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Cal Turner, Jr., Former CEO of Dollar General Corporation
April 1, 2008

"All In The Family"

On January 25th 1940, the second child and oldest son of Hurley Calister Turner and Laura Katherine Goad Turner arrived in the world. It was an inauspicious occasion by most accounts, taking place at the Turner home during a snowstorm in Scottsville Kentucky. On that day a bouncing baby boy, Cal Turner, Jr., joined his older sibling Laura and preceded his other siblings, Betty and Steve, into the Turner clan. They were all a part of a larger family, too, one that included Calís grandfather, J. L Turner, and grandmother, Josie. All of them were involved, in varying degrees, with a company that would eventually grow into a Fortune 300 Corporation and they were all in the family.

In the early days of the business, Calís grandfather would travel the countryside bidding on and purchasing the inventories of stores going out of business. On one occasion he even bought a building. His grandmother, Josie, would often come along to cook lunch and dinner for the traveling Turner entourage. Calís grandfather bankrolled the enterprise and his father penciled stock and learned the trade, while Calís mother, Laura Katherine, stayed at home looking after the four Turner children. Her other responsibilities included hosting civic and social functions in her home with her usual warmth and grace and later expanded to include feeding and boarding business travelers in town for meetings with the company.

The company that eventually became Dollar General Corporation was actually birthed within months of Cal Jr.ís own birth and it was named Turner, too, J. L. Turner and Son Wholesale Notions and Hosiery. Thatís what you call a descriptive title. The year was 1939 and J. L. and son, Cal Sr., were founding partners. Cal Jr.ís retailing career didnít begin until 1953 when he sold one pair of undergarments to a farmer for the farmerís wife. The cash register rang up 39 cents.

Another memorable event had taken place in Calís life a couple of years earlier. Eleven year old, Cal, Jr., harmlessly minding his own business after a youth meeting at the Scottville Methodist Church, was rocking on his uncleís porch and pondering the words and medley to a Christian classic, ďThe Old Rugged CrossĒ. At one specific moment, Cal understood and felt for the first time the overpowering love of Jesus Christ and life-changing presence of The Holy Spirit. His experience is known in The Bible and in Christian circles as a second birth. Cal says he knew in that instant that his life had been changed forever. See, Cal was born into the family of God. A couple of years later, Cal attended a Billy Graham Crusade at Dudley Field in Nashville and stepped forward to make whatís known in Christian circles as a public profession of his faith in Christ.

Calís father continued to maintain his strenuous work ethic while building an innovative retailing concept and unique company culture. In the early days and well into its future, everything Dollar General sold was priced one dollar, or less. The demands of a growing family business reached far beyond a time clock and the geographic confines of a retail store and even into Saturday nights. Thatís when store managers from far and near would call Cal, Sr. at home with their weekly sales totals. Business demands also reached into the prayer lives of the Turner children whenever their mother instructed them to pray for sunshine or snow, heat or cold, depending on business inventories. Those were straightforward, no-nonsense prayers. For Cal, his family, business endeavors, and his Christian faith were all connected and still are and it was all in the family.

In the mid to late 50ís, Mr. J. L began spending less time in the business and more and more time on his farm, health issues had changed his role. Then in 1965, Cal Turner, Jr., after graduating cum laude from Vanderbilt University and a three-year stint as a commissioned officer in the United States Navy, joined the family business with a brand new title, ďthe bossís sonĒ. He had considered a call into the ministry at one time but realized that he could serve God in the business world, too. Calís first responsibility was learning more about the business and then helping chart and lead the company into its future. Cal was twenty-five at the time. His father later charged him with the responsibility of preparing the company for public ownership in whatís called an initial public offering. The company had explored going public a few years earlier but Cal Sr. rejected the deal after being told by investment bankers that the stock would originally sell for $10 a share but then drop in value. Calís father said people buying shares in the company would include his friends and neighbors and that he would never consider selling them stock that would quickly lose value. See, people in Scottville were like family, too. In 1968, after proper due diligence, ownership shares in the Turner family business were made available to the general public for the very first time and J. L. Turner and Sonís name was changed to Dollar General Corporation.

Family businesses have their own dynamic and Dollar General was no exception. From an organizational standpoint the line between family and business responsibilities are sometimes clouded. Dollar General was no exception in that regard, either. But family businesses come with advantages, too. One is the combined blood, sweat and tears of family members in a common cause. Other advantages are memories, memories that can fill shelves, file cabinets and every corner of a place with reminders of the blood, sweat, tears and prayers spent in it behalf. The offering of stock and the ability of non-family owners of that stock to have a vote would obviously change some of the dynamics of Dollar General and to some degree its business model but that wasnít a new experience either. An earlier business model employing Cal Sr.ís hands-on approach had already been tested and broken under the weight of growth and the inability of one man to make all decisions. Cal Turner, Jr. during his tenure at Dollar General would be challenged on many other occasions to abandon the traditions of a smaller company to build a bigger one. At the same time, he walked a reverent line between the Turner family and its core values and culture, the demands of a growing corporation with outside shareholders and a loyal, rapidly expanding customer base.

