West Point’s motto, “Duty, Honor, Country,” is perfectly suited to the values of the military, but for graduate John Tien, these three words extend well beyond his 24 years of active duty in the U.S. Army.
“Even when I am not in the military, I am trying to live my life by this motto,” says Tien, Citi’s managing director of retail services and a steering committee member of the Citi Salutes affinity network, Citi’s veterans’ employee-led initiative that serves the veterans community. “I feel like it is my obligation, and my privilege, to continue to serve military families and veterans.”
Tien joined the bank in 2011, right after serving as a senior national security adviser to the White House.
Working with employees across the company, Tien wanted to bring veterans together as a community, and guide them through the challenging transition to civilian life by tapping into the military grit they cultivated during their service.
“Too often the portrait is of the wounded and broken veteran,” says Tien. “Yes, some are wounded and need our help, but the majority of veterans are ready and able to be strategic assets for our community. These are great, young Americans who are given tremendous responsibility to stabilize chaotic situations. They have tremendous amounts of emotional intelligence and critical thinking, making them agile leaders. If we can teach them the concepts of banking as well as operations and technologies, they will be on a path to unlock their highest potential.”
Within a month of working at Citi, Tien realized that the company could leverage a huge talent pool of veterans. He and Micah Heavener, a Citi colleague and fellow Army vet, launched the Military Officer Leadership program at Citi to assist military leaders transitioning to civilian life. The 24-month rotational program connects veterans with mentors and prepares them for careers in operations and technology. It offers formal training in banking principles and financial services technology, and provides certifications through efficiency programs such as the Lean Six Sigma.
“About two-thirds of military officers leave the service after five to eight years,” says Tien. “These are the heroes and thought leaders we can pull into the bank.”
Tien also wanted to start an employee network to support internal veteran colleagues and to boost engagement with local veteran communities and organizations in Jacksonville, Florida, where he was based at the time. Initially, Tien only knew one other veteran at that location.
“There has to be more than you and me,” he remembers saying to Heavener. “This is a 5,000-person site.” Tien was right. One building over, an Army ranger was working as a project manager in Citi’s technology group. When Tien asked him if he wanted to help start a local chapter of the military network, his reply was, “Hooah!”
Three months later, just in time for Veterans Day, Tien’s idea to bring vets together gave rise to the Citi Salutes network’s second chapter (The first was opened in Citi’s New York office).
“What’s even more amazing is that while the veterans formed the nucleus of the chapter, by 2018, more than half of the overall network consists of civilians who want to be part of the mission,” Tien says.
Over the past seven years, Tien has helped support and inspire the creation of 15 more chapters in North America and London. “The military is a brotherhood, it’s a sisterhood, it’s a family,” he says. “At Citi, I felt like I could find that form of camaraderie again, not just with fellow veterans, but with colleagues.”
Tien’s penchant for helping others is instinctual at this point. “I knew I couldn’t help serving,” he says.
When Tien moved to Atlanta in 2016, he wasn’t sure if the Citi-site was large enough to support a big network, but his colleagues proved otherwise. After reaching out to all 200 Citi employees in Atlanta, asking whether anyone had a connection to a vet — whether it be a friend, grandfather, husband or daughter — more than 60 people wrote back.
“I have often said that the next greatest generation is the post-9/11 generation,” Tien says. “These individuals are having an impact across the nation and their communities.”