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Former Dollar General CEO Discusses Business Ethics, Faith in Corporations with Students

Cal Turner smiling wide

Cal Turner talking to room full of students“Figuring out how an enterprise can serve the greater good is one of the greatest joys in life,” Cal Turner Jr., former CEO of Dollar General, said to students. Turner was delivering an address to a packed room of students, faculty and staff to introduce his new book, “My Father’s Business: The Small-Town Values That Built Dollar General into a Billion-Dollar Company.”

The book details the origins of Dollar General and the history of the family that built it. The company first began in 1939 as a family-owned business called J.L. Turner and Son, run by James Luther Turner and Cal Turner Sr., Turner Jr.’s father and grandfather. Turner worked in the company for most of his life, serving in a variety of roles ranging from sweeping floors to cashiering. He later served the company as CEO for 25 years before retiring.

Turner discussed his journey as CEO with the students, emphasizing the influence of his faith in his business decisions. He said that writing this book allowed him to reflect on his life-long relationship with God. “I found that when I go back to things that happened, I discern the hand of God.” This, in fact, influenced the title of the book, “My Father’s Business,” which refers both to his “earthly father” as well as to his “father in Heaven.”

Cal Turner speaking, pointing to himselfTurner noted that, from the perspective of a CEO of a major corporation, the most important contribution that higher education can give a student is the desire to be a life-long learner. Turner’s experience transitioning into the CEO position influenced that advice. He said that when he took over the business, it was in “entrepreneurial chaos.” His father had pushed for the company to go public before a public infrastructure was in place. Turner was then left to promote Dollar General, the first company of its kind, to Wall Street, which did not understand the concept of the company. He said through that experience, he was in charge of exploring the uniqueness of Dollar General. He told students, “I hope you and God spend the rest of your time exploring your own uniqueness.”

When he became CEO, Dollar General consisted of 150 stores worth $40 million . Now, the company has more than 14,600 stores worth $23.5 billion. Over 75 percent of the population in the continental United States lives within five miles of a Dollar General, and the company prides itself on its distribution of affordable, consumable basic goods, particularly to those in need. Turner remarked that he is proud that his company helps hardworking people who may be struggling financially, and that his faith is what made the company what it is today. To students, he said, “I hope you have a sense of awe about what your relationship with God can come to. That’s your father’s business.”

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