Bob McDonald, former P&G chief, to be Obama's nominee to lead Veterans Affairs
WASHINGTON - President Obama on Monday will nominate Bob McDonald, a West Point graduate who served as the chief executive of Procter & Gamble Co., to take over as head of the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs, according to White House officials.
The unorthodox pick of a retired corporate executive - rather than a former military general - whose former company produces iconic household products such as Tide detergent and Charmin toilet paper underscores the serious management problems facing the agency charged with serving more than eight million veterans a year. On Friday, White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors submitted a report to the president finding "significant and chronic system failures" and a "corrosive culture" at the Veterans Health Administration, which has come under fire for skewed record-keeping in an effort to cover up the long waits it has imposed on former soldiers seeking medical care.
In recent years, the job of VA secretary has been filled by retired generals, medical professionals or politicians. McDonald's background is a significant departure, though he and his wife have deep family ties to the military. McDonald graduated in the top 2 percent of his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and served in the Army for five years, achieving the rank of captain in the 82d Airborne Division before taking an entry-level job at P&G. He is the son of an Army Air Corps veteran of World War II, and his wife's father was shot down over Europe and survived harsh treatment as a prisoner of war.
"The choice suggests a real focus on customer satisfaction, as opposed to what you might get from a retired general or medical leader," said Phillip Carter, who follows veterans issues for the Center for a New American Security. "It is probably a wise choice given the concerns right now of veterans."
McDonald, 61, graduated from West Point in 1975 and is about the same age as most of the most senior generals in the Pentagon with whom he will have to work closely. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, graduated from West Point one year before McDonald, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, finished up at the academy one year after him. McDonald and acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, who is expected to serve as his deputy, were West Point classmates.
"McDonald is right in the sweet spot of the current four-stars in the Pentagon," Carter said. "He's got that social connective tissue with them. The VA is more like a big business than a military organization, so his background probably makes him more qualified to run the VA than a retired general officer."
How McDonald relates to the younger population of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan - smaller in numbers compared with the overall group of veterans but powerful politically - will be critical. McDonald has maintained his Army ties over the years as a major supporter of the U.S. Military Academy and as a life member of the U.S. Army Ranger Association and the 75th Ranger Regiment Association. He is also a member of the Association of Graduates of West Point, where he established the McDonald Cadet Leadership Conference to address emerging global issues.
Jim McNerney, chairman of Boeing Co., said in a statement Sunday that McDonald was "an outstanding choice for this critically important position."
"Prior to retirement, he navigated Procter & Gamble through the difficult post-financial-crisis years, where he expanded business in developing markets and made substantial progress improving the efficiency of the company's internal operations," McNerney said.
McDonald stepped down from his post at P&G in May 2013 amid some controversy. Analysts reported at the time that large investors and some employees were losing confidence in his ability to expand the company in the face of increasing global competition.
Age: 61; born June 20, 1953, in Gary, Ind.; grew up in Chicago.
Experience: Procter & Gamble, 1980, where he was CEO, president and chairman of the board from 2009 to 2013; U.S. Army from 1975-1980, attained rank of captain in the 82d Airborne Division.
Education: West Point, engineering degree, 1975; MBA, University of Utah, 1978.