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Business Development vs. Operations: Career path, responsibilities, and opportunities


Zach Lewis Denver, CO

I’m a recently recently separated Navy SEAL looking for advice and opportunities in business development and/or operations. I’m curious about hearing anyone’s experience in these fields, what your day-to-day life is like, and which position has the greatest upward mobility as I look to develop a career. I've recently moved on from my first startup so I’m also looking for opportunities in these fields with a tech or innovative product based company.

28 June 2021 10 replies General



Jim McNamara Morristown, NJ

Zach, Going to take a bit of a calculated risk here and guess that as a Navy Seal you are motivated by 'winning' i.e. rising to the top, taking risks, venturing where the risk averse are uncomfortable. I've spent the last 33 years as a pioneering Fortune 500 corporate intreprenuer and VC backed entreprenuer in Digital Media, Data, NGOs and now investing. my 'normal' assignment was an audacious objective, a blank piece of paper and a small team with the remit to create a product and a multi-million dollar business. That meant recruiting and leading teams of high achieving, self motivated, risk takers representing the largest consumer brands in the world to build business and revenues with a product concept that was still in development. It took finding a special breed of business person. Some of my best team members were former military and military intelligence vets. While my responsibilities focused on Business Development and Sales being part of small ground breaking management teams gave me tremendous insight and experience into Operations, Branding, Marketing, Product Development, HR - all the components needed to develop a functioning successful business. Based on my experience, and admittedly a few presumptions on your capabilities and mindset, I believe corporate innovations or VC backed start-ups in Business Development or Strategic Sales might be a great fit for you. I would be very pleased to have further conversations with you by phone if you like.


Rebecca Barbier Houston, TX

Agree with all of the above. I am in Operations because I hate sales. Its an easy decision for me. I love to be in the weeds of the business constantly churning away to ultimately drive success. In a service industry (engineering consulting), the BD side (predominately the sales positions) have base salaries with some sort of bonus component to their salary package. Because the bonus is tied to sealing the deal, we have several sales people that make the sell and then wipe their hands and move on to the next big thing. You have to have a lot of contacts and be fairly confident in what you are selling. In my industry, you would want to have applicable experience in the field of which you are working so that you are able to discuss with the client their concerns and options for solutions.

In operations, we take the sales and execute. I am responsible for holding teams accountable to scopes, budgets and fees. I love it because I get to see the project life cycle as well as work in the not so fun things like HR issues, real estate, legal claims, etc. There is literally something new to tackle each day. I am deeply involved in the strategic planning and work extremely closely with all members of our huge team to execute the plan. My compensation is not bonus driven although bonuses can be incorporate in to a comp package for operations. It likely depends on the role you are in.

I included all of this to give you a bit of perspective - which one of these would get you out of bed each morning?


Mary M. Burns Chicago, IL

Good morning Zach,
I'm glad to weigh in on your request and agree with many insights of the previous messages, especially about how varied Business Development is across industries and companies as well as how different the career path is for Operations. Both can be rewarding. Something I encourage you to consider doing is a tactical exercise: find a few job postings for each path - a few for BD and a few for Operations. Review the postings carefully. Check out the critical skills, competencies and other requirements the roles are calling for. Then ask yourself: 1) Which path feels better to me? Is more challenging? Has more variety of work? Is intellectually stimulating? Other? 2) Be aware of any "gaps" that exist in your background v. what the roles are calling for and what if anything you can do about them. If you're in Denver (as am I!), and you have interest in Tech and early stage firms, you might consider using a resource like is a national site that caters to all things Tech, start ups and firms going through acerbated growth. The site includes eight Tech Hubs - including Colorado. There are many worthwhile roles for both Ops and BD in the site.

I'm glad to be of further help and feel free to reach out with any additional questions:

Many thanks for serving and giving many years to our country.
-Mary B.


Kent Watson Monticello, FL

Thank you for your amazing service at the tip of the spear! Business development does equate more to a strategic plan. Operations does equate more to a tactical op with defined plans of execution. I had worked in Business Development as Economic Development, Second Congressional District, U.S. House of Representatives. Building networks and forward thinking are critical assets. Producing results is the key to upward mobility in business development. Operations is keeping the process moving from flash to bang. When a Technical Advisor to the Acquisition Executive, US Special Operations Command forward thinking was a must, but needing to align with Congressional support to get past established milestones for continued appropriation was most necessary. Your personality shall dictate if you are more attune to strategic planning and development vice fast and furious as the pulse of managing day-to-day operations. Day-to-day operations is like firefighting when the surge comes, and it will surface with force and fury! Best of Luck regardless of the track you pick! Chief Kent T. Watson, CW4, US Army, Retired, but now National Security Consultant. Postscript: More money is in Business Development than Operations...


