3 Fortune 500 CEOs Who Served in the Military

CEOs Who Served in the Military

The transition from the military back into the civilian world is different for each service member. Invaluable strengths gained in the military such as leadership, discipline, and teamwork can produce positive results in your professional civilian career.

As you translate your skills and achievements from the military to the civilian workforce and frequently update your military to civilian resume, the focus is on the present. However, those same skills and achievements can take you from entry level to the top position of a company in the future. The ability to do so is possible and has proven successful over the years. Today, we’ll show you 3 Fortune 500 CEOs who served in the military.

Fortune 500 CEO Statistics

Below is an overview of the most recent Fortune 500 CEO statistics. These statistics will change as time passes, but the goal is to provide a bird’s eye view of the status of Fortune 500 CEOs today.  

  • As of October 2023, there are 53 women running Fortune 500 companies
  • Texas A&M University has 4 CEOs in top fifth of the Fortune 500 list 
  • University of Michigan and Penn State have 3 CEOs in top fifth of the list
  • CEO for Walmart, #1 on Fortune 500 list, is a University of Arkansas grad
  • Not all Fortune 500 CEOs went to college

Military Veterans are Excellent CEOs

According to an article in Military.com, the chief executive officer (CEO) is a position that carries many responsibilities and serves as the face of a company, particularly Fortune 500 companies.

The article also states that leadership from the CEO of a company is more crucial than ever. Evidence suggests that military veterans are excelling as CEOs and are more likely to deliver strong performance than their counterparts.

Although veterans feel they may face issues with the ability to get a high management job due to lack of industry experience, the article explains that veterans with leadership experience working in real-world situations, like the military, have an advantage over MBA graduates who are just starting out in the civilian corporate world.

3 Fortune 500 CEOs with Military Experience

CEOs Who Served in the Military

Our first Fortune 500 CEO with military experience is Alex Gorsky. We will discuss his background, what he has to say about his military experience, and how it helps him be a better CEO today.

  1. Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson (J&J)

Johnson & Johnson’s CEO,  Alex Gorsky, is an Army veteran. After graduating from the United States Military Academy (USMA), more commonly referred to as West Point, he served six years in the Army, finishing with the rank of captain.

Mr. Gorsky began his sales career at J&J and eventually rose up the ranks to become CEO in 2012.

In an interview with Fortune earlier this year, he said his military experience impacts everything he does as a leader. He appreciates diversity and believes having different perspectives is important.

He delegates tasks and gives independence to his team. This helps to combat the notion that people believe about military members — that they work with an authoritarian sense of leadership. Gorsky says, “When working with soldiers and getting opinions, the most important thing you can do as a leader is listen and make sure people are comfortable enough to bring you the right information.”

For more information on Alex Gorsky and his interview with Fortune, view the video.

  1. Frederick W. Smith, CEO of FedEx Corp. (FedEx)

Frederick W. Smith  is a Marine Veteran, where he served as an officer from 1966 to 1970. His military experience includes two tours in Vietnam, flying ground-support missions.

Mr. Smith ended his military career at the rank of captain, with a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts. Smith is not only the CEO of FedEx, he is also the founder and chairman. To some, he is known as the father of the overnight delivery business.  

FedEx’s leadership webpage  describes Mr. Smith’s responsibilities as providing strategic direction for the company. Since the founding of FedEx in 1971, he has been an active proponent of regulatory reform, free trade, and “open skies agreements’ for aviation around the world.

According to the American Academy of Achievement, Smith is a hands-on manager who directs every aspect of corporate strategy for FedEx. His time in the military and its supply distribution problem back then is what helped Smith form the idea of FedEx.

He wrote a paper about how to improve the distribution of items in a paper while at Yale. Surprisingly, Smith did not receive a good grade on the paper.

During his interview with the American Academy of Achievement, he always credits and refers to his Marine Corps experience and how his military service helps him face adversity and stay motivated. Mr. Smith said adversity has to be put in perspective. He enjoys the good and bad times that comes with running his company. He says, “Going to war puts a different perspective on things forever.”

To learn more about Frederick W. Smith review his biograph, profile, and interview with the American Academy of Achievement.

  1. Thomas A. Kennedy, CEO of Raytheon (Raytheon)

Dr. Thomas A. Kennedy  is a U.S. Air Force Veteran, where he served as captain and helped develop and field a space product while working on launch vehicles.

He’s currently the CEO for a defense contractor, Raytheon Company. Raytheon is a technology and innovation leader in defense, civil government and cybersecurity solutions, with sales of $27 billion and 67,000 employees.

According to Money Inc., Dr. Kennedy began his civilian career at Raytheon working on radar development. He became CEO by rising through the ranks at the company.

His ability to understand Raytheon’s customers’ mission needs and being able to guide the company in translating challenges into solutions is attributed to his Air Force experience, according to a 2016 article in The Street .

If you would like more information on Dr. Kennedy, check out Money Inc.’s article titled  10 Things You Didn’t Know about Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy .

