Corey Lockhart served more than six years in the United States Air Force. He was a Security Forces NCO in Charge and a Combat Arms Training & Maintenance instructor. Active duty took Corey all over the U.S. as well as Korea and Afghanistan. In 2018 he left the military and founded WML Demolition Contracting (WML were his grandfather’s initials). Why? In terms of life advancement, having his own contracting business presented more opportunities than staying in the military. And why demolition? “Three reasons,” says Lockhart. “One, market research. Two, it was a process I thought I could improve upon, and I like improving processes. And three, demo just appeals to me.”
WML Demo has been very successful. It helped that Lockhart’s youth included being active in the family farming and landscaping businesses. “I’ve been running a skid steer since I was 10.” But he attributes much of WML Demo’s success to skills he acquired in the military. He learned to manage multiple projects simultaneously. He learned to clearly and consistently communicate goals and objectives. Mostly, he learned perseverance, especially during the rigors of training. “I have that don’t-quit mentality,” he says. “The military taught me to not stop.”
Not stopping is key in private enterprise. “The business back end, payroll, insurance, human resources, all that is far more demanding than what I had in the military where only two things really mattered, the mission and the safety of my people. Compared to private enterprise, Afghanistan was easy—aside from the combat. The day we spoke with Lockhart, a trench succumbed to heavy rains. As it collapsed, it took one of his excavators with it. “That was $2,000 of towing and repair I hadn’t built into the job.”
There are also military skills that don’t transfer well to the private sector. “In the military I’d bark orders and they got done,” Lockhart says. “People in the business world don’t want to be talked to like that and I don’t blame them.” He says it’s not just the forcefulness of speech that has to be re-learned. It’s also the tone of voice, facial expressions, hand gestures, body positioning. “You have to blunt the edge of your communication style. Sometimes I’ve failed at that but I’m much better than I once was.” It helps that his workers are self-directed. Following morning meetings, they get to work with minimal supervision.
Learn to adapt
Lockhart continues to identify and take advantage of opportunities within the industry. Recently, saw an opportunity to do underground utility installs and other trenching work. “We had an excavator with a rotating knuckle so we swapped out the attachment and were ready to go to work.” Trenching and utility work has become a significant part of WML Demo’s operations and helps as they transition from mostly demolition work to specialty contractors for all types of earthmoving and site prep projects.
Plan for the future
Lockhart is building equity in the business with an eye toward eventually cashing out. “You build a business to sell it. If one day one of our two kids wants to take it over, we’ll talk about that. My son is 7 now so I figure I have 11 years to work on that plan.” Any sentimental attachment to selling a business named after his grandfather? “None at all. He was a businessman, too. He’d understand.”
Veterans entering the world of entrepreneurship and those who are considering working with those veterans. “People have to realize that while there are a lot of opportunities for veterans, you’re still going to have to work. Just because there are opportunities doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”
His final advice to veterans considering starting a business is, “You can do it. Find something and do it better than the next person.”
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