In 1980, 59 percent of CEOs at publicly traded firms had served in the military. Last year that number had decreased to 8 percent.
Although this percentage is down significantly from 1980, it is still well above the national percentage of the entire male population (3 percent).
There are studies that suggest chief executives who have served in the military are more honest and have longer tenures than those with no military service. Military service can teach leadership and responsibility, both essential qualities in a CEO. In honor of July 4th, we want to spotlight eight CEOs who have served our country in the military and what their service means to them.
Daniel Akerson (Navy)
CEO of General Motors
Alex Gorsky (Army)
CEO of Johnson & Johnson
Before becoming CEO of Johnson & Johnson, Gorsky served in the Army for 6 years, retiring as a captain. And like many other business executives, his time in the military prepared him for his corporate career:
“I learned how to live with, work with, and serve with very diverse teams and individuals. I quickly discovered no one had a lock on the right answers.”
John Luke Jr. (Air Force)
CEO of MeadWestvaco
Luke served as an Air Force pilot in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. As a veteran himself, Luke has spoken about why he believes veterans are an investment in the future:
“Veterans have special abilities and common traits, including discipline, maturity, adaptability and dedication. They operate with integrity and high ethical standards in all that they do.”
Lowell McAdam (Navy)
CEO of Verizon
Now the CEO of Verizon, you could say that McAdam has had a very successful career. He has said that starting his career in the Navy was the perfect way to begin.
"It’s a great way for anybody to start any career, no matter what they are involved in. The things you learn in the service will stay with you your whole life," he says.
Robert McDonald (Army)
CEO of Procter & Gamble
McDonald speaks very highly of his time in the Army and shares this lesson on character he learned at West Point:
“I learned that the character of a leader is their most important attribute. Character is defined as always putting the needs of the organization above your own. As a Captain in the Army, I always ate after the soldiers in my command. At P&G the leader should always take personal responsibility for results of their organization.”
*This week A.G. Lafley, the former CEO of P&G, retakes the reigns as chief executive. Coincidentally, Lafley also served in the military, managing retail and service operations for the Navy in Japan during the Vietnam War.
Robert Myers (Army)
CEO of Casey’s General Store
Don Lamberti, the founder of Casey’s General Store, hired Myers when he retired from the Army as a colonel in 1988. Much of Myers’ military career had been in logistics. Lamberti said:
“Who better to run Casey’s new distribution chain than a military logistics officer, who had been responsible for figuring out complicated schedules to make sure soldiers were fed, clothed and armed when, where and how they needed to be?”
Josue Robles (Army)
CEO of USAA
Robles originally wanted to be a doctor, and when he was drafted in 1966 he didn’t intend on making the Army a career, but he soon found that life in the Army fulfilled his desire to serve others and his country.
“I hadn’t set out to make the military my career, but I moved quickly through the system and was a brigadier general by the time I was 42. The Army treated me well.”
On leading USAA he says, “[It] has enabled me to continue my service to our nation and the U.S. military. We live in a country where people can speak out and worship freely. For that, we should thank our men and women in uniform.”
Fred Smith (Marine Corps)
CEO of FedEx
Smith served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. He credits his success to his time in the military:
“Much of our success reflects what I learned as a Marine. The basic principles of leading people are the bedrock of the Corps. I can still recite them from memory, and they are firmly embedded in the FedEx culture. We teach them daily in our own Leadership Institute, which turns out the thousands of managers needed to run our operating companies.”