mail from a West Point alumni site.

"I've been out of the Army for a year," she said by telephone. "There's just not a clear path, I guess, to success in corporate America."

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