Benefits of Fortune 500 Company CEOs with Military Experience

Research and studies suggest that CEOs with military experience are a great asset to Fortune 500 companies. Some of the benefits of having military veteran CEOs include:

  • Financial performance
  • Less likely to be involved in corporate fraud
  • Perform better under stress
  • Teamwork
  • Discipline
  • Ability to navigate unknown and uncertain territory

Women are CEOs Too

CEOs Who Served in the Military

Women veterans have yet to join the ranks as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. However, there are a small number of women who are running these large organizations in the male-dominated, corporate America.

Fortunately, the number of women holding the title of CEO at a Fortune 500 company is increasing. An article in Investor’s Business Daily refers to this as the Rise of the She-EO .

Many more women are operating companies that are not on the Fortune 500 list. Below you’ll find a list of women CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies as well as CEOs of companies not affiliated with the Fortune 500 list, such as veteran-owned companies and nonprofit organizations.

Cheryl Miller, CEO of AutoNation

Cheryl Miller  is the first woman CEO of AutoNation, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida automotive retailer. Her father served in the Army and later worked for the U.S. Postal Service, according to the Seattle Times .

Prior to becoming CEO, Miller served as finance chief, for Auto Nation and has been a part of the auto-retail industry since the mid ‘90s. As CEO, she leads 26,000 employees and operates 325 dealerships nationwide.

Ms. Miller’s leadership advice to women, according to Fortune, “Make sure you’re listening and learning. Make sure you’re working hard and don’t be afraid. If an opportunity presents itself, don’t be afraid to take it. Always think about possibilities, not limitations.”

Discover more information about how Cheryl Miller is settling in her role as CEO on Automotive News .

Phyllis Newhouse, CEO of Xtreme Solutions, Inc (XSI)

Phyllis Newhouse  is an Army Veteran. She founded Xtreme Solutions, Inc., an information technology services provider, upon leaving the military.

Ms. Newhouse is thankful for her military background which allows her to be laser-focused on her company’s mission. 40% of her company’s workforce has military experience.

Her idea for Xtreme Solutions, Inc. stems from her days in the Army, being at the forefront of developing computer technology for defense and homeland security. Since the military is five years ahead of the civilian market, she felt she’d be comfortable pursuing a cybersecurity company because she’s already done the work.

Corie Barry, CEO of Best Buy

Corie Barry  is the CEO of the leading provider of consumer technology services and products. She leads approximately 125,000 employees in North America and also serves on the company’s board of directors.

Ms. Barry began working at Best Buy in 1999 and served in financial and operational roles, where she was a team leader. She eventually became chief financial officer after several years.

When asked about leadership in the workplace, in an interview Seattle Times, she said, “Effective leadership means taking in the perspectives of colleagues with different journeys.”

To discover more about Corie Barry and how she’s handling her new role as CEO, check out the article in CNBC where she talks strategy for Best Buy.

Paulette Risher, CEO of Still Serving Veterans (SSV)

Paulette Risher  is an Army Veteran. Retired Army Major General Risher currently serves as president and CEO of Still Serving Veterans. Still Serving Veterans is a nonprofit organization based in Huntsville, Alabama that helps veterans and their families build civilian lives they love.

Ms. Risher believes that a veteran’s “get it done” attitude, strong sense of responsibility and sense of tribe are major positives in the civilian workforce.

For more information on Ms. Risher and the work of her nonprofit, review the article in Alabama.com News. 

The Pathway to Fortune 500 CEO

CEOs Who Served in the Military

Each CEO we’ve introduced today share similarities. For instance, some of the CEOs started at the company and worked many years until they found their way to CEO status.

Additionally, every CEO who served in the military referred to their military experience when asked about company operations and working with others.

The constant reference to the military experience is an expression of the fact that the sky is the limit for a military veteran. If you’d like to be a Fortune 500 CEO or even CEO of your own company, this mission is achievable.

Business Insider and Forbes Magazine provides tips on how you too can be a CEO:

  • Be confident in at least one area of your ability (Business Insider)
  • Climb the ladder (Forbes)
  • Develop and maintain mentor and mentee relationships (Business Insider)
  • Gain a strong foundation in finance (Forbes)
  • Always be learning (Business Insider)
  • Serve on a company or nonprofit board (Forbes)

For detailed information on making the journey to CEO, review the articles in Forbes Magazine and Business Insider.

You + Military Training = Success

The military offers high level, specialized training – training that you can’t get anywhere else in the nation or even the world. The best colleges and universities can’t teach this type of training. Nor can leadership symposiums. This is the type of training that enables you to succeed, according to an article on the American Express website .

The training you’ve received is what will make you wildly effective and successful in the civilian world, whether you’re a Fortune 500 CEO, decide to form your company, or be an employee who wants to make an impact on a company.

Just in case you’re still looking for more inspiring stories of military veterans navigating the civilian world and succeeding in their civilian careers, check out Beyond the Uniform, its resources and podcast.

Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for service-members transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a PhD in Finance.

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