Service Abroad Propels a Career

By Justin Swanson | LB Indy


Kevin Staight, who left the Middle East as a U.S. Marine, plans a return to the region as a business consultant. Photo by Edgar Obrand

Kevin Staight, who left the Middle East as a U.S. Marine, plans a return to the region as a business consultant. Photo by Edgar Obrand

Kevin Staight joined in a reunion with fellow former Marine Corps troops with whom he had served during two tours of active duty in Iraq. The camaraderie never goes away, Staight says, despite their now varied paths.

Staight’s time and experience in the military, following his graduation from Laguna Beach High School in 2000, underpins his latest journey on which he is now about to embark.

Staight, 30, earned three academic honors as a well as a graduate degree this year from New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he focused on global business and business analytics. He attended on a scholarship earned after graduating magna cum laude from UC San Diego.

Now, hired for his dream job with the high-powered consulting firm McKinsey and Company, Staight is spending the rest of the summer at home in Laguna Beach before returning to the Middle East.

His trajectory seems unlikely for an indifferent student who failed to even gain admittance to a single college while in high school. He turned to the military as a fallback position.

Local resident Damen Evans, who has a lifelong friendship with Staight, reflects that his friend showed obvious signs of brilliance throughout his childhood, but could too be lazy.

Time in the Marine Corps changed that. Staight says military service gave him new focus, a sense of pride and desire and the responsibilities of leadership. He exited the service as a sergeant. He learned self-motivation from other Marines, observing how they worked hard everyday.

“I told myself there’s never an excuse not to get good grades, not to show up to class,” Staight says, applying his newfound tenacity to post-service academic pursuits. “This,” he says, “is what I wanted.”

Still, Evans observes, there was something both new and familiar about Staight once he returned stateside.

“I was very impressed by two things,” Evans says. “One, his new focus, how he applied himself and got serious. And two, how much he was able to remain himself” after the military.

Staight willed himself to greater academic heights. He had a dream in mind. Since his time spent in Iraq, Staight developed a keen interest in Middle East culture. He studied linguistics with an emphasis on Arabic. He studied the culture and decided he would do all he could to make an impact in that area of the world.

In his last two years at NYU, Staight took advantage of travel-study programs, visiting Japan, China, Brazil, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Through these programs, Staight observed foreign business practices.

“I got to expand my understanding of what’s going on in the world, rather than a narrow view in the U.S.,” he says.

During his tours, Staight “felt responsible to do something more, to improve people’s lives.” He has spent seven years since working to get to where is now.

Last summer, Staight interned for McKinsey and Company. They appreciated his work and his unique background, given his interests and professional experience in the military, and assigned him to Abu Dhabi. While the transition to the private sector remains mysterious for Staight, he thinks this is the situation he has worked toward. His job is to help businesses expand, improve their efficiency, and suggest fixes to those that are struggling.

“I will always be an American; I love America,” Staight says, about the coming change in his life and realizing his goals. “But the only way to do it is if I go full bore, invest my time and energy to make something lasting.”

He remembers a lesson from the military. “The only way to affect change is to go in 100 percent.”

In the meantime, Staight says he looks forward to eating at La Sirena and spending time with friends and family.

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