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I Am Merkle: Veteran's Day 2022, Pt. 1

Chad Cochran and Lee Wittschen

I Am Merkle is a series of interviews that showcase the individuals who make Merkle a diverse and great place to work. This month features both National Military Family Month and Veterans Day. To honor both November observances, we will be featuring four members of our Military BRG to share how their involvement with the military has shaped them into who they are today.

First up, we are highlighting veterans Chad Cochran and Lee Wittschen.

Chad is a retired First Sergeant who served 23 years in the United State Army as a combat engineer with deployments to Iraq (2003) and Afghanistan (2010). At Merkle, Chad has worked in several capacities including solution management, product management, account management, project management, campaign management, production management, security management, and information technology management.

Lee began his career in the Air Force, rising to the rank of Captain within the Electronic System Division’s Intelligence directorate, leading the global deployment of intelligence gathering and processing solutions. Lee currently leads the TM&E (Travel, Media, and Entertainment) and High-Tech delivery units in the Technology service line. His teams provide data management services supporting campaign, analytic, and business intelligence functions.

1. Tell us about yourself; where did you grow up? Where do you live now?

Chad: I am a solution manager within the Data Management team supporting our government accounts. I grew up in Little Rock, AR and currently reside in Benton, AR with my wife (Tracy) and seven children (Josie, Emily, Annie, Caleb, Carly, Casey, and Madie).

Lee: I’m a delivery lead within the Marketing Technology Services group. I grew up as a bit of a nomad, living in Florida, Ohio, and South Dakota. I currently reside in the Atlanta area with my wife.

2. How/why did you get involved in the Military BRG?

Chad: As a veteran who served in the Unites States Army for more than 23 years, being involved in the Military BRG allows me to continue serving the military community by promoting a culture here at Merkle that values the experiences of our nation’s service members.

Lee: As a veteran, I personally experienced the transition from the military to the private sector and know that this process can be daunting. I got involved with the Military BRG to help make this better for veterans looking to join dentsu and to help our firm attract and hire more veterans.

3. What is one way you will bring awareness to the month of November for Veterans Day and National Military Family Month?

Chad: In partnership with Meta, I will participate in a veteran panel to discuss veteran topics such as how to market to veterans, transitioning to a corporate workplace, and others veteran-related topics.

Lee: I’m a bit restrained in this area and simply fly a flag at home during the month of November.

4. How has your experience in the military services affected the way you work with your colleagues?

Chad: My military service has affected the way I work with my colleagues by first being willing to accept that everyone has their own unique background that they bring to the team and secondly that their unique background overlaid with Merkle’s core values builds a stronger and cohesive team that can accomplish many great things for our clients and company.

Lee: My military service really shaped who I am professionally in many ways. One learning that has really stuck with me is that, as a leader, one of your most important responsibilities is knowing your troops and looking out for their welfare. This extends beyond the workplace. People are more than their work persona and other aspects of life can spill into the workplace. It’s important to know your team and understand any issues they are facing in both their professional and personal lives. While some issues may be out of your span of control, you can provide guidance, compassion, or simply be a good listener.

5. How has your military experience impacted the way you do things at work?

Chad: Because I’m a vet:

  • I’m able to handle many different stressful situations
  • I’m able to provide self-direction along with the motivation to achieve many goals
  • I’m able to adapt to many different circumstances and apply my training across disciplines
  • I’m able to quickly move through the teaming process
  • I’m able to thrive in chaos and be decisive in ambiguous situation
  • I’m able to create a foundation of acceptance and inclusion because I was training from the beginning of my military career to interact, connect, and trust those that come from a diverse set of backgrounds

Lee: As a military member, you are taught to focus on achieving the mission, whatever that may be. The mission is not always what you see in the movies, it can be as tedious as fixing a vehicle,       preparing meals, re-arming weapon systems, building a bridge, or delivering an information management system. One must understand your objective, obstacles, and resources at your disposal; define the action plan (the who, what, when); develop contingency plans; and execute. And once you start, be prepared to adapt and overcome – to think outside the box to accomplish your goals once you run into problems, because there are always problems.

6. What is a moment in your life that defined or shaped who you are today? 

Chad: When I was eight years old and just starting to play youth sports, my dad chose to step away from having a very successful retail job that kept him away from home in the evening and then find a job that allowed him to be home each night to take me and my brother to all our extracurricular activities. In reflection, he chose family over career.  He was always there for us…and I want to always be there for my family.

Lee: There are a lot of moments that help shape us over the years. The moment that I became a father is one that really transformed my life. In an instant everything was re-prioritized, thought processes altered, and what matters most changed. That moment forever changed my understanding and practice of compassion.

7. What inspires you about your workplace culture?

Chad: What inspires me most about my workplace culture is that at Merkle, our leadership truly listens to everyone as peers, which makes it easy to share openly our ideas to continually improve upon our delivery capabilities for our clients.

Lee: What really energizes me about our workplace is the people and the high level of collaboration. Over the past 14 years, I have never encountered someone who wasn’t willing or able to jump in and help when needed.

8. If you currently weren’t doing what you do today professionally, what would you be doing?

Chad: I’m actually living the dream now. For the past two years, I have led a professional development and life coaching program in my local community for veterans to re-integrate into civilian life and navigate PTSD and other service-related issues.

Lee: Even though I was too tall to be one in the Air Force, being a pilot would be my dream job.

9. What was the first concert you went to?

Chad: “The Texas Troubadour” Ernest Tubb with his legendary “Thanks” guitar.

Lee: Scorpions – a really long time ago

10. Rapid fire

1. Favorite food

Chad: Mexican…I wish every truck was a taco truck

Lee: Mexican food

2. Favorite TV show/movie

Chad: TV show: Northern Exposure. Movie: It’s a Wonderful Life.

Lee: TV Show: Seinfeld. Movie: Saving Private Ryan

3. Favorite hobby/activity

Chad: Competing in triathlons and attending my kids various sporting events (swim, ballet/jazz/tap, softball, baseball, soccer, football, basketball, tennis, and track & field)

Lee: Working out.

5. Favorite book

Chad: Band of Brothers by Stephen A. Ambrose. I read it at the beginning of my deployment to Iraq in 2003. I kept thinking there is no way I can complain about any of my current situations knowing all the struggles Easy Company went through in WWII.

Lee: Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl

6. Guilty pleasure

Chad: Eating cookies right out of the oven right before dinner.

Lee: Sleeping in late.

7. Best advice or mantra you live by

Chad: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. 'Til your good is better and your better is your best.” – St. Jerome

Lee: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” - Dalai Lama  

“If you’re going through hell, keep going” - Winston Churchill