By Elizabeth Stetler & Ashley Conners
Growing up in a small town in Texas, James McRoy never imagined he would someday manage a U.S team at a global, multi-billion-dollar company. Today, as the national operations manager of electrical engineering services and systems, McRoy does just that. His journey began in the U.S. Navy, where he served as a nuclear electrician. We asked him how his experience in the military led him to his current role. Here’s what he had to say.
Tell me about your time in the military.
JM: I’m from a military family, so when a Navy recruiter came to my high school during my junior year, I saw it as an opportunity. College wasn’t something I could afford, but I scored well on the ASVAB (The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test), and the recruiter started talking to me about the nuclear power program. It sounded interesting, and the benefits of joining were attractive.
What were your favorite aspects of the military?
JM: Everybody must know their job to keep everything going. As a team, we each had the responsibility to keep up and ensure that our teammates did as well. If one person can’t complete their job, a lot of things could go wrong. In the military, lives often depend on you knowing your job and performing it well.
I think that experience has helped me to be successful in the civilian world. Having to learn my job, inside and out, has become my norm, and it has put me ahead of those who do not go the extra mile to understand the job.
I also loved the opportunities to travel and see so many places. For a kid coming from the middle-of-nowhere, Texas, going to Florida or the Caribbean was an experience. I had the opportunity to visit places many civilians don’t get to see.
Another thing I loved about the military was that the leadership was top-notch. I tried to learn from my leaders as much as possible.
How was your transition out of the military?
JM: My transition was a little rocky, but not bad. I attended a hiring conference in Baltimore, did 11 interviews, and got several offers.
I accepted a job in Atlanta about six months before my ETS (Expiration of Term of Service) date. I had done the research and thought the job would be good for my family and me. Instead, I quickly discovered that the job was not what I had thought.
Panic set in, because I had just moved my family to Atlanta for this specific opportunity. Fortunately, during my time in that role, I had done some work with Eaton. I heard they were hiring design engineers, so I took an individual contributor role to get my foot in the door. That was 18 years ago.
What are some things that have helped along the way?
JM: I had great mentors, and I think that’s important. For several months after I started, I just followed an engineer who helped me learn. In some ways, that type of training reminded me of the military, because it enabled me to master the basics of the role.
One thing I noticed right away is that the civilian world is not like the military. Not everything is planned out months ahead, and not everything will be done before you go home for the day.
At first, I struggled. My manager noticed and gave me some great advice. He said “Avoid unrealistic expectations. Every job has ups and downs, and not every day will be perfect.”
I’ve learned to accept that I can still feel good about what I’ve accomplished, even if it’s not as much as I intended. I have embraced that mentality and still apply it to this day.
How did you get from the design engineer role to your current position?
JM: I learned everything I could about how things worked as a design engineer. I researched, trained, and asked questions. Eaton offers many opportunities to learn, and managers encourage it. But owning your knowledge makes you personally responsible for your own advancement.
My military background allowed me to take on a leadership role in my next position at the company. I was tasked with managing a very knowledgeable and skilled sales team that needed some structure. It was a great opportunity. I learned a different aspect of the company from a sales and customer perspective.
Being flexible and willing to take on a challenge was a huge factor for me. My manager trusted me (a 28-year-old) to lead a department of 45 people. I felt unqualified, but my manager trusted my ability. In the same way, I had to trust my team and lean on them for help.
From there, I transitioned into an engineering supervisory role. With each role, I got more exposure.
Eaton has a great system for identifying talent. As managers across the entire company, we look for talent and discuss our top-performers, and where they can fit for the best outcome.
What advice would you offer a veteran who is interested in advancing their position within an organization?
JM: Don’t be afraid to take a role as an individual contributor. I often see veterans who transition out of the military looking for supervisory roles. If you take an individual contributor role to start, you get the opportunity to learn the organization, the systems, and the equipment.
Most companies will promote talent, and you’ll work your way up quickly. Give your skillset time to be recognized by a civilian company. If you don’t, you may struggle to find your footing, and that’s not fair to you or the organization.
Consider taking a position that might be out of your comfort zone but can really highlight your skills and adaptability. Don’t discount a role that seems below your experience level; it might be what you need to be a top-performer and quickly move up in the organization.
Also, work hard. If you can maintain the level of hard work that you practiced in the military, you’ll outperform many of your civilian counterparts.
What does Eaton value as a company?
JM: Safety is first and foremost for us, which is right in line with military values. Diversity is also important, as we are an international company. Being able to work with a diverse group of people in dynamic situations is a skill that the military fosters and Eaton values greatly.
We’re looking for long-term employment at Eaton. We want our employees to have a career, not just a job.
What makes Eaton a good place for veterans?
JM: We have an employee resource group (ERG) dedicated to veterans. It creates that feeling of camaraderie that you get in the military, which many people miss when they transition out. We encourage veterans to be involved, but also people who work with veterans, which sets Eaton apart from other organizations.
We also connect with new veteran hires and mentor them one-on-one, to introduce them to Eaton and help them transition into the company.
What do you love about working at Eaton?
JM: I love my team. They are great at what they do, and we have a great mix of employees. Some are newer and bring the energy, and some have been here forever but maintain the same passion and dedication to serving our customers.
I love that, even as a manager, I’m not the expert in everything on my team. Everyone brings something unique to the table, and we can solve any problem if we’re working together.
The opportunities at Eaton are limitless. Eaton has given me the opportunity to excel professionally and personally. I get to do a job I love, but I also have time with my family. This career has surpassed everything I imagined I would do after the military.
By Elizabeth Stetler