Military CEOs: Executives Who Learned Leadership in the Armed Forces | TiiCKER

Military CEOs: Executives Who Learned Leadership in the Armed Forces

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Karen Keller October 13, 2021

According to, six personality traits (ambition, drive and tenacity, self-confidence, psychological openness, realism, and an appetite for learning) are the key qualities for an effective leader to possess. While many business leaders hail from Ivy League colleges, a substantial number also have military backgrounds. Global professional services provider Korn Ferry estimates 8% of chief executives at S&P 500 companies have military experience.

In honor of October 13th as the U.S. Navy’s birthday – it was established on this date in 1775 – let’s take a look at some of today’s CEOs who served in the Armed Forces.

Alex Gorsky, Chairman, Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer, Johnson & Johnson (Tii:JNJ), is a proud graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY and served six years in the Army, where he ended his career with a Captain’s rank. After serving, Gorsky earned an MBA from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and two years later joined J&J as a sales associate. Over the years, Gorsky distinguished himself at the pharmaceutical and packaged goods giant, working his way through the ranks and assuming greater responsibilities in different parts of the business before being named Chairman and CEO in 2012.

Another U.S. Army veteran, Alan B. Miller, leveraged his military leadership lessons to launch and grow a major healthcare provider. A consummate entrepreneur, Miller is not only Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board of Universal Health Services Inc. (Tii:UHS), but also leads Universal Health Realty Income Trust (Tii:UHT). UHT is a real estate investment trust (REIT) with investments in 71 properties located in 20 states. At graduation from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, the Brooklyn native was commissioned in the U.S. Army and served in the 77th Infantry Division as a Captain. Both Fortune Magazine and The Wall Street Journal noted UHS as having the highest return to shareholders (38%) of all healthcare providers for the 10-year period 1990-2000. Miller was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 1991, and Financial World named him CEO of the Year in hospital management.

Before co-founding Kinder Morgan Inc. (Tii:KMI), one of the largest energy infrastructure companies in North America, Richard Kinder was not only a Captain in the U.S. Army but also served in Vietnam. He was responsible for an area from Da Nang to the Mekong Delta, traveling extensively from base to base via helicopter. After serving in Vietnam for a year, Kinder returned stateside, finishing his military career at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. As Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Kinder Morgan, the self-made billionaire now provides strategic guidance and leadership for a corporation that owns an interest in or operates approximately 83,000 miles of pipelines, 144 terminals, and 700 billion cubic feet of working natural gas storage capacity.

Another Vietnam Veteran, Frederick W. Smith, wrote a paper for an economics class outlining overnight delivery service back in 1962. After serving four years in the Marines, including two tours of duty in Vietnam, he took that vision and launched the Federal Express network, which began operations in 1973. That college paper concept is now an $84 billion global enterprise that serves more than 220 countries and territories. As Chairman and CEO of FedEx Corp. (Tii:FDX), Smith is responsible for providing strategic direction for all FedEx operating companies: FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight, and FedEx Services, which includes FedEx Office, FedEx Logistics, and FedEx Dataworks.

This article is by no means a comprehensive list of executives who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. But it leaves little question that military experience translates into business leadership – even at the highest levels of Corporate America.

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