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Ex-chief at P&G chosen to lead Veterans Affairs

Obama to nominate West Point graduate


President Obama plans to nominate former Proctor & Gamble executive Robert McDonald as the next Veterans Affairs secretary.


WASHINGTON — President Obama today will nominate Bob McDonald, a West Point graduate who served as the chief executive of Procter & Gamble, to take over as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to White House officials.


BORN: June 20, 1953, Gary, Ind.

EXPERIENCE: Served as U.S. Army Captain from 1975-80; joined Procter & Gamble in 1980; served as CEO, president, and chairman of the board from 2009-13.

EDUCATION: Bachelor of Science in engineering from U.S. Military Academy, 1975; Master of Business Administration, University of Utah, 1978.

FAMILY: Wife, Diane; adult children, Jennifer and Robert.

The selection of a retired corporate executive whose former company produces iconic household products such as Tide detergent and Charmin toilet paper — rather than a former military general — underscores the serious management problems facing the agency charged with serving more than 8 million veterans a year.

White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors on Friday submitted a report to the President finding “significant and chronic system failures” and a “corrosive culture” at the Veterans Health Administration.

The agency 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 V.A. secretary has been filled by retired generals, medical professionals, or politicians.

Mr. McDonald’s background is a significant departure, though he and his wife have deep family ties to the military.

Mr. McDonald graduated in the top 2 percent of his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He served in the Army for five years, achieving the rank of captain in the 82nd 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.”

Mr. 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 in the coming years.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, graduated from West Point one year before Mr. McDonald, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, finished up at the academy one year after him.

Mr. McDonald and acting V.A. 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,” Mr. Carter said. “He’s got that social connective tissue with them. The V.A. is more like a big business than a military organization, so his background probably makes him more qualified to run the V.A. than a retired general officer.”

Retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, who served with Mr. McDonald in the 82nd Airborne, said the nominee’s “business acumen, coupled with his dedication and love of our nation’s military and veteran community, make him a truly great choice for the tough challenges we have at V.A.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), usually an administration critic, hailed Mr. McDonald’s experience as a veteran and as a leader in the private sector, calling him the “kind of person who is capable of implementing the kind of dramatic systemic change that is badly needed and long overdue at the V.A. But the next V.A. secretary can only succeed in implementing that type of change if his boss, the president, first commits to doing whatever it takes to give our veterans the world class health-care system they deserve.”

Another Ohio Republican, Sen. Rob Portman, praised Mr. Obama for selecting “someone with a wealth of experience managing a complex organization who has also had a distinguished military career.”

How Mr. 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.

Mr. 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.

Jim McNerney, chairman of Boeing, said Sunday that Mr. 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,” Mr. McNerney said.

Mr. McDonald stepped down from his post at P&G in May, 2013.

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 global competition.

The Wall Street Journal and other business publications also reported that Mr. McDonald had come under fire over the time he spent serving on an array of corporate boards.

Still, he has won plaudits from many of his fellow corporate executives and has experience running a global consumer products firm with more than 120,000 employees and with sales in more than 180 countries.

The White House has yet to select a new head for the Veterans Health Administration, but top officials were intent on finding a replacement for former V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki, who resigned a month ago.

During Mr. McDonald’s tenure, P&G was recognized multiple times for its leadership development.

It is unclear how lawmakers on Capitol Hill will react to his nomination.

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