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Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

From Navy Officer to Client Manager: One Veteran's Career Journey

Marcus, Client Manager at American Express
American Express

Despite being stationed all over the world as a United States Navy officer, Marcus always dreamed of one day living in New York City. And last June, that dream finally came true when he took a job at American Express.

As a client manager, he says, “I’m responsible for working with business clients to help them accept American Express Card products, and create marketing campaigns throughout the year to boost American Express Card use and sales at their locations around the U.S.”

In the short time he’s been with the company, Marcus already feels like he’s found a home–one that accepts him for who he is and has given him the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals in American Express PRIDE+, Black Engagement, Millennial, and Veterans Colleague Networks.

Here, Marcus shares what he loves about the culture at American Express, a day in the life of his job, and advice for other veterans transitioning into the civilian workforce.


Tell us about your career journey, and what led you to your job at American Express.

My career journey has been quite the adventure! In 2007, I graduated from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, with a degree in political science and a commission as an officer in the United States Navy. Upon graduation, I was sent to Sasebo, Japan, for my first tour of duty aboard the USS Tortuga. I led a team of more than 30 sailors, which provided me my first leadership opportunity.

In 2009, I was relocated to Mayport, Florida, where I led a team of eight sailors responsible for protecting the USS Halyburton against fire, flood, and structural damage. During my time on board we traveled to the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Bahrain was my next stop. From 2011 to 2012, I was assigned a human resources role managing more than 5,000 sailors that had temporary assignments in the Middle East. This was extremely rewarding since I was included in the efforts to reduce our footprint in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan as well as move some key sailor initiatives to our Allied bases in Germany.

After my year in Bahrain, I went to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., where I oversaw a $1 billion budget to test and evaluate new ships and technology the Navy was developing. This was one of my favorite tours because I was able to get back to the D.C. area and reconnect with many friends from college.

In May 2014, I completed my active duty commitment to the Navy and began my corporate career at an oil company in Houston. I began as a demand analyst and worked with internal stakeholders to estimate the monthly fuel demand needed to supply our customers as well as developing our pricing formulas. In 2015, I was relocated to Philadelphia, where I took my first step into sales and marketing, managing a handful of smaller oil companies in New Jersey and Pennsylvania responsible for representing an oil brand. After doing well in my first year, I had the opportunity to move back to D.C. as a territory manager overseeing the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia markets.

In June 2019, I began my new life in New York City and my new career with American Express as a client manager. It was always my goal to live in New York City, and the company had a position that was perfect for me given my oil and gas background. I applied, and the rest is history.

What attracted you to work at American Express?

The collaborative and inclusive culture. Before I took the job, I went camping with a friend who was a former employee. On the way there, I told her I was thinking of moving to New York. She immediately brought up American Express and almost the entire drive was filled with reasons why she loved it and why I would as well. It was truly exciting to hear her talk about how the company empowered her and the incredible teamwork and collaboration she was a part of. Discussions with others all drew the same conclusion: It’s just nice to work at American Express. These attributes, coupled with living in a diverse city like New York, made me feel like I had the first chance at being my true and authentic self at the workplace with no regrets.

How is the company culture at American Express different from what you’ve experienced elsewhere?

Treating others with respect and dignity is the foundation of American Express and part of what employees value about the company. It is not just something that is talked about—it is personified by action every day. Simple things such as saying “please” and “thank you,” or colleagues taking the time to ask, “How was your weekend?” or having your ideas and opinions valued during internal meetings all set the company apart.

How does American Express support and promote diversity and inclusion?

I served at a time when it was not acceptable to be out in the military. The working world didn’t have rules against being out, but my previous roles did not afford me the opportunity to be my authentic self. Some of my clients resided in areas where I was the only minority in the whole town. So, I hid a bit of me in order to get the job done.

I joined American Express during Pride month. To see the level of engagement by all colleagues—not to mention the support given to the company’s PRIDE+ Network and its allies, and the education provided to colleagues discussing LGBT history—brought about a profound sense of comfort and safety. For the first time in my career, I felt present.

How are you involved in the employee resource group network?

I couldn’t join the networks fast enough! I’m currently a member of the PRIDE+, Black Engagement, Millennial, and Veterans Networks, which have afforded me a community within a community. Plus, these groups organize amazing roundtables and bring in great speakers from various industries, which is great! I’m currently taking an active role in the Veteran Network and we are hoping to increase membership through some more planned events this year.

How would you describe your role as a client manager?

I provide merchants with one-on-one dedicated support, which helps to foster trust and strong relationships. It also improves the customer experience as the merchant has one point of contact for their needs. The client manager role provides me with an opportunity to take ownership of my merchants and be the face of American Express. I take pride in building strategy and tackling complex issues with my merchants in order to help them move their businesses forward, and it helps to sharpen skills necessary to move on to the next step of my career.

