This Saturday (24 June) is Armed Forces Day in the UK – an annual event to celebrate and commemorate the service of men and women in the British Armed Forces. This includes the entire military community, from currently serving troops to Service families, veterans and cadets.
Here at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, we have a long and proud history of hiring ex-military personnel. Our veteran community is constantly expanding, due to the value we place on the unique perspectives and experiences that former Armed Forces men and women bring to our business. Our employee resource group VetNet provides a network which mentors, supports and connects our Service leaver employees so that they can build their next career with us.
While there are hundreds of individuals we could highlight across our business, I’d like to focus today on Kieran Cassidy – a former Royal Marines Commando who was recently named a finalist in the
2023 British Ex-Forces in Business Awards. Following his award nomination, I chatted to Kieran about his career journey so far, how he found the transition into the private sector, and the lessons he’s learned along the way. 
So, to start Kieran, can you quickly run me through your background before joining BAE Systems Digital Intelligence?
Before joining BAE Systems in 2017, I was a Royal Marines Commando working within a specialist unit at the forefront of defence delivering protective security and counter intelligence. My prime focus was defending our assets from hostile state actors, foreign intelligence services, terrorists and – on several occasions – insiders. As the unit’s expert in Physical, Personnel and Cyber Security, I was responsible for advising my chain of command on defensive actions and security compliance, along with occasionally conducting counter intelligence operations.
And what’s your current role and focus area?
I lead the Security Threat and Risk Assessment (STARA®) Capability, which I’m proud to say has grown from a relatively small and bespoke Risk Assessment Process to a world leading trademarked Security Product. I work in partnership with Gary Poole (Head of Security Capabilities) to deliver STARA and for the past five years we have been using the framework to secure Health and Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). My professional focus areas are; Cyber Defensive Operations, Information Assurance, and multi-domain security, risk and maturity assessments.
As an ex-serviceman, how did you find the transition from the military to a corporate role?
It was excellent. Firstly, props have to be given to Laura Hopper, who was my first career manager and teacher of all things BAE Systems. She was awesome and made me instantly feel at home, which given the week I had before joining was no easy task. On the 22 May 2017 (a week before I joined BAE Systems) Islamic Extremists attacked the Manchester Arena and my unit was involved in both the initial response and aftermath. Subsequently, what was supposed to be a week of ‘cheers easy’ and ‘cracking’ my ‘leaving routine’, quickly became an increased operational workload and not much sleep.
Stupidly I had opted to leave the Royal Marines on Friday and start work with BAE Systems on the following Monday, which meant any form of decompression from my life in a Green Beret was limited to a frantic shopping spree in John Lewis to purchase something called ‘office causal’ clothing. It turns out, in cyber, hoodies would have sufficed.
I clearly remember that first day feeling; that I wasn’t supposed to be here, that I was leaving something I loved for something that might not be quite what I thought, and that I was turning my back on my calling in life - to make the world a better place! However, this was quickly dispelled by the kindness and professionalism of my new colleagues and within a month, I was in front of a customer in Jordan delivering cyber training and helping individuals defend critical assets.
When I look back I realise I should have taken some time in-between my two careers. Although this didn’t really affect me as I believe that I’m fairly mentally robust, I can see how others might struggle with the transition. I was lucky to some extent that I was placed into a team that had several other ex-military members and a project with a clear mission/focus. As a Security Consultant, I now appreciate that not all projects are the same – if I had been asked to write a Security Policy Framework on Week 1, I imagine my first steps in BAE Systems would have been significantly harder.
Why did BAE Systems appeal to you as an ex-serviceman? 
In all honesty, it didn’t at first! I was obsessed with being a Commando and ‘defending the realm’ was absolutely my calling. However in 2014, cyber was becoming more of a concern across defence and it was apparent to me that if I wanted to get ahead of this emerging threat, I needed to significantly develop not only my understanding of cyber, but also change the hearts and minds of my senior commanders. At that time, many thought cyber was ‘black magic for geeks’ and had no lasting impact on operations. Because nothing would change the need for ‘boots on the ground’ right?
After many years of bringing about change from the inside and developing cyber security from the ground up within the Unit, I began feeling constrained professionally because at the time the Royal Marines didn’t have a cyber-profession.
Ultimately, I wanted a greater challenge and the opportunity to take the lessons I had learned whilst serving to benefit a much wider audience. After some discussion with some BAE Systems contractors employed within my unit, they suggested that the company could be that vehicle of change I desired. Giving me room to grow and develop my cyber capabilities beyond the limitations of the services and still making a difference.
BAE Systems therefore ticked two of my boxes: it would provide capacity to support my professional growth and also allow me to continue my passion in defending others and securing the connected world.
What key skills did you learn from your time in the military that have helped you at BAE Systems?
Anyone that has worked with Royal Marines Commando’s will understand that we are all a little bit special, both in our state of mind and the core values which we seek to embody. The Commando mind-set is “Be the first to understand; the first to adapt and respond; and the first to overcome.” As Royal Marines, we learn to operate in the toughest conditions and know that overcoming them isn’t just about physical toughness; it’s about your mental resilience and fortitude, your ability to look at complex problems in different ways, and ultimately the belief that you can succeed against any adversity. 
These four pillars ‘Understand, Adapt, Respond and Overcome’ provide the framework that the Royal Marines have used for hundreds of years to be one of the most elite fighting forces in the world. Today, whilst only being 4% of defence, the Royal Marines currently make up 50% of UK Special Forces, which is largely attributed to our state of mind.
But how does this relate to business? Well the commando mindset teaches us to deeply UNDERSTAND the problem using all available data, intelligence and our experience. We always ask questions and encourage others regardless of their rank to be involved in decision making. We value honesty, integrity and hard truths. Because being successful isn’t simply ‘luck’ but where data, opportunity and preparation meet.

