May 16, 2023 3:04 am
On this episode of Our American Stories, Jim Keyes grew up in poverty, got his first job at McDonald's, and became the CEO of 7-Eleven. It's a real American dream story!
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Happy streaming. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories and we tell all kinds of stories here on this show. And one of our favorites is what we like to call our American Dreamer series. And always that series is brought to us by the great folks at Job Creators Network advocating for small businesses and working hard to help them turn their small businesses into bigger ones. Today's story is about Jim Keyes, the former CEO of 7-Eleven and Blockbuster. Here's Jim with his story. So uh wow it's a it's an interesting uh I think an interesting American tale.
In many ways I guess you could say I'm the classic definition of the American Dream because I grew up in a challenging environment. Too many children, not enough money, three-room house, six children, two parents all squeezed into this one building literally with no running water and no modern conveniences like a thermostat. We had a wood burning stove that would stop burning in the middle of the night if someone didn't get up to replenish the the wood. And it would get so cold in the house that literally the galvanized buckets that we used for water, we had an outdoor pump would freeze over and we'd have to break the ice to get to the water in the morning if it wasn't cold enough to freeze the whole bucket during the night.
Cleanest, freshest water in the world. Literally that was the environment that I grew up in which interestingly never occurred to me was a situation of poverty. Until one day I believe the church came with a basket of food and I remember asking my mother at the time why why are they giving us this food and she said well we we need it we're you know we're kind of poor and I still remember trying to understand why they would think we were poor because I didn't feel like we were poor never did. But that situation is is tough on any family in any situation so my mother at the time I was about five years old was probably pretty tired of that situation no running water no indoor plumbing and found a relationship with another person and my dad found out about it and created quite a scene and she ended up leaving and so she left home when I was only about five years old. Interestingly they gave me the choice would you like to live with mom or dad and apparently I don't remember this part but apparently I I went in and put all of the things I owned into a little paper sack and came out and said I'm not going to stay with either of you until you figure out what you want to do and I went to live with my older sister who had just become just gotten married my mom had moved away to a trailer park my dad was still living in this house house without running water so I decided to go back and stay with my dad until one day literally walking home from school saw a red sign on on the house and the red sign said condemned and I didn't know what that word was and I went to went to my grandmother and said well what does condemned mean I think I was I was probably 10 years old or 11 years old at the time what is condemned mean and she tried to explain it to me and it just didn't register why would they condemn our house and it turned out that the visiting nurses who would come and take care of my dad from the from the town went back and reported on the conditions basically being no running water no heat and it certainly wasn't an adequate environment for someone dying of cancer and I didn't realize he was that bad off at the time but they ended up putting him in a VA hospital for the rest of his for the remaining year or two of his life and I got shuffled off to one of my brothers I ended up with the with my eldest brother living with him for a while until my father finally passed when I was 12 and and I had an opportunity to go in and live with my mom at that point so my mom she knew that the trailer park wasn't a good environment so she moved in with someone you know who could better you know provide for us with a home and that sort of thing and that environment was not a very healthy environment so the gentleman was a bit volatile you know and as I became a little bit older we would have natural teenager conflict that you have over music or you know the length of your hair or whatever it is but his volatility got to the point that caused him to take some extreme actions and then one in one circumstance I was in a situation where he and my mom had gotten into a fight and we wondered what he was going to do he was went to the garage we thought he was gonna leave the house heard the car start in the garage and I went down went down outside this is in the middle of winter in Massachusetts went out to the outside of the garage and found that it was locked and the car was running inside I had to kick open a panel of the garage and got the door unlocked finally by the time I was able to kick through a panel and unlock the door and by the time I got the door open I literally had to pull him from the car in the garage full of smoke and he was passed out and I had to lay him down in the snow and thankfully he was able to come back out of it we moved shortly after that that was that was about enough that triggered my mom to then find another place on her own and she got me out of that environment but you know you you think at the time why am I going through this I'm 14 years old why should I have to deal with you know this sort of situation but again you do you deal with it you you get through it you get to the other side it's not fun but you learn from that adversity that everyone has issues and you you know you say a little prayer of gratitude that you're not you know as volatile as that and it makes you go forward and it makes you go forward and be thankful for what you do have rather than sad about what you don't in many ways you know you look at it and you say wow those were tough times but that adversity that I dealt with made me the person I am today gave me the confidence gave me