‘All Things Are Possible’: How This 3-Time Career Changer Went from the Army to the Culinary Field

Sponsored by Aramark

 Vivian F. Byrd

Photo courtesy of Aramark.

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Fairygodboss
April 19, 2024 at 10:38PM UTC

Aramark takes great joy in creating positive change. The Philadelphia-headquartered company offers food, facilities and uniforms services to clients in areas like education, healthcare, sports, entertainment, corrections, leisure and more. And, the company makes sure to look inward to make a positive impact, too.

Not only does Aramark put robust diversity, equity and inclusion policies in place to make the workplace a safe and supportive one for women (and all employees) — but they also make a conscious and strategic effort to attract, develop, and retain Veteran and military-affiliated talent and their families.

The company’s newly founded Executive Diversity Council, along with various employee resource groups (ERGs) like EMPOWER, work together to grow the company’s gender-diverse leadership through career development, networking and mentoring. The company’s DE&I program focuses around three critical areas: workforce (hiring, retaining, and developing people with diverse backgrounds), workplace (creating a culture that values and leverages these differences), and marketplace (partnering with diverse suppliers and community organizations to deliver culturally relevant products and services).

Another one of Aramark’s 11 ERGs is Aramark Salute, which supports the company’s efforts in doubling down on Veteran and military-affiliated hiring. Already, the company proudly employs thousands of military Veterans, active service members and their family members. And they are committed to continuing to employ even more through several recruitment and mentoring initiatives. In 2020, Aramark went so far as to launch a program with American Corporate Partners to pair Aramark mentors with Veterans and military spouses to help them build their careers.

Life at Aramark: from a Veteran.

We caught up with one of the company’s Veteran employees to talk more about her transition from the military to a civilian career — as well as her advice for other women in her shoes, er, army boots. Vivian F. Byrd, Executive Chef in Aramark’s Higher Education business, has worked with Aramark since 2015 after serving in the United States Army for six years.

In her six years in the Army as a heavy wheel mechanic, Byrd shares that she was “the only female in my unit, “from which I graduated with honors and was the leader of my platoon.” This is indicative of Byrd’s entire career journey, where she leads “a life of passion and stepping outside the norm,” Byrd states. “I am not afraid of a challenge and have always been in a position of service.” For Byrd, she strongly believes that “sometimes there is a long route to get to your final destination but, with determination, you can get there.”

And it was with this determination that Byrd entered civilian life. The “transition from active military to civilian status was hard,” shares Byrd. “I hadn’t had any plans to not continue my active status, but, unfortunately, I had medical complications from my pregnancy six months after re-enlistment and had to end my active-duty status with an honorable discharge. This was at the same time as [the military operation] Desert Storm. The expectation was that I was to report to the frontline immediately and, unfortunately, I could not make that commitment.”

After leaving the military, Byrd initially found work as an LPN and phlebotomist. However, Byrd found that when she joined Aramark in 2015, her military background provided her with some unique perspectives and skills that aided in her career. As Byrd notes, “Veterans are risk takers that take on life-altering challenges and are oftentimes overlooked. We have heart, dedication and selfless commitment for the betterment of all.” 

This drive to help others is certainly a core part of who Byrd is and why she started her culinary career. “My inspiration comes from having a heart for service and wanting others to experience happiness in any way that I can positively impact them,” Byrd says about her motivation. Byrd’s parents also helped to foster her life philosophy, instilling in Byrd the belief that “there was nothing I couldn't do or achieve but, whatever I did, I needed to make sure that I pushed myself to be the very best.”

Currently, Byrd uses her experience, passion and dedication in her position as an Executive Chef, where she says that she is “able to spur others toward the direction of growth, whether personal or professional.”

Byrd’s best advice and inspiration for Veterans.

For other women Veterans seeking a change in their careers or hoping to grow their professional path forward, Byrd has this advice: “Take a moment and reflect on what drives you. We often have talents that can move from hobbies to careers. Pull from your inner strength, not taking no for an answer… Lastly, find at least one woman who can mentor you or someone whose behavior you feel you can imitate.”

For Byrd, this inspirational mentor is Dr. Helena Bentley, who she worked with in the pediatric field as an LPN prior to joining Aramark. “I would always get nominated to prepare various dishes for the office meetings until it eventually turned into me doing small[-scale] catering for various staff members,” Byrd explains. “Dr. Bentley expressed that I had missed my calling and should enroll in culinary school.” This guidance and belief led Byrd to enroll in the Art Institute of Atlanta and she says that she has “not looked back”.

For those looking for inspiration of their own, Byrd reminds us that, “Dreams do come true!” “I am a three-time career-changer who never had any idea what culinary truly meant,” she says. “I want others to know through my story that you absolutely should never say never, and all things are possible.

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