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Robert McDermott

Academy of Achievement

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Robert McDermott

Robert McDermott

Academy of Achievement

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Brigadier General Robert F. McDermott (July 13, 1920 – August 28, 2006) was the Board Chairman and CEO of USAA, and first permanent Dean of Faculty at the U.S. Air Force Academy, who was acclaimed as the "Father of Modern Military Education." He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1943, and earned an MBA from Harvard and a law degree from St. Louis University. McDermott flew 61 combat missions in Europe during World War II as a P-38 fighter pilot, where he earned the Air Force and Army Distinguished Service Medals. In 1957, President Eisenhower appointed him as the first permanent professor of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and as the first Dean of the Faculty two years later. His promotion to Brigadier General made him the youngest general on active duty at that time. McDermott emerged as a pioneer in higher education and challenged traditions in military education. The innovations he introduced within the service academy system included the "whole person" concept in selecting cadets and a program of advanced and elective courses to enrich the prescribed curriculum. Using measures of a candidate's moral and leadership attributes as well as physical and mental qualifications for selection was introduced in 1956 for the first time. He was also credited with adding 30 academic majors to the Air Force Academy and bringing flexibility to curriculum requirements. McDermott wrote books on finance for military service personnel, which attracted the attention of USAA President Charles Cheever, and, in 1968, McDermott retired from the Air Force to join USAA as its Chief Executive. Under his leadership, USAA became one of the nation's largest insurance companies, growing the financial services institution to 16,000 employees and $30 billion in assets. He had a reputation as a rare maverick in the insurance business. McDermott also played a significant role in the San Antonio, Texas community. In the mid-1990s, he was the chairman of an investor group that purchased the San Antonio Spurs NBA basketball team for $85 million. For his leadership in business, he was inducted into the National Business Hall of Fame in 1994. General Robert McDermott participated in the 1999 Achievement Summit in Washington, D.C. and spoke to the student delegates about the life lessons of his personal journey.

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