Secretary of Veterans Affairs: Who Is Bob McDonald?
On June 30, 2014, President Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate Robert A. McDonald, a former chief executive officer of consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, to be the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs. He was confirmed—unanimously—by the Senate on July 29.
McDonald was born June 20, 1953, in Gary, Indiana, moving later to Arlington Heights, Illinois. His father was an ad executive for a Chicago agency. McDonald was an Eagle Scout and played football for Arlington High, graduating in 1971.
McDonald dreamed of attending the United States Military Academy at West Point from a young age. At 11, he wrote his congressman, Donald Rumsfeld (later Secretary of Defense) to ask if he could take the test for admission to the school. Rumsfeld told him he could take it every year until he was old enough to be admitted. McDonald did and subsequently attended West Point, graduating in 1975 with a B.S. in engineering. If confirmed by the Senate, he’ll be replacing a classmate: Sloan Gibson, USMA ’75, is currently acting VA secretary.
McDonald served as an Army officer for five years, mostly with the 82nd Airborne, during which time he earned an MBA in 1978 from the University of Utah. He had a scare while in parachute training; he had his air “stolen” by another parachutist and had to freefall until he could hang on to the man and hitch a safe ride to the ground.
In 1980, McDonald left the Army as a captain for a career with Procter & Gamble. His first assignment was as a brand assistant for a now-defunct laundry detergent called Solo. He went on to work with other products in the P&G portfolio and in 1989, he was sent to Canada as the company’s manager of laundry products in that country. It was the first of several foreign postings for McDonald, who later found it ironic that he’d originally joined P&G to be able to settle down near its Cincinnati headquarters.
McDonald worked in Canada for two years before being sent to Asia: first to the Philippines for four years, then to Japan, where he was eventually named the company’s president for Northeast Asia. In 2001, McDonald went to Belgium to take over P&G’s Global Fabric and Home Care division.
He returned to the United States in 2004, first as vice president of Global Operations, and in 2007 as chief operating officer.
McDonald was named president and chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble in 2009. He championed the company’s move into emerging markets. He also continued the corporate policy of moving P&G out of the food and prescription drug markets. Other achievements of note were his promotion of a drinking water purification product that his company sold at cost to aid agencies in developing nations and his making the company less reliant on advertising during daytime dramas (and canceling all company-produced programs) and bringing the company into the world of social media.
In 2012, there began to be a drumbeat of criticism about P&G’s earnings and stock price. An outside activist investor, Bill Ackman, leveled complaints about the company’s performance, saying that McDonald was spending too much time on outside activities. Despite cutting thousands of jobs and bringing up P&G’s stock price, McDonald was pushed out in June 2013 and replaced by the man he had succeeded in the job, A.G. Lafley.
Although he’s from outside government, McDonald is hardly a political appointee. His campaign donations have been to Mitt Romney and to his hometown Congressman, John Boehner (R-Ohio).
McDonald serves on the boards of directors for Xerox and U.S. Steel. He and his wife, Diane, have two grown children and two grandchildren.
McDonald’s oft-repeated mantra came from his time as a student at West Point. It’s part of the cadet’s prayer: “Choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”
To Learn More:
Bob McDonald, Former P&G Chief, To Be Obama’s Nominee To Lead Veterans Affairs (by Janet Eilperin, Washington Post)
Leading From the Front (by Peter Bronson, Cincy Magazine)
New P&G Chief: Striving For Humility (by David Holthaus, Cincinnati Enquirer)
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