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July 2, 2012
New York, July 2, 2012 - Paul Raether was one of several distinguished speakers for the 2nd annual Veterans on Wall Street gala. Paul was joined on stage by Senator Chuck Hagel, NYC Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano and former Marine Corporal Aaron Mankin - all extraordinary men who have dedicated their lives to vigorously assisting and raising awareness of the needs of active and retired military service members. For the second year in a row, KKR was the lead private equity sponsor of Veterans on Wall Street, an organization committed to facilitating career and business opportunities in the financial services industry on behalf of former military personnel and employees currently in the National Guard and Reserve. Last year, the first time the event was held, between 100 and 200 veterans received jobs from the 100-plus companies that attended. VOWs was a big part of inspiring KKR's own Vets@Work initiative in partnership with our private equity portfolio companies. The transcript of his speech is below.
Today's job fair and our coming together here tonight reflect the possibilities of what we can achieve when we address the needs of our veterans with the power and commitment of the business community.
I'm honored to share the stage tonight with Senator Chuck Hagel and Marine Corporal Aaron Mankin two men committed to serving our country in extraordinary ways - on and off the battlefield. Thank you both for your tremendous service. I read an interview that Corporal Mankin did following one of his many surgeries where he talked about how lucky he feels - I can tell you without hesitation Corporal Mankin and with the greatest amount of respect and appreciation, that we - America - are lucky to have you. KKR is proud to sponsor Veterans on Wall Street for the second straight year and we plan to continue to be a sponsor for years to come.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been game changers in so many ways, not the least of which is the toll they have taken on those who have served there.
The numbers tell the story.
Over 40,000 service members have been physically injured in the two conflicts, injuries that often would not have been survivable in previous wars. More than 300,000 - nearly 20 percent - suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.
Substance abuse and homelessness effect Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at rates significantly higher than other parts of the population. More than one million veterans are at risk of becoming homeless. And right here in New York City, one in five veterans are homeless. That is totally unacceptable.
But, most shocking of all is, according the Department of Veterans Affairs, each day - each and every day - 18 veterans feel that the despair is so great, that they end their own lives. This is a national tragedy.
In spite of the military's best efforts, our service members and their families continue to struggle. Each day, their personal battles persist - and they are only exacerbated by the state of the job market.
As the national unemployment rate continues to hover above 8 percent, for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan it is now over 12 percent. And for our nation's youngest veterans it is an astounding 30 percent. This too is unacceptable.
Needless to say, when John Eydenberg personally asked me to get KKR involved with Veterans on Wall Street we jumped at the opportunity.
For KKR, it was like a light went on. We knew we had to act. We knew we couldn't solve all of these challenges, but we knew we could do something about veterans' unemployment.
With a portfolio of 74 companies - 30 right here in the U.S. - employing hundreds of thousands of people, we thought that if our portfolio companies could increase the percentage of veterans they interview and ultimately hire by even a small amount, we knew that could really start to add up. And more than that, if we could encourage other companies to make hiring veterans a priority, we could really begin to put a dent in the 12 percent, and the 30 percent unemployment figures.
We've learned that there are two important aspects to making a commitment like this work.
First, you need to start at the top.
Once you have an internal champion who is ready and willing to serve as the point person, getting senior level buy-in is a must. For me, it meant going right to Henry Kravis and George Roberts, who wholeheartedly agreed that this was an important challenge that we needed to be part of, and immediately offered their active and vocal endorsement throughout KKR. It all started with our support for VOWS, and that inspired us to do more. So, in 2011 we launched Vets@Work, an initiative aimed at recruiting and hiring veterans across our private equity portfolio companies.
And this leads me to the second important aspect of making a commitment like this work - getting the right people in place, giving them the resources and support they need.
KKR's Vets@Work program is fortunate to have the support of so many leaders across our firm and throughout our portfolio companies, but the spirit is best reflected in the commitment of those who make this mission their own. Two veterans working in the operating consulting group, which works on site with our portfolio companies, have been critical to the success of Vets@ Work. These two former U.S. Army Captains, Todd Cooper and Chris Hsu, along with several other strong internal champions have been tirelessly building support, sharing resources and materials, and actively recruiting additional companies into our Vets@Work program. They started with three and this has since grown to eight companies, including Dollar General, US Foods, Toys R' Us, Del Monte, Accellent, First Data, Hospital Corporation of America and Nielsen. Empowering internal champions like Todd and Chris is what it took to make it all happen.
Dollar General, in particular, has created a strong business case for embracing Vets@Work based on: 1.) The fact that veterans are highly trained individuals - the DOD spends over $17 Billion annually on training; 2.) Loyal workers with a positive attitude are great for retention and morale; And 3.) Veterans are proven, competitive, and productive leaders.
In 2011 alone, Dollar General hired more than 3,500 veterans, guardsmen, and reservists. And, earlier this year, Dollar General announced that it would be supporting the Joining Forces initiative, which promotes private sector employment for members of the military community.
