During the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program sessions, Mark Harper, General Manager of Military and Defense at Recurrent Ventures, learned the importance of vulnerability to grow his impact in helping those who serve the military-connected community.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your personal leadership project (PLP).
I’m a U.S. Air Force veteran and former communications officer who spent the bulk of my military career leading Combat Camera teams. Across Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom* (and numerous exercises) I led the world’s highest-trained photojournalists in telling the incredible stories of our military.
ComCam fueled my love for storytelling and gave me the tools to pursue a career in entertainment. In Los Angeles, I met the former head of MTV Films, who was starting We Are The Mighty, an entertainment brand created to be a storytelling platform for the military community. The next eight years were filled with creating content ranging from TV series (with one Emmy win!) and national commercials to short videos and written articles while building millions of community touchpoints through our digital publisher and social channels.
In 2019, I took over as CEO. In late 2021, WATM acquired the Military Influencer Conference (started by Veteran Leadership Program Cohort Five rockstar Curtez Riggs) to bridge the gap from digital audience to in-person events. In 2022, WATM/MIC was acquired by Recurrent Ventures, and in doing so installed me as the General Manager of their (now) six military media brands.
My PLP centered around MIC and how to take the conference into a future in which we can provide even more impactful content to our attendees. MIC has almost doubled in size every year since its inception, and, as it grows, we have the opportunity to add more ways for it to help shape and support the military community.
Which lessons learned during the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program have stayed with you the most, and how have you put those lessons into action?
One of my greatest Veteran Leadership Program lessons occurred in the first module. Our tables each went through what turned into a vulnerability exercise. Through this, I learned that sharing (the appropriate amount of) vulnerability can help increase connectivity with others by removing barriers and fostering communication. Through my time in the Veteran Leadership Program, I participated in and watched those who opened themselves up to this level of sharing create a real atmosphere of support. This support turned into successes for many. And in this, I’ve also found and seen some great friendships grow, and I am still in awe of how many cohort members speak with each other every day.
I have taken this practice of vulnerability and actively used it in my personal and professional lives to help build relationships.
What drives your passion for serving the military-connected community?
What drives my passion are the stories that come out of this community of people who were called to serve. In my years of creating content, I’m moved every day by the incredible tenacity, empathy, bravery, and support all found in our military-connected community.
You recently joined Recurrent as General Manager of the company’s military brand vertical upon the acquisition of your previous organization, We Are The Mighty. How did you lead through that transition, and what were your greatest takeaways?
I felt like I was “building the airplane in flight” almost every day at WATM – I was in a perpetual startup that ended during integration with Recurrent. Going from a mighty team of eight to a company of over 300 employees had its challenges. But in this, I led the team with an eye toward what the acquisition was for – stability and access to build our brands to reach and drive more impact in the military community. My greatest takeaways include learning how to take small company culture and infuse it into a broader team and collection of brands. The culture shock of becoming a large company overnight continues to provide challenges, but these challenges help create opportunities to stay outside my comfort zone. Every. Day.
As your team executes this year’s Military Influencer Conference, what are you most excited about, and what are you hoping people gain from attending?
I’m excited to see MIC continue to expand how it serves the military community. We’re covering a lot of topics through our five pillars – inspiration, innovation, influence, inclusivity and, impact – but, more importantly, we’re creating opportunities for those who serve our community to have a chance to connect and share their experiences. I hope that people gain that next connection that helps to broaden their network and fuel their opportunity to drive results in their lives. And I hope that Veteran Leadership Program alumni are encouraged to help Curtez Riggs and me shape this event to better serve our community.
*The United States and NATO Allies launched Operation Enduring Freedom on Oct. 7, 2001, which was the U.S. response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, perpetrated by al-Qaida from Afghanistan. Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 20, 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein as a result of his refusal to open the country to inspection for weapons of mass destruction.