Defense Media Network

Interview With VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald


Robert A. McDonald was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as the eighth secretary of Veterans Affairs, and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 29, 2014.

Prior to joining the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), McDonald was chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble (P&G). Under his leadership, P&G significantly recalibrated its product portfolio; expanded its marketing footprint, adding nearly 1 billion people to its global customer base; and grew the firm’s organic sales by an average of 3 percent per year. This growth was reflected in P&G’s stock price, which rose from $51.10 the day he became CEO to $81.64 on the day his last quarterly results were announced – a 60 percent increase from 2009 to 2013.

During his tenure, P&G was widely recognized for its leader development prowess. In 2012, Chief Executive magazine named it the best company for developing leader talent. The Hay Group, a global management consulting firm, consistently cited P&G in its top-tier listing of the “Best Companies for Leadership” study. The company received recognition for its environmental and social sustainability initiatives, including receipt of the Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence for P&G’s operations in Pakistan and Nigeria. In addition, using the company’s innovative water purification packets, P&G committed itself to the 2020 goal of “saving one life every hour” by annually providing 2 billion liters of clean drinking water to people in the world’s developing countries.

Robert A. McDonald vwer

VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald

An Army veteran, McDonald served with the 82nd Airborne Division; completed jungle, arctic, and desert warfare training; and earned the Ranger tab, the Expert Infantryman Badge, and Senior Parachutist wings. Upon leaving military service as a captain, McDonald was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.

I am still guided by that West Point cadet prayer, which encourages us to choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong. For me, taking care of veterans is very personal. I come from and care deeply for military families.

McDonald graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the top 2 percent of the Class of 1975. He served as the brigade adjutant for the Corps of Cadets and was recognized by The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturing, and Commerce as the most distinguished graduate in academics, leadership, and physical education. He earned an MBA from the University of Utah in 1978.

The secretary is personally committed to values-based leadership and to improving the lives of others. He and his wife, Diane, are the founders of the McDonald Cadet Leadership Conference at West Point – a biennial gathering that brings together the best and brightest young minds from the best universities around the world and pairs them with senior business, nongovernmental organization, and government leaders in a multi-day, interactive learning experience.

The recipient of numerous leadership awards and honorary degrees, in 2014 McDonald was awarded the Public Service Star by the president of the Republic of Singapore for his work in helping to shape Singapore’s development as an international hub for connecting global companies with Asian firms and enterprises.

McDonald and his wife are the parents of two grown children, and the proud grandparents of two grandsons.


The Year in Veterans Affairs and Military Medicine: Just a few years ago, you were at the very top of the American corporate leadership ladder, acting as chairman, president, and CEO of Proctor & Gamble (P&G), one of the most ubiquitous and trusted names in U.S. business. Then you got a call from President Barack Obama asking you to take over as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which was, at the time, a troubled agency. What made you leave P&G to take the position? Did you have a personal mission in mind when you accepted the offer? And how much did your own military experience influence you toward taking the job?

Secretary Robert A. McDonald: I very much appreciate the confidence of President Obama in this nomination and I’m fully committed to fulfilling this charge to me. That is to transform the Department of Veterans Affairs into an organization that delivers on its mission. That mission is to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have borne the battle, and their families and survivors.

And by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans, we are also creating an organization that lives by its core values. Those values are integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, and excellence.

My life’s purpose has been to improve the lives of others. My time at West Point and as an Airborne Ranger captain in the 82nd Airborne Division instilled in me a lifelong sense of duty to country.

My values are steeped in my experiences at West Point and in the military. Those values are what allowed me to be an effective leader at the Procter & Gamble Company. And those values are what I bring to the management of VA.

I am still guided by that West Point cadet prayer, which encourages us to choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong. For me, taking care of veterans is very personal. I come from and care deeply for military families. My father served in the Army Air Forces after World War II. My wife’s father was shot down over Europe and survived harsh treatment as a POW. Her uncle was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and still receives care from the VA. And my nephew right now is in the Air Force flying missions over the Middle East.

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John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...