the strength forced me to be self-sufficient forced me to realize at a very early age that if I was going to survive I had to do it on my own uh and and I and I wouldn't trade that for anything today looking back I was very fortunate to have had that adversity and to come out favorably from it which some people don't but I think there's a huge lesson there that I that I love to share with young people today that uh adversity gave me strength that others don't have the opportunity to get and you've been listening to jim keys tell the story of his youth and not an easy story but as he put it it shaped him as he put it that adversity made me the person I am today when we come back more with jim keys his story our american dreamer story here on our american story folks if you love the great american stories we tell and love america like we do we're asking you to become a part of the our american stories family if you agree that america is a good and great country please make a donation a monthly gift of seventeen dollars and seventy six cents is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters go to our american stories.com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great american stories coming that's our American stories dot com we're celebrating our favorite holiday streaming day on may 20th it may not be an office holiday but we're working on it and I heart radio is dedicating an entire day to streaming our favorite music and podcasts on roku binge all the podcast episodes of dear chelsea with chelsea handler before the new season kicks off or dance in your living room to the hottest songs on the hit nation music channel on the roku channel for free we're celebrating our favorite holiday streaming day these days the impact of climate change is a concern for everyone it's a situation that demands urgent action and the folks at panasonic are making the well-being of the planet a top priority by launching the panasonic green impact initiative a company commitment to achieve net zero in-house carbon emissions by the year 2030 and that's just the beginning since the pandemic began we've been working hard to make the planet a better place to live with zero in-house carbon 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of 7-eleven and blockbuster let's get back to jim with the rest of his story my first job i think i made a dollar 75 an hour or something it was mcdonald's mcdonald's had just come to town they were relatively new they built one store on grafton street in wooster and it was fabulous experience in so many ways i can't say enough about it because one it was money i needed money for school two i learned very very quickly that i was a worker i learned self-sufficiency and at an early age that if i was gonna get by whether it was school work or a job i had to work twice as hard as anybody else so i put my head down and said i'm gonna be the best burger flipper that's ever been in this place and and literally practice flipping burgers so that i'd be faster than anybody else anyone that's ever worked at mcdonald's knows that that's a cherished skill and even something as mundane as cleaning the parking lot i would run because i knew that if i did it better than somebody else even though it was the lowliest of tasks or cleaning the bathrooms if i cleaned them better than anybody else i would get the attention of the manager who would perhaps give me a raise or give me more hours because ours were precious he wanted to work as many hours as you could and so i did get their attention and literally they rewarded me with the worst job in the store which was a shift manager the guy that had to stay and work late into the evening but i was barely 16 years old and i was able to be a shift manager which means they trusted me basically to manage the small late night staff and to cash out the drawers at night counting the drawers and filling out the bank statement and the daily financial statement at night there was a huge breakthrough in confidence because hard work is rewarded trust is important and there is virtually unlimited opportunity here because then shortly after they literally came and tried to talk me out of going to college and going instead to hamburger university and becoming a store manager hamburger university is mcdonald's internal training program they send their store managers through it's quite an advanced program it's both academic and practical application of managerial skills and store operator skills basically the train store operators and future franchisees in the system you know i don't know maybe i could have been ceo of mcdonald's through that through that path but i'm glad i took the path i did one other story about mcdonald's that was so important is that i got exposure to others in a different environment my environment was one that you see so much in in schools particularly in rural areas almost discouraging me from trying to pursue a career or a college education we don't do that here we go to work for the factory like our parents did and there's nothing wrong with that but at mcdonald's i had the opportunity to work with a couple of college students and they told me how easy it was to you know to get into college look you can do this we're doing it that really gave me the confidence that college is an option for me i would never have even considered it because my literally my guidance counselors in school said you can't afford college why would you even think about it don't don't disappoint yourself well meanwhile i probably had i applied to harvard i probably could have gotten a full boat scholarship given my grades and my activities etc etc but i didn't have that confidence i just didn't have that exposure to how it works how the system works i had no choice but to pay for my own education so i worked not only at mcdonald's i would also part-time driving a truck and so i worked uh two jobs at mcdonald's at night and then i'd be up at 4 a.m i'd literally work till the midnight shift and then close out and then 4 a.m be there loading my truck for the next day but the good thing about those two jobs is i was able to save enough at least the