We ADAPT to new ideas and solutions because no environment or adversity is the same. If the idiom ‘no plan survives first contact with the enemy’ is true, then we need to fail fast and learn quickly. Because the realisation that problems are not static allows for rapid and agile decision making, and ultimately a more successful outcome. As a Commando force we constantly test unconventional tactics and technologies to support our mission, because we understand that taking risks and seizing opportunities is how we win.
We then RESPOND by acting with conviction, determination and self-discipline to achieve our aims. Ensuring that at all times we honour our most core value: ‘excellence’. Whilst this may seem obvious, it’s a tool I still use today. I constantly ask “is this excellent?” and if not, I adjust that slide deck, work on that report or dig a little deeper into the data to ensure that my output exceeds expectations.
Finally, if we achieve pillars 1-3, we OVERCOME any problem, adversity or challenge. If there’s one thing being a Royal Marine has taught me, it’s that with enough preparation, effort and belief you can achieve almost anything.
What advice would you give to any ex-forces personnel looking to make the transition to the corporate world?
Firstly, I would say that your skills ARE transferable, but you may need to consider them in a business context to highlight their relevance to the ‘job spec’ and make them more appealing to a future employer.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to sell yourself. Self-praise in the military is definitely looked down upon, because we are trained to think about the service before ourselves. However, you need to flex your experience to be seen in a competitive market. In doing so, you are really showcasing what excellent experience service personnel have to offer and subsequently enhancing the value of the services as a whole.
Finally, something we are all bad at: ask for help. You are not alone and countless people have transitioned into the corporate world from the forces. I speak as one of many ex-forces personnel in cyber who is more than happy to help service leavers break into the industry. We are here to help, so don’t be afraid to reach out.
Lastly, what does being nominated for this award mean to you?
It’s a special moment in my career at BAE Systems and a complete surprise! Being nominated for Team Leader of the Year is a perfect justification to say “It’s not about me!” - it’s absolutely about the awesome team I have had the privilege and honour of leading. Without them, STARA would not be possible and I can confidently say that the team that Gary Poole and I have built is one of the finest security consulting teams in the world. They really do make an enormous difference to our customers, helping them solve complex problems and defend critical infrastructure from real threats. I hope that my nomination inspires them and others to always seek excellence, to try and make a difference in our world and to endeavour though adversity, as success will come.
I would also like to thank Gary Poole and Adam Spaul for the nomination and constant mentorship, Victoria Wakely for the unwavering support of STARA, Andy Lethbridge for making me more pirate, and finally BAE Systems for believing in an overly enthusiastic Marine with a head full of ideas trying to expand his professional horizons.

Adam Spaul

Account Manager, BAE Systems Digital Intelligence