Ted and Melissa Studdard sit around a telephone in their living room on a Saturday afternoon. I’m interviewing Ted, but he’s asked Melissa to sit in, “because she’s the brains of the operation”. Their years of dedication to one another and our nation are clearly apparent as we chat.
I’ve reviewed Ted’s LinkedIn profile, so I know some of the highlights of his career from that – he’s led recruiting for the Marine Corps and was an Operations Section Head for the Joint Staff in the Pentagon. He’s instructed Marines at The Basic School, and has two Master’s Degrees, gained while in service. Yet, knowing there is more to be gleaned from Studdard’s experience in the Marine Corps than this list of accomplishments, I ask him to walk me through his career.
What I hear over and over, the theme that runs from the day Studdard turned 18 and skipped school to meet with a Marine recruiter (completing boot camp three days before starting his freshman year at University of Georgia) to the day his body decided for him that it was time to leave his beloved Corps, is growth. In every duty station, every hardship, every tale of leading and mentoring Marines, Ted tells me the life lesson he learned along the way as if it is only natural to share one’s accomplishments and life learnings in tandem. I notice this constant attention to growth and ask Melissa about it. “In everything Ted shares, I hear him seek out the growth opportunity. Is this who he is, and always has been?” His high school sweetheart confirms not only Ted’s penchant for personal growth but also his dedication to the growth of those around him. “Every day,” she tells me, “Ted is on the phone with someone – sometimes a Marine, sometimes a Home Depot associate. – listening, connecting, and mentoring them. He even has regular lunches with two young men. Ted is constantly working to help others grow.”
In his lessons, I hear three ways Ted has grown throughout his career, places anyone with a growth mindset should go looking for opportunities:
Growth through mentorship.
Studdard’s first mentors were his father and uncle, both Marines. Growing up, he didn’t realize how much of his father’s business practices at his insurance firm were the lessons he’d learned in the Marine Corps, but throughout his career, he saw those connections. As Studdard lists his mentors, the number of stars begins to add up – Major General Wayne Rollings (Ret’d)- two stars. Major General Jerry Humble (Ret’d) – two stars. He even speaks of serving with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford (four stars for those who are still counting). His search for mentorship that didn’t stop when Studdard left the military. In his transition, he connected with mentors from the American Corporate Partners program, which provides private sector mentors to service members in transition.
Growth through experience.
The story that most clearly demonstrates Studdard’s character as a student of life comes within two weeks of 9/11. As an expert artilleryman and instructor for the Marine Corps’ at its primary warfighting training center in the Mojave Desert, Studdard was positive he would be reassigned from recruiting duty to deploy as soon as an offensive was mounted. He met with General Humble as he was visiting Recruiting Station Nashville, where Studdard was the commanding officer. Confident this seasoned warfighter with a legendary “get-in- the-fight” perspective, would send him to Iraq if only he asked, Studdard began pitching himself for deployment. Humble told Studdard, “Your fight’s right here, and it’s the hardest thing you will ever do.” Disappointed, Studdard looked for the lessons. After three years of recruiting duty, Studdard said he wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything, despite missing the opportunity to deploy.
Growth through study.
Sprinkled throughout Ted’s story are quick moments where he mentions various college degrees – he has three. In fact, Studdard turned one of his tours of duty into a Master’s thesis.
In his new role as a civilian, Studdard continues his path of growth. He joined the Home Depot team, not in an executive role, but as a co-manager of one of the company’s key Atlanta stores in order to learn the ropes and how the business works at the tip of the spear. The transition, Ted & Melissa both tell me, was difficult at best. Going from a large, dispersed command spread over ten states (which came with a headquarters staff of over 70 people, a car and driver, as well as an airplane) to leading a small platoon-sized element in unfamiliar territory, Studdard struggled to find his bearings. With Melissa’s steady advice to honor the previous chapters of his life without being stuck in them, Studdard is writing the next chapter in his life book by doing what he has always done — he is looking for lessons, seeking to grow, and focusing on growing others. As a Divisional Staffing Manager for Home Depot, his job is to sell the company by telling its story and highlighting the company’s dedication to its employees – to their well-being and their growth. Ted is focused on ensuring that Home Depot continues to fill its ranks with the best and brightest since, ultimately it is the people that make the company great.
As we conclude our phone call, I felt less like we’ve been on the phone and more like I’ve been sitting in the living room with Ted and Melissa sipping some sweet tea and reminiscing over a life full of lessons while ruminating over those that are still to come. As a Marine wife, I feel pride in the lessons the Corps has instilled in this leader of Marines and many others through the generations. I feel excited for Home Depot that they have found a way to transition Ted’s military experience to their organization. I feel grateful for the many lives he will continue to touch as he mentors Home Depot employees. Finally, I feel hopeful for the many other veterans in transition who will benefit from the work Studdard is doing now as he demonstrates success and growth in his transition. For one thing I know, Studdard won’t sit still, he will continue to grow and pass along life lessons to everyone around him.