Remarks by the First Lady at Private Equity Industry Veterans Initiative Summit
1:55 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. You all, rest yourselves. I understand you’ve been very busy.
Well, good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here today for this Veterans Initiative Summit. I want to start, obviously, by thanking Steve Schwarzman for that wonderful introduction, for his passionate words. I’ll be saying more about Steve in a few minutes, but for now, I think it’s appropriate if we give him a round of applause for his extraordinary leadership on behalf of our veterans and military families. (Applause.)
And of course, I want to thank all of you –- leaders from The Carlyle Group, KKR, TPG Capital, and the 150 companies across America. Thank you all for joining forces to hire and advance our veterans in your businesses.
Now, as you may know, this issue has been one of our top priorities since the day we first launched Joining Forces back in 2011. Back then, the unemployment rate for 9/11 veterans was more than 12 percent. And for the youngest of these veterans, it was even worse -– one in three who wanted a job in this country couldn’t find one.
So we knew we had a crisis on our hands. And that’s why, soon after Joining Forces was up and running, my husband issued a challenge to the private sector. He challenged that sector to hire 100,000 veterans in little over a year.
Now, at the time, we thought this was a pretty ambitious goal, and to be honest, we were a little worried about whether we could meet it. So our team, we started hustling. We reached out to companies in every sector –- from construction and high tech to transportation and manufacturing. We reached out to businesses of all sizes -– from tiny mom-and-pop operations to the Fortune 500. And everywhere we went, we told employers about the talent, the character and the drive that define our veterans and their spouses.
And today, just four years later, American businesses have hired or trained not just 100,000 veterans and military spouses, not just 200,000 or 500,000 -- no, folks like you across this country have hired or trained more than 850,000 veterans and military spouses. (Applause.) And I think we can all agree that this is a breathtaking achievement. And ultimately, it happened for one simple reason: because employers realized that veterans are some of the most skilled, motivated, resilient employees they could find.
Our vets have invaluable experiences in everything from operations to logistics to IT. They’ve overseen millions of dollars’ worth of assets. They’ve supervised dozens, even hundreds of their peers. And when it comes to dealing with stress or pressure, well, you can bring it, because these folks know a little bit about high-stakes situations.
And that’s why companies across this country now understand that hiring these men and women isn’t just the patriotic thing to do, it’s the right thing to do for their bottom line. And the folks at Blackstone and other leaders here certainly understand this. In fact, Blackstone, back in April of 2013, as Steve mentioned, they pledged to hire 50,000 veterans across their portfolio in five years. And today, they are well ahead of schedule, hiring an average of 1,000 employees a month in all 50 states.
And in explaining why Blackstone made this commitment, Steve wrote -- and I’m going to quote him directly -- he said, “It’s clear that whatever the mission, these men and women are of the highest caliber and character.” They have proven their value and their immense potential before they even walk in the door. And I couldn’t agree more.
And I’d also like to point out that if anyone knows the importance of a good investment, it’s folks like Steve and the leaders of the other firms that are here today. (Laughter.) And when these firms make that kind of investment on behalf of their portfolio companies, that’s not just one commitment, it’s hundreds of commitments that can change hundreds of thousands of lives.
And that’s why, today, I am so thrilled that Blackstone and the rest of the leaders here have taken their commitment to the next level by opening up this summit to their competitors. Can I say that again -- their competitors. So to be clear, Blackstone and all of you here are so dedicated to supporting our veterans that you’re willing to help your competitors acquire the top talent in the country. (Applause.)
I mean, private equity is one of the most competitive industries in this country; probably the closest thing you can come to hand-to-hand combat on a daily basis. (Laughter.) But Steve and Blackstone and all of you are doing this because you know that something bigger is at stake. And you also know that while we’ve made important progress, we still have a lot of work to do on behalf of our veterans’ employment.
Now, it’s true that over the past four years, the unemployment rate for 9/11 veterans has dropped from the 12 percent in 2011 to 7.2 percent in 2014. And since May of this year, it’s been around 5 percent. That is a significant accomplishment, and it didn’t just happen by itself. (Applause.) It happened because folks like you stepped up, learned about what our vets and military spouses have to offer, and then you worked hard to set goals, and recruit and hire them.
And in the coming years, as Steve said, hundreds of thousands of more veterans and military spouses are going to be transitioning to civilian life. So in many ways, our work here is really just beginning.
And let’s not forget that these men and women signed up to risk their lives for us. They and their families served and sacrificed to keep all of us safe. So if even one veteran who wants a job in this country is unemployed, as far as I’m concerned, that’s one too many.
So we need to keep on pushing forward on this issue. We need to keep challenging ourselves not just to recruit and hire veterans, but also to retain and promote them –- to make sure they can move up the corporate ladder to the leadership positions they deserve. And we need to ensure that our military spouses can have the careers they deserve too, even as they move across the country every two or three years and juggle all the stresses that come with military life.
So I am thrilled that all of you are joining this effort. And I want to thank you so much for everything you all have done and everything you will continue to do for our veterans and military families to give them the opportunities that they’ve earned. You all should be incredibly proud of what you’re doing here.
And now, it is my pleasure to introduce your next panel, this distinguished group here. (Applause.) We have a group of veterans and a military spouse -- got to keep representing -- they are all rising stars at several of the companies in this room, and they’re going to tell you about their experience in the military and in the private sector. And they’re going to offer some tips on how to recruit and promote other veterans just like them -- because they’re everywhere. I meet them all the time. You’re special, but you know there are others like you. (Laughter.)
I had a chance just briefly -- say hello to these individuals before we came onstage, and I know they are outstanding. So I hope you all enjoy hearing from them as much as I enjoy watching their careers blossom.
And with that, I give you your next panel, which is entitled “Transitions and Integration Experiences.”
Thank you all so much, and God bless. (Applause.)
2:05 P.M. EDT