first year of college decided to apply early admission to holy cross because my mother had now been diagnosed with cancer so she was ill and i didn't know what i was going to do in terms of being able to try to help take care of her so i decided to go local throughout my career i've run into these periods of crisis or conflict or issues that occur very first job gulf oil i thought i had made it being one of the seven sisters the big oil companies i had a fabulous job working for the chief financial officer doing merger and acquisition work and really thought that i was on my way this was a great career move coming out of graduate school i had the opportunity to do this and four years into this we made an acquisition attempt that failed and it weakened the company even one of the largest oil companies in the world all of a sudden was crippled found itself in trouble because they tried to make an acquisition of city service and it failed the stock was pummeled and we had to figure out what to do next and right about that time boone pickens ironically made a run on gulf oil still remember the day he came to our shareholder meeting and stood up and gave the gordon gecko greed is good speech in front of the uh staid old melon family in pittsburgh pennsylvania at a shareholder meeting i was a kid at the time just wide-eyed thinking you know he's right this place is fat i walk around these halls and people falling asleep every day after their three martini lunches and hiding behind the wall street journal they could make a lot more money which is exactly what boom was saying well it turns out uh boone's pressure on the company caused them to merge with chevron so all of a sudden here i had this great career now i was out in i found myself in san francisco with chevron part of the merger team and and the guys at chevron was saying jim we don't we don't know how you got here or why to this position because i was in a relatively senior role uh on the merger team even and i was very young at the time and they said you're gonna have to pay your dues here at chevron and that was my opportunity to go to 7-11 one of the gentlemen that i was working for at the time during part of my short career at gulf took over as ceo of sitco which was ironically part of city service it was the downstream end of city service i had spent a lot of my time working on city service on the analysis for the acquisition potential acquisition of the company so when he took over as ceo of this of this entity that was just acquired by the southland corporation the parent company for 7-11 he reached out to me and said could you come and join so i left gulf and i went to the southland corporation slash 7-11 and crisis occurs again 7-11 they took on they did an lbo leveraged buyout of the company took on four and a half billion dollars of debt at 17 interest rates hard to imagine at the time anyone would do this is during the days of leverage buyout frenzy that occurred in the 1987 time frame well by 1991 7-11 the southland corporation was filing for chapter 11 protection and i thought i'm out of a job now what am i going to do it turned out that that was the best thing that could have happened in my career the way that people approach adversity they either put their head down and take on the role of the victim woe is me or they put their head up and say i'm going to figure this out in chaos is opportunity i kept my head up i looked at the opportunity i worked harder than i worked prior to the filing of chapter 11 and when we came out of it i had the opportunity to be the head of strategic planning for 7-11 because of the division that i ran during that lbo period and the bankruptcy period ended up outperforming much of the rest of the company and so i came out of it with an opportunity to lead the to develop a new plan for the new entity emerging from bankruptcy that then led to an opportunity to be chief financial officer that role of chief financial officer gave me an opportunity then to be chief operating officer so it was a wonderful sequence of events where i was able to work really hard and prove that at least one division of the company could excel i was then able to develop a plan for the new entity going forward i was able to take on the role of chief financial officer to finance that plan and then i was ultimately able to be the chief operating officer to execute the plan and chief executive officer to then sell it to the investment community that led to an amazing period of time from in a 10-year period we increased same store sales every quarter for for nearly 10 years and had a tenfold increase in the equity value of the company from the time i was named ceo in 2000 until we sold the company in 2005 and so it ended up being a just a wonderful experience born of adversity born of problems and crisis and challenge and that adversity that we faced the chaos that we faced turned into opportunity for me both personally and professionally and great job to joey and to alex on this story and you've been listening to jim keys talk about his life and i think the line i took away from all this is when he discovered this when he said i was a worker and that is so important to be able to put in a day a long day a hard day and a productive day the story of jim keys brought to us by the great folks at job creators network they're working to promulgate policies that make it easier for entrepreneurs to do their thing our american dreamer series here on our american stories get ready xfinity flex has unlocked shows and movies from all over the globe and you can watch for free right from your couch journey to japan with shows from anime network go back to the wild west with billy the kid and other mgm plus pics celebrate asian american and pacific islander heritage month with hits from kokawa and haiya and break out your dance moves with i heart radio's kpop hits playlist find new entertainment on xfinity flex all for free no strings attached say free this week into your xfinity voice remote $25 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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-16 04:35:50 / 2023-05-16 04:44:40 / 9