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7 Successful CEOs That Served Their Country

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

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7 Successful CEOs That Served Their Country

Military service has long been recognized as a breeding ground for leaders who can thrive under pressure, think strategically, and inspire others to achieve a common goal. It's no wonder many CEOs in the business world have also served in the military. From Walmart's Doug McMillon to Leidos Holdings' Roger Krone, these leaders have transferred the skills and values they learned during their military careers into successful business ventures. In this article, we'll explore the military backgrounds of seven CEOs and examine how their experiences have influenced their leadership styles, decision-making processes, and overall success.

Introduction to CEOs With A Military Background

Military service often requires individuals to have strong leadership skills, quick decision-making abilities, and the ability to handle high pressure, and sometimes unpredictable situations. In this article, we will spotlight 7 CEOs who served in the military and we'll explore how their military experience influenced their leadership style and contributed to their overall success in the corporate America.

Why Military Leadership Translates to Business Success

Military leadership values such as teamwork, discipline, and strategic planning are highly transferable to the business world. Military personnel are trained to work under pressure, make difficult decisions, and execute plans effectively. Business leaders with military backgrounds are known for their ability to handle crisis situations, navigate complex challenges, and lead their organizations towards success.

Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart

McMillon's Military Career

Doug McMillon served in the US Navy as a supply corps officer before joining Walmart in 1991. During his time in the military, McMillon learned valuable leadership skills and developed a strong sense of duty and responsibility.

How McMillon's Military Experience Shapes His Leadership Style

McMillon has credited his military experience as a significant influence on his leadership style. He emphasizes the importance of teamwork, attention to detail, and accountability. He believes in leading from the front and leading by example, which is reflected in Walmart's culture. McMillon's service in the military has also given him a deep appreciation for the sacrifices made by military personnel and their families, leading Walmart to become a leading employer for veterans.

James A. Skinner CEO Of Walgreens Boots Alliance

James A. Skinner's military background has undoubtedly helped him in his role as CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance. His experience in the United States Army taught him discipline, strategic thinking, and leadership skills that he was able to apply throughout his career.

As the head of one of the largest pharmacy retailers in the world, he faces complex challenges that require a clear-headed approach and decisive action. His military training gives him the ability to assess situations quickly and make informed decisions under pressure.

Additionally, his time in the military taught him about teamwork, which is crucial in managing such a large organization. Skinner’s leadership style is effective at bringing together disparate teams across different locations, coordinating work efficiently towards common goals while fostering a strong sense of loyalty within his employees.

Overall, his military background shaped him into an accomplished leader who approaches problem-solving with confidence and determination- traits that have benefited Walgreens Boots Alliance tremendously over the years. He is to date, one of the most successful former military CEOs.

Marillyn Hewson, Former CEO of Lockheed Martin

Hewson's Rise Through the Ranks of Lockheed Martin

Marillyn Hewson joined Lockheed Martin in 1983 and worked her way up through the company's ranks. She held various leadership positions before becoming CEO in 2013, making her the first woman to lead the aerospace and defense company.

The Influence of Military Leadership in Hewson's Business Success

Hewson's military service in the US Air Force as a second lieutenant helped her develop strong leadership skills and instilled in her a sense of duty and responsibility. Her experience in the military taught her the importance of taking care of those under her command, which she carried over to her leadership style at Lockheed Martin. Under her leadership, the company has been recognized for its values, ethics, and commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Ralph Lauren, CEO of Ralph Lauren Corporation

Ralph Lauren, the founder and CEO of the iconic fashion brand, Ralph Lauren Corporation, served in the United States Army in the 1960s. Lauren was drafted and assigned to the AIT (Army Intelligence Training) program, where he learned about supply chain logistics.

Lauren's Military Service and How It Shaped His Life and Career

During his time in the military, Lauren gained a deeper understanding of discipline, teamwork, and attention to detail. These skills proved invaluable to him as he launched his career in the fashion industry, where he was able to build a global empire by paying meticulous attention to every aspect of the business, including design, production, and marketing.

How Lauren's Military Experience Influenced His Business Decisions

Lauren's military experience taught him the importance of setting a clear vision and strategy and then executing it with precision. He also learned the value of risk-taking and innovation, which were essential to his company's growth and success.

David Novak, Former CEO of Yum! Brands

David Novak, the former CEO of Yum! Brands, the parent company of popular fast-food chains such as KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, served in the United States Army Reserves. Novak credits his military experience with teaching him leadership skills that would serve him well in his corporate career.

Novak's Military Background and Accomplishments

During his time in the military, Novak was trained as a medic and served in a field hospital in Germany. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for his service.

How Novak's Military Experience Informed His Leadership Style

Novak credits his military experience with teaching him the importance of clear communication, problem-solving, and the value of a strong team. He applied these lessons to his leadership style at Yum! Brands, where he prioritized employee engagement and motivation, creating a culture of innovation and growth.

Roger Krone, CEO of Leidos Holdings

Roger Krone, the CEO of Leidos Holdings, a multinational defense, aviation, and IT company, served in the United States Navy as a nuclear submarine officer.

Krone's Military Career and Accomplishments

During his time in the military, Krone was in charge of a nuclear submarine's reactor plant. He was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal for his service.

How Military Leadership Prepared Krone for CEO Success

Krone credits his military experience with teaching him the importance of adaptability, strategic thinking, and crisis management. He believes his experience in the military has helped him navigate complex challenges and make difficult decisions as the CEO of a multinational company.

Conclusion: The Advantages of Military Leadership in the Business World

Why Employers Should Consider Military Experience When Hiring for Business Leadership Roles

Military service is an excellent way for individuals to develop critical skills and leadership qualities that are highly transferable to the business world. Veterans bring a unique perspective to the workplace, having already faced challenges and made tough decisions, which can make them valuable assets to any team.

The Transferable Skills Acquired Through Military Service

Military service teaches skills such as adaptability, discipline, teamwork, and leadership, which are essential for success in any leadership role. Veterans bring with them a strong work ethic, the ability to work under pressure, and a commitment to serving a larger mission. As such, we strongly encourage employers to consider military experience when hiring for their leadership roles.

In conclusion, the experiences of these seven CEOs demonstrate the significant advantages of military leadership in corporate America. From instilling a strong sense of discipline and teamwork to fostering strategic thinking and adaptability in the face of change, the skills and values learned in the military can be highly transferable to the corporate sector. Employers seeking exceptional leaders do well with crafting a talent acquisition strategy to attract current, and former members of the military. We can help. Please feel free to connect with us here.


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