As the longtime chief executive of a multinational corporation, Bob McDonald knows how to make a big business thrive. As a one-time Army Airborne Ranger, he knows what it means to take on a seemingly impossible assignment and succeed.
All that skill will come into play now. As expected, President Obama on Monday named the former Procter & Gamble chief to head the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs, charging McDonald with bringing a strong business sense to the sprawling and troubled government agency.
If Congress approves the nomination, McDonald, 61, will take over a department whose failure to provide timely care to wounded and aging warriors has infuriated veterans and political leaders alike.
“Bob is an expert in making organizations better,” Obama said during a news conference at VA headquarters. “In his career he's taken over struggling business units. He knows how to roll up his sleeves, and gets to work, putting an end to what doesn't work, adopting best practices that do.”
Fixing the VA is “not going to be an easy assignment,” Obama said, adding that, “like any Army Airborne Ranger, Bob has a reputation for being ready and jumping into tough situations.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has expressed early support for McDonald, calling him “capable” of implementing the change needed at the VA.
McDonald, who retired from Procter & Gamble in June 2013 after 33 years there, inherits a mammoth task from Eric K. Shinseki, the four-star general who resigned last month amid a controversy about VA employees falsifying records to hide long delays in providing medical services to veterans.
At the same time, the VA is under increasing demands to provide services to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
As the White House looked for a replacement for Shinseki, top advisors talked with several CEOs to come up with names of people who might be able to turn the department around.
McDonald’s name was suggested several times, according to one senior administration official. McDonald managed more than 120,000 employees at P&G, and had a reputation for focusing on customer needs.
On Monday, Obama said he considered that the key to any successful enterprise, “staying focused on the people you’re trying to serve.”
A native of Gary, Ind., McDonald served in the Army for five years and rose to the rank of captain in the 82nd Airborne Division.
McDonald said Monday that he joined P&G in the first place because he admired its sense of purpose, “to improve the lives of the world’s consumers.”
He said he hopes to bring that same priority to government service.
“We need to put care for the veteran at the center of everything that we do at Veterans Affairs,” McDonald said. “At Procter & Gamble, we always focus on our customer. At the VA, the veteran is our customer, and we must all focus all day every day on getting them the benefits and the care that they've so earned. That's the only reason we're here.”
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