Air Vice-Marshal, Michael Harwood discusses his resettlement and new business venture.
You served for 34 years in different leadership roles. What was it like coming out of the Military after that time?
I wasn’t expecting to leave and so I had not done any of the normal, what I’d call ‘preparations’ that some people do, such as resettlement courses and things like that. I was lined up to do another role and then suddenly that disappeared and then another role and another role and then suddenly you discover that you’ve run out of road!
Did the lack of notice complicate your resettlement?
No. To be honest, it was good because I then went hell for leather into that new process.
The biggest challenge for me was to finally work out what I wanted to do now that I was going to run my life as oppose to anyone else doing it. It was the first time in 40 years that I had to go for an interview to get a job.
What sort of things do you miss about the Armed Forces?
I’d say the dedication to life-long learning.
What I’m amazed by is actually how you often don’t realise where your true strengths and qualities lie because you’ve never actually had to articulate them to someone. When you’re writing a CV you’re forced into doing that and for many people it’s quite an uncomfortable process.
What don’t you miss about the Military?
I’d happily be in it today. I’m still involved in that I joined the Reserves and long after physically flying aeroplanes myself, because I was a senior commander, I went back to flying aeroplanes. I now fly with teenagers to give then experience of flying as a volunteer activity and I thoroughly enjoy it.
What’s the best thing about civvy life?
At the moment I’m very much my own boss and so it’s very nice being free to say what I want and write what I want. As a two-star officer you are constrained. If I ever speak in public for two years after leaving I have to pass the script through the MoD first. They were, as it happens, terrific and they never said no to anything I wanted to say but it was still a bureaucratic process and now that I’m beyond the two-year point I don’t have to do that.
How does a Military background, particularly with your rank, change people’s perceptions of you as a person?
When it comes to actually trying to find a job there’s that perception in some of the companies I’ve talked to that my world has been very easy because all I do as the boss is give orders and everyone obeys them, whereas in civvy street you have to work in a much more consensual way and be more cooperative. They believe that we don’t do cooperation in the Armed Forces we just do orders – and that is so not true.
You’re a board member of a new financial services company called Military Mutual – You remarked that you felt that Military families had been let down by the financial services industry.
As an example, when I came back from America I was 54 years old and I’d been driving since I was 17. Because I’d been away for three and half years I’m non-existent and so my premium went through the roof when I came home. So you get home and you’re penalised. I’ve even got no-claims proof from when I was in America and no company would accept it in this country.
That’s just one of a billion examples of where people in the Armed Forces get disadvantaged.
Our hope is that by having a board that is made up of people from the Navy, Army and Air Force who have been through this over the years and have very close links to Serving personnel, we’re attuned to their needs.
Military Mutual launches 29 April 2015. Visit: www.themilitarymutual.com