Topics: Veterans Affairs

Why West Point, Fortune 500 were no prep for this new cabinet official

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Politics,Watchdog,Mark Flatten,Barack Obama,Veterans Affairs,Health Care,Veterans,Procter and Gamble,Magazine

Jumping out of airplanes as an Army Ranger, climbing Mount Fuji and rising through the management ranks of a Fortune 500 company should be good training for Robert McDonald, the man picked to lead the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs.

The new job figures to be the toughest yet for McDonald, 61, who retired as CEO of Procter & Gamble after a shareholders’ rebellion over the pace of reforms at the consumer-driven company.

If confirmed by the Senate, McDonald will head the largest civilian agency in the federal government, with 340,000 employees who are protected by laws and regulations that make it difficult for them to be fired, demoted or disciplined.

It won't be like selling soap. This time, the lives and well-being of thousands of veterans are at stake.

McDonald does not share the lineage of his most recent predecessors, who tended to be retired military officers. But he does come with a strong military heritage.

He was born in Gary, Ind., and raised near Chicago. He graduated in the top 2 percent of his class at West Point in 1975, then spent five years in the Army as a Ranger and paratrooper, primarily in the 82nd Airborne Division.

After leaving the service as a captain, McDonald went to work at P&G in 1980, helping to manage top brands such as Dawn, Cascade and Tide.

In the late 1980s, he was put in charge of the company's laundry products in Canada, then spent the next decade in Asia, where he headed P&G's businesses in the Philippines, Japan and Korea.

McDonald returned to the U.S. in 2004 as vice chairman of global operations, and later as the company’s chief operating officer from 2007 to 2009, when he became CEO.

Under McDonald’s watch, P&G had annual sales of more than $84 billion, employed 120,000 people and served five billion customers. The company’s stock price rose by 60 percent during his tenure as chief executive.

In 2012, McDonald faced a shareholder’s revolt led by a hedge fund manager dissatisfied with the pace of cost-cutting to improve profit margins and product pricing to improve sales. McDonald retired in May 2013.

President Obama praised McDonald's corporate success and military background when he announced the appointment last month. The president also recounted a saying popular in Japan, where McDonald spent six years.

“He who climbs Mount Fuji is a wise man,” Obama said. “He who climbs it twice is a fool. Now Bob actually climbed Mount Fuji, once. Bob is a wise man.”

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