Bob Ravener, the mastermind behind Dollar General's program, said of hiring veterans that: "We appreciate the attributes members of the military community bring to Dollar General, which mirror our focus on serving others." The program was honored with the 2011 Military Officers Association of America's Distinguished Service Award and, it helped earn Dollar General a place on the GI Jobs magazine's list of Most Military Friendly Employers. Dollar General is also a finalist for the U.S. Chamber's Hiring Our Heroes Award, which will be bestowed later this year. I'm so proud of this program, it's just a terrific model for all of our portfolio companies and, frankly, for any company.
Our companies, our communities, our country - we will all lose if we fail to activate and harness the talent of our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. And what Bob said about the vets at Dollar General was echoed by Admiral Mike Mullen at a recent Robin Hood event, when he called today's veterans a generation that is "wired to serve." He said that he knows they are going to make a difference in the future... all they need is a bridge and it's up to communities to provide that. It's up to us, all of us, to build that bridge for them.
I know we have a group of high power executives in this room, and I'm counting on you to make things happen here by either further supporting Veterans on Wall Street or creating your own veterans hiring initiative. Listen to the Bob Raveners at your companies and give them what they need. But, for the rest of you, you may be thinking, well what can I do if I don't have the authority to mandate this at my firm? There is still a lot you can do to help put America's heroes back to work, it doesn't have to be huge - everything helps. Find your local Veterans Affairs center and ask if they need any volunteers to help with career placement. Review a resume, assist with a cover letter, help with a mock interview, or help a vet pick out a first-day of work outfit. Make sure they know what kind of tie goes best with desert camo.
It can be as simple or as small as finding out when the next military-focused job fairs are in your area and volunteering to help check people in or set up the event. There are always ways to help and it is such a small price to pay for all that these men and women have done for our country, for each of us. At KKR, we sponsor VOWS and we launched Vets@Work, but we also conducted a suit drive through a program called "Career Gear" to collect business attire for veterans returning to the workforce. We sent over 200 suits to Career Gear - my office looked like a men's store. Again, everything helps.
I mentioned Admiral Mike Mullen's comments at a recent veteran's event. At that same event he said that the transitional services provided by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to our returning military are mediocre at best. These agencies were not established to provide mental health services and they have never before experienced anything like what we are seeing today. Combine that with the fact that members of the military are not used to asking for help or acknowledging that they need assistance. It's just not part of their culture. They have had lives and in some instances, the world, on their shoulders. I am hopeful that these agencies will prevail but the fact is, even members at the highest levels of our military have acknowledged that we are not doing enough. The corporate sector is in a position to help - to help our government and to help our veterans and we must pick up that challenge.
The soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines returning home should feel nothing but pride for their faithful service, for what they have sacrificed and for all they have accomplished on our behalf - for every one of us. They should feel comforted to return home to their families, excited to return home to their country and their community. Instead, too many of our veterans are up late at night, worried about finding and keeping a job, some feeling inadequate or unnecessary for today's workforce.
The statistics I shared tonight are troubling and daunting, but it's so important to remember that behind those numbers are bright, hard-working, loyal people, so many of whom are simply struggling to find some direction as they rebuild their lives. It is clear that there is a huge problem here and I can't think that any American company would be proud to admit that they are not employing our veterans as readily as they should.
Let me tell you, while some have characterized Wall Street as a battlefield, there is little that any of us have ever faced here - even on the worst of days - that comes close to the easiest of days they had over there. These men and women who stood up so bravely to terrorists armed with machine guns and improvised explosive devices, who put their lives in jeopardy to allow us to pursue our dreams, to worship as we wish, to sleep in peace. Those who wore the uniform of our nation and who protected innocent civilians, who helped rebuild democracy, who carried their wounded comrades to safety... how can we as a nation make these fellow Americans feel that they are not suited to join us as colleagues? What kind of welcome home are we giving them when they face overwhelming anxiety about how they will make the mortgage, pay the next tuition bill, or put food on the table?
Join me in helping put an end to this injustice by looking for ways to help our veterans find jobs or find the proper support they need to land on their feet so that employment will be possible. We should all look for opportunities to serve our veterans the way that they serve us - tirelessly and selflessly. So that they feel the dignity and know the pride that comes with work. So they know they will be able to provide for their family... and know that their service and sacrifices are respected and appreciated. Let's join together and help them - so that they all know that they are truly, truly... back home.
Founded in 1976 and led by Henry Kravis and George Roberts, KKR is a leading global investment firm with $62.3 billion in assets under management as of March 31, 2012. With offices around the world, including in Sydney, KKR manages assets through a variety of investment funds and accounts covering multiple asset classes. KKR seeks to create value by bringing operational expertise to its portfolio companies and through active oversight and monitoring of its investments. KKR complements its investment expertise and strengthens interactions with investors through its client relationships and capital markets platform. KKR is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: KKR). For additional information, please visit KKR's website at kkr.com.