Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Cal Turner Jr., November 13, 2014

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:21 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Um, so, so last time, uh, we talked about, uh, in general terms, your life story, uh, the--which, which was a very, uh--we, we painted with broad strokes.

Segment Synopsis: Turner says he regrets the name change of the company from J. L. Turner & Son to Dollar General when the company went public in 1968. He says the company has been a successful performer since going public in 1968 although it did not fit neatly into a retail category.

Keywords: J. L. Turner & Son; Merchandise; Price earnings ratio; Retail business model; Strategic planning

Subjects: Dollar General Store (Firm); Family-owned business enterprises.

00:12:27 - Going public on Wall Street

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Partial Transcript: What level of, um--you know Wall Street needed to be sold on, on this model. How much of this was going on, uh, in other industries at the time, with companies that were going public around that time?

Segment Synopsis: Turner talks about how unprepared he was to manage a public company, and being unaware of what an annual report was. He discusses the challenges of taking the company public and its history of growth and opportunism.

Keywords: Annual reports; Cal Turner, Sr.; Company growth; Luther Turner; Opportunism; Retail business model

Subjects: Dollar General Store (Firm); Family-owned business enterprises.; Management.

00:18:12 - Entrepreneurial chaos

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Partial Transcript: You describe your, uh, entrance into the company as, as--you,--I've heard, I've heard you refer to it as--I think you called it controlled chaos...

Segment Synopsis: Turner talks about the challenges of reconciling Dollar General's unique retail business model with the expectations of Wall Street when the company went public.

Keywords: Entrepreneurial chaos; Initial public offering; Retail business model; Wall Street

Subjects: Dollar General Store (Firm); Family-owned business enterprises.; Management.

00:23:24 - Company talent

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Partial Transcript: Let's talk about some of those, let's talk about some of those talented people and, and what they were doing during that time period...

Segment Synopsis: Turner says he was able to relate to employees at Dollar General as a new leader by acknowledging he gained his position by family relationship and admitting he needed help to understand his new role. He says he was well supported by his father, and he developed good listening skills.

Keywords: Cal Turner, Sr.; Retailing

Subjects: Dollar General Store (Firm); Families.; Family-owned business enterprises.; Management.

00:34:05 - Dual lines of retail business

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Partial Transcript: I'm uncomfortable just hearing that, just in knowing that your Dad is still involved in things--[Turner laughs]--and has handed over the reins...

Segment Synopsis: Turner says Dollar General operated two distinct lines of retail businesses, one specializing in merchandise liquidation and the other conventional consumer goods. He says the first line was based on opportunistic purchasing, and the second line on consistency.

Keywords: Apparel; Consumable goods

Subjects: Dollar General Store (Firm); Inventories, Retail; Retail trade.

00:40:29 - Business model

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Partial Transcript: As you sort of, you know, explore these new models, um, uh, I think a lot of what I'm hearing from, from uh, uh, management description of both himself and, and you...

Segment Synopsis: Turner compares business management to parenting skills. He talks about his responsibilities as CEO.

Keywords: Chief Executive Officer (CEO); Executive leadership; Parenting skills

Subjects: Dollar General Store (Firm); Management.

00:50:02 - Inspiration for a CEO

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Partial Transcript: Let's put the oval back up on the board. Right?

Segment Synopsis: Turner says dealing with the human talent of the company was the most rewarding aspect of his role as CEO. He discusses the various foundations sponsored by Dollar General and the Turner family, and says the general objective is to support literacy and serve the community.

Keywords: Dollar General Literacy Foundation; Human resources; Luther Turner; Philanthropy; Scholarships; Turner Foundations

Subjects: Charities.; Dollar General Store (Firm); Management.

00:56:48 - Business as ministry

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Partial Transcript: You told me about the, the, the minister who came to your church when you were growing up, and how the, uh, the, the women in the church said "Oh Cal, you should become, you should become a preacher..."

Segment Synopsis: Turner says the difference between management and leadership is that religious ministry goes into leadership. He talks about the need for diversity among employees and management to establish a family-like culture in the company.

Keywords: Corporate culture; Leadership; Ministry

Subjects: Dollar General Store (Firm); Management.; Religion

01:06:05 - Philanthropic interests and activities

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Partial Transcript: So, we were, um, talking about--before the break we were talking about your time at Dollar General and I do want to come back to that in a different session...

Segment Synopsis: Turner describes his interests and work in philanthropic projects. He says philanthropy is grounded on love for fellow man, and he sees the Bible as a philanthropic guide. He says his initial motivation for philanthropy was to avoid estate taxes because he wanted his money to go to the community, neighbors, employees, and customers. He describes a major donation of stock he made to Lindsey Wilson College because he wanted to help at an institutional level by giving to education and the Methodist church.

Keywords: Estate taxes; Family values; Leadership; Methodism; Philanthropy

Subjects: Charities.; Dollar General Store (Firm)

01:18:53 - The Lindsey Wilson board / how to give a million dollars

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Partial Transcript: What was the influence of business on that board? Were there many business, uh, oriented individuals on that board at that time?

Segment Synopsis: Turner talks about the mixed culture on the Lindsey Wilson College board of directors. He talks about his gift of $1 million worth of Dollar General stock to the college and about philanthropy in general.

Keywords: Mission statements; Philanthropy; Preaching

Subjects: Charities.; Dollar General Store (Firm)

01:23:01 - Turner family love of music / dying broke

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Partial Transcript: Now one thing that stands out in my mind is that, uh, was, uh, um, wasn't there a performance hall with your mother's name on it?

Segment Synopsis: Turner discusses his family's love of music which was instilled by his mother. He talks about making a gift to the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in her name.

Keywords: Cal Turner Family Foundation; Laura Turner; Philanthropy; Schermerhorn Symphony Orchestra

Subjects: Charities.; Families.; Music

01:28:13 - Philanthropy in society

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Partial Transcript: Are we--speaking of Uncle Sam, as a country, are we getting better at philanthropy?

Segment Synopsis: Turner discusses the respective roles of society, the wealthy, government, and the church in philanthropy. He discusses how he became involved in philanthropy when Dollar General's headquarters moved to Nashville because that was part of the local culture.

Keywords: Business; Cal Turner, Sr.; Dollar General Store (Firm); First American National Bank; Government; Luther Turner; Nashville (Tenn.); Philanthropy; Religion

Subjects: Charities.

01:35:48 - Philanthropic one-upsmanship

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Partial Transcript: Is there a competitive aspect, you know, uh, with, with--that, that sort of goes into there, where, you know, it's almost the opposite of, of, of the business model...

Segment Synopsis: Turner discusses the competitive spirit in philanthropic giving. He discusses the responsibility of giving to the community and the personal benefits that derive from giving.

Keywords: Bill Gates; Philanthropy; Warren Buffett

Subjects: Charities.

01:39:16 - Cal Turner's philosophy

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Partial Transcript: Well, currently--let's go, let's fast forward all the way up to the present here and, and currently what, what, what's important to you...

Segment Synopsis: Turner talks about his personal philosophy of helping others.

Keywords: Personal potential; Philanthropy

Subjects: Charities.