After 12 years in the U.S. Army, Matt DeVivo, WG’19, knew he needed to go back to school to transition into the private sector. The first step was earning an undergraduate degree, which he did while working full-time at a cybersecurity startup. When he graduated from Columbia University, he decided to continue his education with an MBA.
“As a Green Beret, I worked long and hard at high-level military tasks, but my professional skill set was incomplete for the civilian workplace. I wanted to get a top-notch business degree to level the playing field and access more opportunities,” he said.
After coming to Wharton, Matt joined Bank of America in corporate strategy and later worked independently, helping private clients build new businesses. More recently, he became an implementation consultant at McKinsey.
“The Wharton name helped me get my foot in the door and gave me the confidence that I could do well in the private sector,” noted Matt. “However, not all veterans have as smooth of a transition out of the military. Many are unsure what they want to do or how to pursue other interests. I wanted to do something to help others in this situation and thought about doing a podcast.”
The podcast, he explained, would be a platform for veterans to share their stories about life after the military and for civilians to learn more about vets. “A lot of civilians say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ but they don’t ask questions or understand military life. This is a way for everyone to learn more.”
The next step was figuring out how to make the podcast a reality. That’s when Matt turned to his Wharton EMBA classmate Ben Murray, WG’19, founder and president of The Room, Inc.
While podcasts were new to Ben, a visual effects artist and documentary director, he found Matt’s idea compelling and believed they would form a good team. He explained, “Based on our shared Wharton experience, I knew Matt was good at meeting deadlines and making deliverables. I was willing to invest time and learn how to produce a podcast to enable this project.”
They called the podcast “Thank You, Now What?” as a nod to that phrase “thank you for your service” that veterans often hear. During each episode, Matt interviews a guest about their experience going from the military to civilian life. He discusses what they did in the military, lessons learned, what they liked about it, how they planned on leaving, and what went according to plan – and what didn’t go as planned. “We don’t offer advice – just other veterans’ stories,” said Matt.
For Ben, producing the podcast is a chance to broaden his network and meet people from different backgrounds. “That diversity was what made the Wharton EMBA program so valuable, and this project is another opportunity to meet new people and break down preconceived notions. When you make a cultural artifact like a film or podcast, it creates space for conversation. I signed up as producer to support Matt and create a conversation space similar to what I experienced at Wharton.”
Matt and Ben currently have a wish list of 92 veterans to interview on their biweekly podcast, although some of their guests have Wharton connections. Their second podcast featured classmate Micah Niebauer, WG’19, who was an officer in the 82nd Airborne and Special Forces before cofounding Southern Pines Brewing Company.
Bootstrapping the podcast to keep costs down, Ben and Matt have plans to monetize the project and donate the proceeds to veterans’ charities.
Matt explained, “We are asking people to come on our podcast and share their personal stories in the interest of helping other vets. Once we pay for our costs, we will redirect everything we raise to help other veterans. Neither Ben nor I could take money from this project.”
They credit Wharton’s EMBA program with giving them the knowledge and confidence to take on this project, which is outside of their areas of expertise. “I diversified my professional network at Wharton and appreciate how we can lean on that community any time. We don’t have to look far to find people willing to help,” said Matt.
He added, “Five years ago, I had zero degrees and a limited understanding of what was out there professionally. Wharton helped me see what I could accomplish and broadened my opportunities. I’m excited to help do the same thing for other veterans through this podcast.”
— Meghan Laska
Posted: September 17, 2020