Lead with a Big Heart

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Sean Kelley is a passionate and inspirational leader, startup advisor, and board member who uses an inclusive mindset and direct approach to effect global change. This week, Sean joins hosts Lindsey Pollak and Mike Abrams to reflect on leadership and culture in corporate America and what it means to be a people-first, systemic builder of culture.

Sean discusses what he learned about leadership from corporate America when he first transitioned out of the military to the civilian workforce, what corporate America taught him about leading in a diverse environment, and what he learned from working in founder-led cultures for some of America’s top corporate leaders. He also describes how his military training informed his leadership style in the corporate world and shares actionable advice for veterans in career transition right now.

Over his 30-year career, Sean has led teams at all levels of organizations in operations, supply chain management, diversity & inclusion, and talent acquisition. He’s been an advocate for diversity and inclusion his entire career, leaving a legacy of compassion, collaboration, inclusive leadership, team spirit, and operational excellence everywhere he has worked. His corporate career culminated in 2020, after scaling the global talent acquisition team for Amazon’s Worldwide Operations. Sean began his career serving as a U.S. Navy Supply Corps officer specializing in submarine logistics, completing two deployments at sea aboard USS Pogy (SSN-647).

Prior to joining Amazon, Sean contributed to the success of Starbucks and Microsoft, both during pivotal stages of growth and transformation. As a talent acquisition and diversity leader, Sean is known as an innovator, visionary strategist, and collaborator across organizational boundaries, unafraid to challenge the status quo to open the door more widely to the technology industry. He has built strategic talent partnerships, delivering long-lasting impacts, with HBCU Connect, City Year, the National Center for Women & IT, and numerous Veteran Serving organizations including Team Red, White & Blue, the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation Hiring our Heroes, and Student Veterans of America.

Sean is nationally recognized as a leading expert in corporate Military Affairs, recruiting, and transition programs. He architected Military Affairs strategies for both Microsoft and Amazon, firsts for each company and establishing both as leaders for the industry globally. At Microsoft, he led the creation of the company’s flagship veteran program, the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy, creating a model for future career skills bridge programs across the industry. Sean’s leadership propelled Amazon in far exceeding the company’s 2016 Joining Forces pledge to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2021, more than doubling that outcome. He was awarded the US Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes 2018 Colonel Michael Endres Leadership Award recognizing Individual Excellence in Veteran Employment.

Sean holds a B.S. Economics from the U.S. Naval Academy and an M.S. Global Leadership from the University of San Diego. He serves on the National Board of Trustees for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, is a strategic advisor to the CEO of The HBCU Foundation, and contributes to local entities that serve families experiencing homelessness, joblessness, and general distress.


Welcome to the FourBlock Podcast, a show that examines veteran career transition and the military-civilian divide in the workplace. General Charles Krulak coined the term “Three Block War” to describe the nature of 21st-century military service defined by peace-keeping, humanitarian aid, and full combat. But what happens next? Veterans are often unprepared to return home and begin new careers. We call this the Fourth Block.

FourBlock is a national non-profit that has supported thousands of transitioning service members across the nation in beginning new and meaningful careers.

Mike Abrams (@fourblock) is an Afghanistan veteran, FourBlock founder, and author of two military transition books. He’ll be representing the military transition perspective. Lindsey Pollak (@lindsaypollak) is a career and workplace expert and New York Times bestselling author of three career advice books. Lindsey will be representing the civilian perspective of this issue.

Veterans, explore new industries and make the right connections. Find a career that fits your calling. Join us at fourblock.org. Sponsor our program or host a class to equip more of our veterans at fourblock.org/donate.

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