“I truly believe that I owe much of my success to the United States Air Force,” says Eric Sweet, vice president of construction management at Life Storage. “My military service was the foundation that guided me through life. I joined the Air Force at nineteen years old, and I completed my service as a young man with new skills, discipline, respect for authority, and the belief and ability to earn success based on performance.”
Sweet, the son of an Army veteran and a schoolteacher, served from 1981 to 1986 as a heavy construction equipment operator and member of the prime base engineer emergency force. He was expected to deploy at a moment’s notice, and when Hurricane Iwa hit Hawaii in 1982, he got the call.
“The Civil Engineering Squadron asked for three volunteers from the heavy equipment shop to work through the hurricane and keep the base clear for emergency vehicles and respond teams,” Sweet recalls. “I didn’t even blink an eye when they asked for volunteers—I worked with my fellow airman right through the eye of the hurricane. Getting through the eye wall is the dangerous part, as is exiting the eye.”
It took a hard month to recover from the damage of Hurricane Iwa. “That’s what’s so rewarding about being a member of the Air Force,” Sweet says. “It allows you the opportunity to achieve things you once never thought you would be able to.”
Awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal in part for his work during the hurricane, Sweet was determined to give back to the military even after completing active service. For two years after returning home, he served as a “weekend warrior” in the NY Air Force National Guard while earning his associate degree in civil engineering at SUNY Erie. He continued his education at night to earn his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering technology from Buffalo State University at New York.
“Growing up, I never really thought I was ready for college. I was unsure if I would excel in a college environment,” Sweet says. “But when I left the military, I had the courage, confidence, and the drive to go to college and to further my career.”
In 1986, Sweet secured his first construction project as a civilian. He applied his military experience and degree to one of the most important and biggest, construction projects in Buffalo, New York, in the late eighties: a baseball stadium. “To be able to be part of the Buffalo Bison’s minor-league baseball stadium project at the start of my civilian career really paved a wider path for me,” Sweet says.
Following the completion of the stadium, Sweet went on to serve as a project manager, director, or executive for a number of notable projects, including the 2002 World Cup stadium in South Korea, the Pentagon Renovation project, and a US Federal Courthouse in New York.
“To be able to use my military experience to work on sites like the Pentagon and the Federal Courthouse, I really felt I was giving back to our nation what the Air Force had given me,” Sweet notes. “Being one of the leaders in a construction management role was like being the sword and shield for the respective government agencies.”
Sweet found another organization in June 2014 that he could give his whole self to: Life Storage, where individuals truly earn their leadership by the respect of their people. The first-rate national storage company is renowned for its customer service, and Sweet felt that, like the Air Force, it was an organization he could give back to.
“That’s what is so rewarding about being a member of the Air Force. It allows you the opportunity to achieve things you once never thought you would be able to.”
“I used to believe that most companies were composed of A, B, and C players. After coming to Life Storage, I truly believe that you can have all A players,” Sweet says. “It largely depends on the corporate environment that the leadership creates, and the employees, in turn, promote.”
According to Sweet, Life Storage is a place where employees want to come to work—a place that provides excellent mentorship, and professional growth opportunities, and truly allows its employees the latitude to balance family and work.
“They understand that we all have times in our personal lives when we have special occasions or challenges at home, whether it’s the death of a loved one or the birth of a baby,” Sweet says. “We respect family values as much as we do corporate values. We don’t call our office the corporate office; we call it the home office.”
Because of the home office environment at Life Storage, Sweet says, employees remain invested and engaged. “I’ve been here nearly six years, and very rarely, if at all, do I hear an employee say ‘no,’” Sweet remarks. “When you ask if somebody can help you with a task, they pitch in to help you out.”
Sweet is able to give back to the company by not only leading and mentoring his team, but also working hard to preserve and promote the culture he has seen since his first day on the job.
“The culture here brings success to the employees of our company and to the customers we serve,” he says, “but also to the broader business of the self-storage industry.”