Three events were particularly noteworthy during Calís years at Dollar General. The first would have to be the day that Cal, Jr., upon returning from a business conference at the American Management Association, told Cal Turner, Sr. that the company needed to initiate strategic planning. Cal, Sr. recognized the need to prepare for the future and believed in his son so much that he agreed to the proposition provided it didnít get in the way of running the company and making money.

The second decision was a bit more public and much more painful for Cal. Calís younger brother, Steve, had joined the company in 1967 and was actively involved. Eventually, he was in charge of all merchandising. Merchandising according to Cal is turning cash into merchandise that customers want, at the right quantity, price, and presentation, and then turning merchandise back to cash, hopefully more cash. In 1975, Dollar General had grown from a company merchandising through 800 retail outlets to 1300 in fifteen months and not enough merchandise was being turned back to cash, and certainly not efficiently. The company had outgrown its infrastructure. Cal and Steve had different styles and very different views on the company and its immediate challenge and direction when things came to a standstill in order to address their standoff. Differences between the two brothers could not be resolved and Cal as CEO of Dollar General Corporation had the final say. After much prayer and soul-searching Cal Turner, Jr. fired his brother, a decision he felt forced to make. They were brothers but Cal was responsible to shareholders and what he thought was best for the company. To corporate outsiders it looked like a business decision but to insiders like Cal and Steve and the whole Turner family it was more than that.

The final event is the most recent and most public for Cal and Dollar General. In 2001, Dollar General was a very large publicly traded company still operating with the values and many elements of a culture established and maintained by three generation of Turners. The mission statement, which was only two words, helps explain the culture, ďServing OthersĒ. Serving others had given store managers and employees a voice and input into the business. Serving others, especially customers, had provided invaluable feedback regarding the reaction to and acceptance of Dollar General and itís pricing and product offerings. Serving others had released the energy and ingenuity of management across the board and all down the line and serving others had established a culture of trust inside and outside of the corporation. In 2001, that trust was badly tarnished. It was discovered that company-released financial statements for Dollar General were incorrect and that the performance and profitability of the company had been overstated. Investors hate that kind of news. Word first reached Cal, followed by the news media, the communities and customers that Dollar General had faithfully and honorably served, the business and investment communities and the Securities and Exchange Commission. In September of 2002, Cal Turner, Jr. as head of Dollar General Corporation and consistent with values and principles he and his family had espoused and consistently maintained for 63 years, shouldered responsibility for the reporting errors and stepped down as CEO.

On Calís watch, Dollar General successfully transitioned from a large family business to a Fortune 300 Corporation operating in an ever-changing marketplace and competitive corporate culture. On Calís watch, Dollar Generalís grew from annual sales of $109,000,000 through 761 stores in 1977 to $5,3000,000,000 through 5,500 stores and on Calís watch, Dollar General remained loyal to its original customer base proudly serving an under-served segment of our population. On a personal level, Cal contributed millions of dollars to various charities and many worthwhile causes during that period of time. Any one of these accomplishments is remarkable and can stand alone, but perhaps Calís greatest accomplishment, at least in my opinion, was his ability to stay true to the values and principles of his faith, his family and his company throughout his long career and under changing, challenging and turbulent times.


Cal is no longer actively involved with Dollar General Corporation. He now devotes his time, energy and resources to his own personal family, and a wide variety of philanthropic and educational causes. He is also involved in nurturing various interests and organizations he believes in including the Turner Initiative through Vanderbilt Universityís Divinity School.

In closing, I have concluded that Christian men need men like Cal Turner, Jr. to challenge and inspire them. We also need men like Cal to remind us that everything we say or do is about service, people and family, our earthly ones and our Godly one. Conversations with Cal today, whether yours or mine, quickly uncover Calís clear understanding and appreciation for the opportunities and blessings in his life. They also reveal something else. Two Bible verses found in Micah 6: 7-8 make the point, ď7. Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn, for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8. He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God.Ē* Thank God that Cal Turner, Jr. and other authentic Christian men of influence and accomplishment remember to embrace the wisdom of a humble walk with our God. We need more men like that, too. Men on that kind of journey and on that same page are all part of the very same family.


Luke Luna
Copyright 2008


* ďThe Amplified BibleĒ, Copyright 1987, Zondervan Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI.