As people around the world demonstrate their gratitude to those who have served their countries, we look at the extraordinary story of Hector Cabrera – and the path which led him from over two decades in the military and law enforcement to a role in civilian life as a Key Account Manager at Smiths Detection.
It began when, as a small boy, Hector arrived in the USA from Mexico with his mother and two siblings. Quickly realising education would open doors to a different life, Hector taught himself English, studied hard at high school and went on to college, working as a janitor to pay his way.
“The pivotal point in my life was watching the tragedy of 9/11 unfold – I knew I had to give something back to this country and decide to enlist. I joined the US Air Force and ultimately became a Senior Master Sergeant in Security Forces.
During this time in the Air Force, Hector continued his education gaining a B.Sc. in Economics AND worked weekends as a volunteer firefighter.
Next move – law enforcement
“In 2007, my family needed me and I had to go home. I left my full-time position in the military but joined the Reserves. At this point, I decided to move into law enforcement and chose the US Border Patrol federal agency. I loved this role and felt, as an immigrant myself, I could approach the task with empathy whilst still ensuring the law was upheld.”
In addition to people attempting to illegally enter the US, Hector was dealing with everything from gangs to narcotics and sex trafficking and suffered a range of different injuries in the line of duty. Despite handling such a demanding and dangerous job, Hector doggedly continued to study and gained an MBA from the University of Southern California. In 2019, Hector deployed to Iraq in the Reserves and on his return, went back to Border Control until, in 2021, along came fate yet again….
“In the pursuit of suspects, I was hit by a car, severely injured and in need of several surgeries. While recovering, I met with my best friend who suggested it was time I gave up the action filled life and moved into the business world. He happened to work for Smiths Detection and knew of a perfect position for me. I did my homework on the company and realised that I had used many different Smiths Detection products in the field.”
A tough transition to civilian life
Hector found the interview process challenging and was very apprehensive as he competed against experienced industry professionals for the role at Smiths Detection. However, he was confident in his transferrable strengths and skills and felt the military and law enforcement ethos of ‘integrity, service before self and excellence in all we do’, is also reflected in the Smiths Group values.
“I was filled with self-doubt but found I was able to draw on my background to respond to the questions. I really believe the interviewers saw my potential to succeed in this new role, to develop relationships with key customers and help them find the right solutions for their businesses. Starting my job was an incredible experience. My supervisor had arranged a meeting with the entire Americas leadership team, giving me the opportunity to immediately connect and feel part of the team.”
The transition was not easy, and Hector still works on it daily. Changing from such a physical career to sitting at a desk was a huge cultural shock. Completely new internal processes have to be mastered and the structure is so different – having always been told what to do, Hector was suddenly expected to take the initiative and work independently.
“Everyone at Smiths Detection has been welcoming and extremely supportive. I was really frightened of losing the team environment and camaraderie of the military and law enforcement but in fact, I have simply swapped one amazing team for another.”
A new career trajectory
Moving away from the security of the military and law enforcement made Hector feel very vulnerable. Previously, he was always on an established trajectory with set milestones and suddenly that was stripped away – along with his sense of purpose.
“Despite an early bout of ‘imposter syndrome’, I quickly developed a new sense of purpose as I began to invest in the company and realised the company is equally invested in me and values my contribution. I have met other veterans who are flourishing at Smiths Detection and I’m looking forward to an incredibly exciting future. There are clear opportunities to create my own career trajectory with the full support of my colleagues and corporate leadership.
Hector started working in the Urban sector but has now also moved into Aviation and is looking forward to learning about all the company’s different markets. In the long term, he would love to move into a leadership role, either in Smiths Detection or within the Smiths Group. With a fellow veteran and colleague, he has also set up a Veterans Employee Resource Group to support others joining the company. Hector being Hector, he is still serving in the Reserves and working on a Doctorate in Organisational Change and Leadership
“I truly believe in what I’m doing now – but also in what I have done throughout my life. I wouldn’t change my experiences for the world and, as a man of faith, believe I have been nudged in the right direction several times. It may have been a long route, but that’s how I arrived at Smiths Detection, and I couldn’t be happier.”