What does a normal day in your job look like?

Above all things, coffee first. I try to structure my day to have the most time spent on strategy, team meetings, and problem solving. I leave the end of the day to take care of operational or routine requests from my merchants or colleagues. Almost five months in I’m still learning, so I’ll also have a couple of coffee chats thrown in along with new-hire orientation virtual learnings. Organization is key for me, so I use my note-taking tool daily to keep me on track with tasks I need to accomplish.

What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?

Our team is really focused on bringing value to the oil and gas space. This requires us to think outside the box and build new relationships within our merchant portfolio. We need to figure out what it will take to win in this space, and that’s been exciting to be a part of because it hasn’t been done before. We have an amazing team with so much support and training, so I’m very excited for what’s in store.

What skills from the Navy have been especially transferable in your career and at American Express?

I could write a book discussing the skills I learned, but I think the biggest ones were patience, time management, effective communication, and positivity. All of these are ingredients to success in any situation you face in life.

Patience can allow you to weather any storm with ease and be a steady support for your colleagues. Time management can reduce your stress. Effective communication clears confusion of what is expected and clears the way for faster decision-making. Positivity increases pride and loyalty and can also help someone who may need a warm smile or a handshake that day. I’ve used all these skills since onboarding into my role. Patience comes in my journey to understand the many acronyms and divisions I work with. Time management is in play as I manage my merchants while creating a strategy. Effective communication is ongoing as I work with internal stakeholders to support my merchants.

What is the best career advice you’ve received, particularly as you transitioned from the Navy to civilian work?

The best piece of advice I received was to relax. The military was built, and runs, on structure and formalities, and is an extremely professional environment. Entering certain civilian environments with these attributes could come across as off-putting and scary rather than seen as signs of respect. I still have those military attributes as they made me who I am today, but I understand that I’m no longer in the military and conducting myself in a way that makes people want to speak to me and collaborate with me is the priority now.

What advice do you have for other veterans looking to join the civilian workforce?

Relying on your military friends is pivotal, particularly those that have recently transitioned into the civilian workforce. They can alert you of career conferences and roles in their companies or give you advice. I equate transitioning into the civilian workforce with graduating college and starting your first job. For most it will be a journey before you finally find your career and passion, so enjoy it and take it all in. If you’ve given it all you can, and you realize that the role or industry is not for you, don’t be afraid to move on. The civilian workforce is not the military in the sense that you can move on whenever you want. Use this time to find out who you are and what you want to do and then make no apologies in reaching your goals.

What advice would you give for someone looking for new career opportunities, within or outside their current company?

If you are incessantly thinking about another career or opportunity then it’s time to act. The more time you give to just thinking about advancement, the more time you’re giving to someone actively advancing, potentially into the role that was a fit for you.

Once you’ve determined you’re ready to act, begin researching. Ask yourself: What will it take to achieve this opportunity? What skills do I need? What can I do now to prepare for an interview? Also, take advantage of your friends and family and make connections in the industry or field you’re interested in. Don’t have that many friends? No problem! Almost every industry has some type of national group or alliance or a city chapter. Get involved and attend lectures, webinars, and meet-ups. Use the internet to flag important industry information and start becoming a subject matter expert.

I’m still learning this one myself, but prepare yourself for setbacks and disappointments. Some will hit the jackpot of career changes and everything will work out perfectly. For most of us, though, the process will be filled with highs and lows. The lows will come when you’ve done all you could and still fell short. It’ll feel good to throw up your hands and just say forget it. It’ll feel right to maintain status quo and blame others. It’ll feel comfortable staying comfortable. But remember to keep your head up; that is where success lives. Every step forward and backward is leading you to where you need to be.

What are some of your favorite things about living and working in New York City?

At my desk on the 33rd floor, I’m able to see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. People come from around the world to get the chance to visit and see these great examples of architecture and it’s cool that I’m able to work near them. Being able to take advantage of museums in New York City any time I want is great and makes me feel like a true New Yorker. I love to run, and running along the West Side Highway or through Central Park is a real treat.

How has American Express backed you to pursue your passions both inside and outside of the company?

Along with sports, I’ve also participated in choir and theater throughout most of my life. I wanted to give improv comedy a shot and it just so happened that one of my colleagues was a part of an improv theater troupe and encouraged me to check it out. I just finished an eight-week course and performed in front of an audience and friends. It was fun and exciting, and I couldn’t have succeeded without my colleague’s support and motivation.

My team knows that I’m very passionate about spreading the awareness of the value of hiring military veterans in the company. My VP is extremely encouraging and has offered my teams support for any veteran events or engagements ahead. I feel empowered to not only do my job, but also help to improve the culture and inclusiveness of American Express.