Paul Tusting Salt Lake City, UT

Hi Zach,
As others have said, Business Development and Operations can look very different depending on the company and industry. You mention tech and product companies.

I've worked mostly on consumer products (outdoor gear, shooting sports, and consumer electronics), so my comments won't apply as much to most tech, finance, etc.

On the operations side, the work often is related to 1) the factory + component/sub-assembly supply chain (if made in-house) or 2) the OEM factories (if complete product is made by contact suppliers).

On the business development side, this can be divided between sales/marketing, R&D, and more conventional BD activities (mergers, acquisitions, collaborations/co-branding, tech transfer, etc.).

Although I'm based in SLC, I've worked with a number of Denver companies.
Please feel free to reach out 1:1 via the ACP site or using one of the means below if I can help in any way.

-Paul Tusting


Deb Yeagle Tampa, FL

Thanks for your service! Depending on your industry / market focus, I’d recommend thinking in terms of opportunities that provide the most potential for lateral moves across both BD and Operations to give you a better upward mobility track. In other words, to climb the career ladder, you have to have experience on both sides, and both roles must be approached with a project management mindset (schedule and budget are important to BD too!). Plus, making those lateral moves will help you be better prepared. In my experience, the best BD professionals have an understanding of the Operations side of the business, and vice versa. I started in Operations and then went to BD, and it helped my BD career tremendously. Depending on the size of the companies you are targeting in the tech / innovation business, there may be R&D leadership options as well, which requires both BD and Operations skills.

For me, in the Government contracting business, day-to-day life is much more fulfilling in BD, because Operations has daily challenges with personnel and is more customer-facing. However, with the Operations experience I had, I was better at BD based on skills gained in Operations, e.g., solution development, basis of estimate development, pricing strategy, etc.

In Operations, you can provide better support to organic growth opportunities. I’ve always believed that is one of the most untapped areas of growth, because the Operations leads don’t tap into customer understanding and “boots on the ground” experience to develop ideas for new services / products for current customers. On the other hand, in BD, you have more time and resources to focus on strategic growth.

I hope this food for thought helps you navigate your career options!


Frank Barratt Oak Park, IL

Hi Zach!
I would echo the comments of those below - similar business development and operations roles can look wildly different depending on what organization you work for. Even within the sector you mentioned - tech products - what is essentially "sales" could be different if you are "selling" direct to consumers or businesses.
My experience is mostly focused in consumer financial services from sales roles in wealth management to what I currently do which is definitely operations.

Based on what I know, business development is very much a relationship building function. Yes, there is a lot of technical knowledge, contract and pricing work, etc. involved but, in the end your success depends on being able to form connections with and influence decision makers. Operations involves relationships as well but, there is a much stronger focus on execution, plans and timelines.

I'd be happy to share more about my experiences if you're interested. Feel free to reach out and best of luck!


Steve Prew Littleton, CO

Hello Zach, thank you for your service and great to see another Denver, Navy Veteran on this site! I am a VP of Business Development for The American College of Financial Services and have been in the Financial Services industry for 25+ years. I describe Business Development as "high level" sales / relationship management. I work to manage relationships to 65 of the largest financial institutions in the country (ie - JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, Ed Jones etc). I consult on their learning and development programs, ensuring they have the appropriate designations available for their advisors. I also work to negotiate contracts, pricing arrangements and enrollment commitments. If you like, you're welcome to reach out to me directly at for a more formalized introduction / discovery conversation. Also, I work very closely with our Veterans Center which offers full scholarships to Active Duty, Veterans and their Spouses if you're interested I would highly encourage you to apply. Thanks again, let's talk soon.


Scott Bonomo Mesa, AZ

In the Financial Services industries there are hundreds of operations (business processes) strategy groups, project management, product management types of roles. A little more specificity with the type of role and or industry you are interested in would help to pinpoint guidance. For example, I am a Risk Manager at a bank covering numerous operations. I have supported a broad spectrum of operation from strategy groups who develop products (Bank of America Rewards Card, Life Event Services, Zelle integration) to back office functions like ACH (wires) ops, call centers ops, mortgage reconveyance divisions. I would be more than willing to share my last decade of experiences in the Financial Services industry if that is a sector that interests you.


Craig Fraser New Hope, PA

It depends on the industry and exact role in BD or ops you would consider. Business Development is a term very widely and loosely used to mean everything from entry level, business to business "sales" to what my industry (biopharm) does with BD which is sophisticated, complex product licensing, merger and acquisition, etc. transaction (and thus requires experience). I also believe most operations jobs are such that really play to the strengths of prior / transitioning military personnel. The principles used in most operations - whether assessing / planning, forming strategy and corresponding tactics, executing ensuring the right resources and tracking / controlling execution - and problem solving on the fly - are principles ingrained into someone like you.... An OPORD is a business plan and it's operational management and execution it is what you can do instinctively. Good luck!

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