AdvocateMag North Dallas July 2012 : Page 22

Ja me s K e y es Former Ceo oF 7-eleven and BloCkBuster If it weren’t for one convoluted corporate he became CEO of the world’s largest conve-love triangle, James Keyes may not have ended nience store chain in 2000. He went on to lead the struggling Blockbuster corporation up as CEO of 7-Eleven. He had just begun his career in the early from 2007 to 2011. Before he donned a suit and tie, traveled by 1980s, landing an unusually high-level gig for private jet and took up residence in the presti-a recent college graduate in mergers and ac-gious Bent Tree neighborhood, he says he was quisitions for Gulf Oil. The company entered a poor kid growing up in rural Massachusetts an agreement with Cities Services but later with five siblings in a house with no indoor withdrew the bid after a controversy over how plumbing. much the struggling oil company was actually “I remember playing with all these amaz-worth. Meanwhile, rising oilman T. Boone ing toys at the rich kids’ houses. It turns out, Pickens, known as a “corporate raider,” had they had just as much fun at my house playing his eye on Gulf Oil. in my dad’s junk car collection. Keyes sat in on the historic shareholders “What it gave me was the ability to interact meeting in 1984 that would change the course with anyone — from billionaires to people on of his career. He says it resembled a scene the street.” from “Wall Street.” Keyes excelled at just about every job he “I heard Boone Pickens make an impas-had. One of his first jobs was at McDonald’s, sioned speech to shareholders. It was like where he quickly became a manager. At 17, he something from Gordon Gekko’s ‘Greed is was hired as a truck driver, delivering produce Good’ speech. It was a fascinating experience.” to grocery stores before dawn. After the acquisition of Gulf Oil, Keyes He attended College of the Holy Cross and followed his boss and went to work for Citgo received his MBA from Columbia University. Petroleum Corporation, which had bought He scored an internship with Gulf Oil, which Cities Services’ refining, management and hired him after he graduated, leading to his sub-transportation assets. Then, Southland Corp., sequent CEO titles of a thriving convenience the Dallas company that launched 7-Eleven, store chain and a failing movie rental company. purchased Citgo. Although he resigned from the executive “The company I was originally trying to position in May 2011, Keyes insists that Block-buy [Cities Services] I ended up working for. buster is down but certainly not out of the home There’s almost a movie in there.” movie industry. In fact, he predicts it will come Keyes ventured into the retail side of the back as the leading provider. The company is business, working his way up at 7-Eleven until 22 farnor July 2012 now owned by Dish, which has much stronger relationships with movie studios than Netflix. Once everything goes fully digital, Blockbuster will be the go-to source, he says. “It’s in transition right now. Five years from today, when most people have internet-ready TVs, Blockbuster will have the most offerings. It’s about reinventing the brand. I remind peo-ple of Apple in the 1990s. You wouldn’t use a Mac for anything more than a doorstop.” These days, Keyes is running his own com-pany, Keyes Development, in an office build-ing near the Addison Airport. He needed a place to store his Citation CJ3 and ended up buying the whole building. He’s renovating a space there for a new retail concept he’s work-ing on that will be announced within the next few months. Keyes has been married to his wife, Margo, for 20 years, but they never had any children. “If I could go back, I’d find a better life bal-ance between family and career,” Keyes says. “I contemplated that years ago, coming to grips with not having a legacy with children or grandchildren. So, I began to give back to other children through philanthropy.” He founded Education is Freedom in 2002, a program that provides college readiness re-sources for underserved Dallas ISD students. The goal is to help young people realize their potential no matter their backgrounds. “Anyone can achieve the success that I did. It’s not a cliché.”

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