From Regimental Sergeant Major to Senior Safety and Risk Advisor

Gary Cullen (right)

Gary Cullen (right)

A quarter of a century spent meeting the highest safety standards as a soldier in the 1st Battalion Scots Guards meant Gary Cullen was ideally suited to a career in health and safety. After leaving the army as a Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM), he is now a senior safety and risk advisor at leading fresh produce company G’s.

Military achievements

Gary had a number of key achievements and highlights throughout his exemplary military career, which include becoming RSM, the highest rank within the regular rank structure. He said taking part in Trooping the Colour, representing the Army and the Infantry in various sports, being an instructor for junior, senior soldiers and officers and being the first guardsman in military history to achieve Warrant Officer Class 1 whilst serving at the Defence, Explosive and Munitions Search School, were other notable key achievements.

Transferable skills

Most of the skills and experiences from the military I have bought to G’s are making a difference, in terms of me improving things to the high standards required in my regiment and what I expected from my soldiers.
— Gary Cullen

Throughout his 25-year career, Gary acquired a range of sought-after skills that he believes are of great value to civilian companies. These include: Good discipline and integrity, ability to cope under pressure, ability to work effectively in teams or alone, ability to think outside the box, good teaching and instructional design experience. Good administration skills, confidence. Ability to deal with abnormal situations. Ability to remain calm and control accident and emergency situations. Ability to conduct detailed inspections and investigations. Excellent communication skills both written and verbal. Strong leadership abilities, accustomed to delegating tasks to ensure that all parties are on track to meet or exceed personal and organisational strategy targets. Exceptional analytical skills, with the ability to analysis a problem and create an appropriate solution. Strong work ethic, with focus on personal development. Effective leadership and management at junior and senior levels. Gary added: “Most of the skills and experiences from the military I have bought to G’s are making a difference, in terms of me improving things to the high standards required in my regiment and what I expected from my soldiers. The kit checks, the range safety briefs - everything had to be water tight. Not in terms of the law, but to protect the men.”

Challenges faced during resettlement 

Gary left in August 2013 after he felt it was time to step into the civilian world and looked at pursuing health and safety roles in agriculture, construction, transport and engineering. Although Gary found it an easy process to transfer his military skills to fit a commercial role, he still faced some challenges when transitioning into Civvy Street. He explained: “Stepping into civilian life with the worry of leaving teamwork and comradeship behind and not being in charge was a challenge. The thing that I felt quite strange was hearing people, when you were asking them to do something, saying ‘it’s not my responsibility’. Imagine if one of my soldier’s said that to me? It was definitely a steep learning curve. The first six months was a big culture shock.”

During Gary’s resettlement, to fully prepare to make the transition into civilian employment, he completed NEBOSH General, NEBOSH Construction, NEBOSH Fire & Risk Management and OHSAS18001 Lead Auditors courses, with an aim was of finding a job before leaving, which he did within three months - landing a role as Senior Safety and Risk Advisor at G’s, his first civilian job.

He offers this advice to military personnel looking to leave: “Don’t stop learning. Start preparing at least two years before termination of Service. Complete courses well before and plan your career.” Gary also suggests using Linkedin to network as much as you can.

Senior Safety and Risk Advisor at G's

Gary’s role at G’s is wide-ranging in duties and some of his responsibilities include reviewing and amending the Farms Group Health & Safety Management System, conducting annual reviews of all relevant procedures to ensure compliance is suitable and sufficient and producing and delivering in house accredited Health and Safety training.  

He said his military qualifications and training, which include a Leadership and Management Diploma, Section Commanders Battle Course, Platoon Sergeants Battle Course, Infantry Warrant Officers Course, Search and Security Training, Instructional Training and Fire Safety and Fire Training have helped him become a success in the role.

If you want a hard worker – choose someone with military experience because it’s a value to any business.
— Gary Cullen
Gary at work at g's

Gary at work at g's

Gary believes ex-military personnel are well suited to health and safety roles for a number of reasons. “In my 25 years’ service, safety was always on the agenda from basic training and continued throughout my whole career. Safety was then supported with key leadership training and management skills throughout each stage of the rank structure. We had the responsibility of keeping our team’s safe and commanding successful leadership, whether it was in barracks, on training, on exercises, playing sports, physical activities, functions, ranges, weapon handling, night drives, river crossings, live firing, adventure training or on operations. Each of these topics always included H&S and security, so it’s installed within every soldier. I would say that all of these activities helped me and provided me with the experience to adapt to most situations, so yes, we can think outside the box.

“All my military training assisted and enhanced my understanding on how to apply different methods to determine the significant hazards, where hazards varied from general living accommodation barracks hazards, military transport hazards, operational hazards, construction hazards, exercise hazards and live firing hazards.

“Attention to detail was installed by continued inspections, room inspections, personal inspections, vehicle checks, weapon inspections, kit checks etc. This also provided good skills in maintaining perfect housekeeping and can be applied anywhere.”

He gave this advice to Service Leavers wanting to get into health and safety sector: “Find out who the unit safety advisor is and start accompanying them on inspections to improve your knowledge. There’s also a lot of free online basic health and safety courses you can do - which is a good benchmark to work off. Also keep a record of what you do. Start putting together a personal development plan within the last four years of Service, detailing jobs you have done, things you need to work on and people you need to speak to.”

Adding value to business

Gary said Service Leavers add value to a business through their loyalty, commitment, enthusiasm and integrity, advising businesses who want to employ ex-military personnel, “if you want a hard worker – choose someone with military experience because it’s a value to any business.”

Read our interview with Beverly Dixon, Group HR Director at G's here: