U.S. Air Force Colonel Lars Hoffman (EMBA ’15) entered UCLA Anderson with the intention of transitioning from the military to private-sector business. Hoffman, who spent a total of 26 years on active duty, envisioned his dream job at SpaceX. He talks about how his UCLA Anderson Executive MBA and the skills he acquired throughout his career — from Air Force Academy through deployment overseas as an officer — contributed to his readiness to join SpaceX, where he has worked as senior director of government sales since 2014.
Q: Why don’t you tell us about your career in the Air Force and why you decided to attend UCLA Anderson?
I was a pilot my whole career, both reconnaissance pilot and a test pilot, and had two tours in the Pentagon, and a couple tours living overseas.
Coming up on my last few years, I realized that as I transitioned from the Air Force to civilian life, I needed to prepare myself. During my last two years in the Air Force I was assigned to Edwards Air Force Base out in the Antelope Valley, where I was the commandant of the test pilot school. I started looking in the Southern California area for a good MBA program, and quickly found the Executive MBA program at Anderson, which seemed like a great fit. I was able to attend the first year of the two-year program during my last year in the Air Force, and it helped me find my job here at SpaceX, where I finished the second year of the program. So the EMBA program was actually the bridge from my military career to my new corporate career at SpaceX.
Q: Please tell us about your transition from military life to a civilian career.
During the last five to 10 years of my Air Force career, I was in higher levels of responsibility and authority, in command positions with staff and direct reports that were supporting me and working with me in a very formal arrangement, as the military is fairly hierarchical. That was the environment I came from.
In transitioning to civilian life, I was told (by the Air Force at least) that there’s going to be a bit of a culture shock. They said, “You won’t be a colonel with a staff supporting you and it’s likely you’re going to transition into a position where you’ll have to do things yourself, you’ll have to work with peers in a different way.”
It wasn’t so different as some people will make it out to be; but during my interview process at SpaceX, they were asking me a lot of questions about whether I was going to be comfortable working in a very flat and collaborative organization without a lot of formal organizational structure to it. They especially wanted to know if I would be comfortable working with people half my age. I said, “Yes, of course.” I had some experience with that, but my MBA experience helped prepare me for that a bit because I was in a classroom of colleagues and contemporaries who were from different industries.