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A tale of two Bobs: From the front lines in Sarajevo to the boardrooms of Bay Street

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November 10, 2023
By Todd Humber

Bob Berube on patrol in southern Croatia near Medari in May 1992 and in his office at Scotiabank where he is the vice-president of operations.

In the summer of 1992, the Canadian Armed Forces descended upon Sarajevo in the former republic of Yugoslavia.

Among the troops tasked to secure the facility was Bob Berube, a platoon commander with the Royal 22nd Regiment — also known as the Van Doos. He had been sent to the former Yugoslavia in the spring of 1992, at the height of the war raging in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia.

“Famously, we opened up the airport in Sarajevo,” said Berube. “Actually, on the first of July, we rolled into Sarajevo to secure the airport for humanitarian aid.”

As we approach Remembrance Day, and Canadians prepare to pause to honour our veterans, Talent Canada had the opportunity to sit down with Berube to talk about his service, his transition to civilian life and the unique skill sets he brought to the private sector.


Berube joined Scotiabank after leaving the military, and is currently vice-president of operations for the Toronto-based financial institution.

Securing the airport

Like most veterans, the stories of his service are understated. The Van Doos did far more than just roll into the facility. They received a Commander-in-Chief Unit Citation from the governor general for their actions in protecting the airport and allowing humanitarian aid to flow into the war-torn region.

“While surrounded and being shot at by belligerents on all sides, the Battle Group steadfastly executed its mission, securing the Sarajevo airport for humanitarian relief flights and escorting these relief convoys into the city,” reads the citation, according to Valour Canada.

“As a result of their presence, the anti-aircraft weapons, howitzers and tanks stationed around the airport were soon forced to draw back. The superb effort of the Battle Group led directly to the provision of critical aid for the war-ravaged citizens of Sarajevo and helped in large measure establish the United Nations in the eyes of the community as a vital force for world peace and security.”

A total of 15 Canadian soldiers were wounded during the four-week stint at the airport, before being relieved by French and Ukrainian peacekeepers at the end of the month. No fatalities were recorded.

Three generations

Berube is a third generation soldier. His grandfather served in the Second World War and his father served 35 years, retiring as lieutenant-colonel with the Van Doos.

Berube was sent to West Germany shortly after he turned 20 in 1990. After the Sarajevo mission, he served across Canada, went back to Bosnia and was later recruited to help create the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR). He also served in Afghanistan, Jamaica, and Africa.

Return to civilian life

The military is one of the few careers where it’s still possible to “age out,” Berube noted.

“You have a time limit on how old you can actually be,” he said. At the time he left, that maximum age was 55. He had 23 years’ service under his belt and had a decision to make — finish his career with the Canadian Armed Forces or return to civilian life.

His goal was to make himself marketable in the private sector by the time he hit the 25-year mark in the military. He worked with a career coach to get a grasp on how his experience, skills, knowledge and attributes would be transferable.

“I started off with any job is possible, except for maybe being a lawyer or a doctor, or any of those certified professional careers,” that would involve going back to school, he said. He was open to any industry, including security, defense, banking and finance.

Getting hired

Berube returned to Canada in 2014 when he was transferred back to Toronto. Once he put some feelers out that he was considering a career change, the interest came pretty quick.

“I had established a pretty robust network by that time (in Toronto),” he said. “I think that the groundwork I had laid created quite a bit of interest. It was great, maybe faster than I thought, because I literally got a job offer that day I landed back in Canada.”

His experience was that employers saw the value of the stereotypical military skills such as leadership, discipline, and planning abilities.

“But, it’s followed by ‘I don’t know how you understand my industry,’” he said.

When they think of an infantry officer in special operations, their minds might go to movies like Zero Dark Thirty or the last commercial they saw involving navy SEALS, he said.

“It’s the imagery, compared to the realities, where I struggle when I’m talking to the private sector to try and move beyond that,” he said.

His advice to fellow military colleagues is to “do the work for them, because they won’t understand what a major is, what a captain is, what a battalion is, et cetera.”

What veterans bring to the table

Veterans are conditioned not only to take charge, but also to work collaboratively, he said.

“Veterans often talk in terms of ‘we’ — what we did, what we accomplished,” said Berube. “So it’s very difficult, especially on a resumé, to say ‘I did this’ and ‘I did that.’”

Both sides have lessons to learn here, he said. Veterans need to be more forward about taking credit for work they did, and civilians need to understand that they “actually did not do everything on their own.”

He also talked about the concept of followership, which is as important as leadership. “You have to know when to follow and when to lead,” he said.

Veterans also are, by nature, loyal to employers.

“If an organization can embrace all of these attributes that a veteran brings, veterans will be extremely loyal,” said Berube. “It takes something pretty special for a person to decide that they’re going to sign an unlimited liability contract with the Government of Canada to send them into harm’s way.”

When they sign a contract with an employer, they’re coming with a frame of mind that “mission is everything, and if you ask me to do something I will get it done.”

People with military backgrounds also tend to know their strengths and weaknesses — meaning they work collaboratively when needed and are happy to seek advice from people with better technical skills or experience.

“I apply that even to this day. There’s many people on my team at Scotiabank that have years of banking experience that I will never be able to gain,” he said. “I rely heavily on them to analyze issues and help me solve problems.”

He also dispelled the notion that military leaders just bark out orders.

“There is this myth that it’s directional, it’s command driven, you give orders and people follow,” said Berube. “In fact, it’s the complete opposite. My sole and number one task as a platoon commander, as an officer and at every leadership level is to mentor and coach the person, the people that work for me, to take my position.”

Advice for HR

Berube isn’t a fan of resumé filters because applications from veterans tend to not make it out the other end.

“Resumés written by military people may be full of military jargon,” he said. “They’ll be very foreign and will not match with the type of experience that people have listed under a job description.”

Having a human read the application, rather than leaving it up to AI, is important, he said.

“Show curiosity, look beyond that resumé,” he said. “If you help that person land and translate all of the great attributes, I think they will find that they could find no better person that is going to be loyal, disciplined, and an intricate member of their team very quickly.”

When doing interviews with veterans, he recommends digging deeper — especially if this is their first job coming out of the military.

“When the veteran says something that is in military terminology, if they don’t understand, ask them to go further,” he said.

Battling boredom

While it may sound boring to go from liberating European airports to strolling into an office on Bay Street, Berube sees it as a natural evolution.

“Just like any organization, the exciting stuff you may do when you’re young,” he said. “Yeah, there’s a certain level of adrenaline that you may not find in the private sector. But you do understand that you can’t do that forever, and people need a plan.”

And the work in the banking sector is very rewarding.

“I don’t discount the impact that what I do today has for someone that walks into a branch that wants to get their first mortgage,” he said. “That’s impactful. And the bank, if you understand that as being a critical service to the financial fabric of the nation, is just as important as what the military does in terms of the international stage by promoting Canada and defending our rights and freedoms.”

November 11

Being the third generation of a military family makes Remembrance Day especially important to Berube.

“I had the opportunity, on many occasions, to walk through the European battlefields of those that came before me — both the First World War and the Second World War,” he said. “There’s all my peers, with whom I’ve gone to battle with, friends that I’ve lost that I commemorate on that very day.”

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