Career Stories

From Army Tank Commander to MBA Candidate: Here’s How This Veteran Launched a Career in Finance

person with a beard smiling
Hakar Akraee, a program control analyst at Northrop Grumman.
| Northrop Grumman

Instead of heading straight to college, Hakar Akraee put school on hold to serve in the U.S. Army. A little more than six years later, he went back to earn his bachelor’s in finance. However, when he went after civilian positions, he left interviews feeling discouraged.

“I found out that it’s not so simple to tell your story to someone who has never experienced the military,” Akraee says. “I remember going into hour-long interviews and having to explain what my job duties were as a tank commander and how that applies to a financial advisor position. I felt like I failed every time I left an interview.”

Enter Northrop Grumman. As a leader in the defense industry, it was “not only familiar with military veterans, but also truly understood its culture,” says Akraee, a program control analyst at the company.

Three years after joining Northrop Grumman, Akraee is still learning and growing: He is earning his MBA with the help of a tuition reimbursement program while gaining experience in different parts of the business through the company’s Pathways rotational program.

Here, Akraee talks about the professional development opportunities available at Northrop Grumman, a recent project he’s excited to be working on, and what he likes most about the company culture.

Tell us about your career journey, and what led you to your job at Northrop Grumman.

During college, I attended multiple career fairs that led to a handful of interviews for summer internship opportunities, and I ultimately decided on Northrop Grumman as a facilities and real estate intern. I ended up working two summer internships with Northrop Grumman and I was later offered a full-time position as a business management analyst once I completed my bachelor’s degree. 

What attracted you to work at Northrop Grumman?

I was primarily drawn to the company because it was relatable to my military background. I understood that this was a defense company and I would be a part of something familiar to me. To my surprise, it ended up being much more. I reached out to a few friends and asked if they had heard of or knew anything about Northrop Grumman, and the common response I received was that this was the type of company to build a career, rather than just a job. Ultimately, I pursued working here because I wanted to get my foot in the door at a company where I could start a career.

Tell us about your experience in the Pathways rotational program. How has it benefited you during your career at Northrop Grumman?

The Pathways rotational program has given me the opportunity to network and experience several different functions within the business management organization. The program allowed me to take part in multiple roles, including a cost analyst and, more recently, a program controller. The program has been key to my success at Northrop Grumman. The experience I’ve gained has allowed me to showcase my skills and take on challenging tasks—it even led to my nomination and recognition as employee of the month.

What are you responsible for in your current role?

For my third rotation, I’m a program controller responsible for all stages of project management. I monitor the progress of a program to ensure that it’s within the confines of set deadlines and budget limitations in our contract. I work closely with program managers to ensure our planning, scheduling, and coordination processes run smoothly. I also generate valuable analysis on our budget, personnel costs, and technical execution while addressing all aspects of project development and completion to senior managers.

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

I’m currently baselining a newly awarded contract that involves working with multiple functions such as engineering, accounting, scheduling, and program management. It’s a very exciting time because it’s an opportunity to build the financial and programmatic groundwork that will ultimately lead to the program’s future success and operational efficiency. I’m especially inspired by this work because it allows me to be a part of a team that is contributing to our overall mission of improving the integrity of our nation’s security forces.

What are some of the skills and values you learned in the military that have helped you achieve success in your current role?

The military taught me many things, but the most important values and skills I learned include personal courage, leadership, teamwork, decision-making, and selfless service for the betterment of others. I apply all of these skills and values every day to help keep my focus and drive. This applies to my reporting responsibilities to senior managers, coordinating with and inspiring my peers, and my willingness to take risks and accept the challenges of being a controller.

Why did you decide to go back to school for an MBA? And how has Northrop Grumman supported you during the process?

Education has always been a part of my family. My parents were both educators back home in Kurdistan, Iraq. So naturally, my parents were pretty strict when it came to my schooling. Now that I’ve been able to gain valuable military experience and work experience in the civilian sector, I want to be able to enhance that further through an MBA. Also, Northrop Grumman has a great tuition assistance program for qualifying employees who have an interest in going back to school and will help pay a significant portion of the tuition.

What do you like best about Northrop Grumman’s company culture?

I really enjoy that Northrop Grumman promotes innovative thinking and employee empowerment. I realized at the start of my summer internship that I would enjoy it here because of the people and how they are able to express themselves through their work. As an analyst, I’ve learned so many different methods of interpreting data and ways of thinking from the engineers that I coordinate with day in and day out, and I’ve gotten to understand their way of thinking in solving problems. If there is any point in time that someone may have a concern or issue, employees feel comfortable enough to voice it. Ultimately, it’s a culture that encourages your voice to be heard and taken into account.