Navy vet Jim Skinner’s story is an inspiring example of the American Dream. He began his career as a management trainee at McDonalds in 1971. Thirty-three years and plenty of hard work later, he took the helm as CEO, turning around falling profits and injecting new life into the company. In 2012, Jim retired from McDonald’s and his success at the iconic American company led him to Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc., the nation’s largest pharmacy retail chain, where he now serves as Executive Chairman.
Despite his impressive business career, Skinner doesn’t regard his resume as his highest accomplishment. He’s most proud of his accolades in the military and veteran community.
In 2014, he received the U.S. Navy Memorial Lone Sailor Award--which honors Sea Service veterans who utilize the skills learned in the service to achieve success later in life, “exemplifying the core values of Honor, Courage and Commitment.”
“To be recognized for ‘Honor, Courage & Commitment,’ is probably my most important recognition I have received,” Skinner said in an exclusive interview with Veterans Advantage. “That accomplishment, for me, really symbolizes the commitment of military service members.”
The Navy: Skinner’s Way Out
The son of a Navy vet, Skinner was born at a Navy hospital in Brooklyn, NY in 1944. After WWII, his family moved to Davenport, Iowa, where his father became a bricklayer.
“I was anxious to get into the military right out of high school,” Skinner said.
At home, Skinners’ school work and outside activities often fell to the wayside in favor of household chores. Though he had solid work ethic, his strict home life isolated him and he knew he needed to escape that environment, and the U.S. Navy was the answer.
“When I was at home, before I went into the military, I wasn’t allowed to do things that normal kids could do. I loved boot camp because everyone was required to do the same things. I wasn’t ostracized,” said Skinner.
He served nearly ten years in the United States Navy, completing three tours in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War on the USS Oriskany, and surviving a tragic onboard fire that killed 34 pilots and several seamen..
After service, Skinner started his career at McDonalds. He worked his way up the organization, holding virtually every significant position in the company. To each, he brought the discipline and teamwork he learned in the service. A true company man, he claimed a quarter pounder (without cheese) to be a near-daily staple of his diet.
“We knew when we elected him [CEO] that we would have a solid McDonald’s guy who had the respect of his peers and who understood clearly the mission,” said Andy McKenna, former chairman of the company’s board, when Skinner was named MarketWatch’s CEO of the year in 2007.
Skinner recalled long time Chairman and CEO Fred Turner asking, when he first got the job, “Did you ever think you’d be the CEO?” to which Skinner responded, “I didn’t think I’d be the CEO, but I thought I could be the CEO.”
Turnaround at the Golden Arches
The path to CEO took time and a plan. Right after becoming vice chairman in 2002, Skinner had to tackle a big problem: sliding profits.
He teamed with other McDonald’s Corp. executives to reverse the negative trends. By the spring of 2003, the group emerged with a strategy--“Plan to Win,” which focused on improving existing restaurants instead of racing to build new ones.
The “Plan to Win” strategy took hold and the company successfully revamped itself. Skinner was named CEO of the year in 2009 by CEO magazine. Also listed in the Power 30 of Money Magazine. "Marketer of the Year" by Advertising Age, primarily for the "I’m lovin’ It" ad campaign. Skinner also pushed for “hipper” items on McDonald’s menus, like Mocha and Latte coffee beverages. But Skinner was relentless focusing on the basics of Customer satisfaction at the moment of Truth, he called it, representing that customer exchange and interaction at the front counter and drive thru. Skinner’s efforts led to the best results in the history of the company during his tenure as CEO from 2004 thru 2012.
Career: Steps to the Top
Skinner’s advice for fellow vets seeking to climb the ranks of Corporate America?
“Get all the way in. Commit yourself. Learn how to add value to your company,” he said. Skinner held numerous leadership positions during his tenure with the restaurant giant, not just the top jobs. “Learn something new about your company every day. Do the best that you can in the job you are in. Service first. The money comes later.”
Skinner left McDonald’s but still serves on the board of Ronald McDonald House Charities. He also serves on the board of Illinois Tool Works and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. In 2013, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor “Circle of Honor” award.
Image Credit: https://culctemudomk.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/ethical-leadership/