Leading at Home and Abroad: How a Bomb Squad Officer Found Sweet Success With Pastries

In 2010, I graduated from ROTC and joined the United States Army as a commissioned officer. Like most members of the military, I wanted to be a part of something bigger then myself. After completing over a year of training I became an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician, and was honored to serve with some incredible men and women during my time in EOD. The four years of active duty as an EOD officer and five years of serving in the reserves gave me the foundation necessary to develop leadership skills that I would use in my civilian life.

As an officer in EOD, I was trained to lead my teams in the safe disposal of IEDs or any other explosive hazards that may be a threat to personnel or property. Throughout my entire service, I not only saw my fellow teammates triumph in the face of danger, but also develop into incredible people capable of doing the impossible.

I knew my discipline and military training would be best used in a leadership role. My father, John and I took the path of entrepreneurship and became owners of a Le Macaron French Pastries franchise. As a smokejumper parachuting into remote areas to combat wildfires, my father too had a high stress job. While a different setting from our past careers, being Le Macaron French Pastries franchisees has allowed us both to use our skill-sets to find success as entrepreneurs.

Learn How to Lead

My first taste of leadership in the Army was leading five two-man bomb squad teams. Providing oversight for each team, it was not only my responsibility to ensure the safety of each soldier, but to also understand the learning style of each soldier and adapt my leadership style to them. Doing this, I was not only able to help my team carry out their missions, but help develop my team into becoming the leaders they are today.

At Le Macaron French Pastries, the success of our employees ultimately leads to the success of our business. In order to ensure our business thrives, we need to understand how each of our employees learns. Everyone we work with has their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses so as leaders, it is the responsibility of John and I to reflect on their skill-sets, improve upon them, and for us to adjust our management strategy to these elements.

Find Success in Simplicity

From eliminating IEDs in Afghanistan to protecting the President of the United States, my platoon was successful in carrying out a variety of important missions despite our small size. This is because being a small team allowed us to build a tight network between each member, and carry out missions in an efficient and effective manner.

This concept of minimalism to increase efficiency translated to our business practices at Le Macaron French Pastries. In addition to being a fun opportunity, John and I were drawn to the franchise concept because of its simple business operations. From having a kiosk model as our franchise location to sourcing all of our baking items from Le Macaron French Pastries’ headquarters, the simple and minimalistic model allows our team to be as efficient and effective as possible in doing what we do best: serving our customers.

Build a Strategy for the Highs and Lows

The officer training I undertook in ROTC gave me a foundation to lead others, but I still faced a number of challenges after graduation. Being introduced to my platoon and dealing with the day-to-day challenges of EOD – like ensuring the safety of your platoon, forced me to adapt to the learning curves and hurdles I faced every day. It was with the support of my teammates and the confidence I had in them and myself that helped me face each of these challenges. The belief we had in each other helped us get through each day, and make a meaningful difference to our fellow soldiers and country.

Just as I faced challenges, learning curves, highs and lows as an officer, I still face a number of hurdles each day as an entrepreneur. Some days you are the bat, and some days you are the ball. But holding on to those celebratory moments and learning from your lows will help you not only persist, but persevere as a leader and entrepreneur.

Starting a business is more than just operating a concept that will sell. It is about creating a team that will work with you to the best of their ability. Even through the highs and lows, being an entrepreneur requires you to be cool and collected with your co-workers and your clients. Bringing your past experiences to the table will help you succeed in these fields, and not only help you build a thriving business, but also inspire those around you to develop and learn under your leadership.

Luke Freshwater has served for nine years in the United States Army as an officer. While still in the reserves, he and his father John own and operate a Le Macaron French Pastries Franchise in Pittsburgh PA, serving delicious macarons and other French pastries to customers.


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