As retired Army major general Joe Robles Jr., ’79, retires from the top spot at USAA, he has his eye on finding new ways to give back to his country.
From serving his country to serving the financial needs of military families, Indiana State University alumnus Joe Robles Jr. has led a busy life of service, to say the least.
Now he is about to get a well-earned break when he retires at the end of February as president and CEO of USAA, a FORTUNE 200 financial services company headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, that serves current and former military service personnel and their families.
But after nearly three decades of decorated military service followed by 20 years in leadership roles at USAA — the last seven at the company’s helm — the retired Army major general, now 69, isn’t sure just what will fill his newly found free time.
“When I was in the Pentagon — I served three tours there — I served under a two-star general who was retiring. On his last day of active duty, I found him working behind his desk at 6 p.m. and he told me he was having a hard time making the break,” said Robles, who earned a Master of Business Administration from Indiana State in 1979. “For me, I know the break has to be done, but I also know I’ve been lucky to work for years for a company that cares so much about military members. I do want to continue to help veterans and other community causes.”
During his last four years of active duty (1990-94), Robles served on the board of directors for USAA, which was founded in 1922 by 25 Army officers who agreed to insure one another and now serves nearly 11 million members. On July 1, 1994, one day after retiring from the Army, Robles joined USAA as special assistant to the chairman.
Within a few months, Robles was named CFO and controller and a year later added corporate treasurer to his duties. He assumed the position of president and CEO in December 2007. On Feb. 27, he will pass the reins to USAA’s CEO-elect, Stuart Parker.
“My time with USAA is an extension of my military service,” Robles said. “I served this nation honorably for 28½ years, and with USAA, my service is broader and every bit as rewarding, as I’ve had the ability to shape the future and refine the strategy for financial services to serve the military.”
Born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, Robles immigrated with his family to Lorain, Ohio, when he was 3 years old. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966 and completed his basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., where he earned a recommendation for the Artillery Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Okla.
In 1977, Robles was assigned as an instructor at the finance school at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, where he would eventually enroll in MBA classes through Indiana State.
“My specialty was in financial management, and having a master’s degree gave me an advantage to getting better jobs within the military in my specialty,” he said. “One of the things I’ve never forgotten about my time as a student at Indiana State was when Larry Bird and Indiana State’s basketball team went to the NCAA tournament against Michigan State. It’s funny the things you remember sometimes.”
Throughout Robles’s military career, he also attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Navy War College and the Spanish Army General Staff College and served in a variety of command and staff positions, including active duty posts in Korea, Vietnam, Germany and in the Middle East during Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm. His last military assignments included director of the Army budget and commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division in Fort Riley, Kan., known as the “Big Red One.”
His efforts garnered him recognition that includes a Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Legion of Merit with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster during his military career.
“When my (draft) number was pulled, I intended to serve my time and then come back to get my education to be a doctor,” said Robles, a married father of three who also holds a bachelor of business administration degree in accounting from Kent State University. “But I went from private draftee to major general and made the Army a career. Eventually I retired earlier than I expected to. I have an autistic son, Christopher, who lives with my wife and me, and he had a hard time moving as much as the military requires. I knew it was time to retire and do something else.”
In 2009, The Christian Science Monitor named him the No. 1 Veteran in Business and American Banker named him Innovator of the Year. Two years later, he was inducted into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, an honor bestowed to community leaders whose achievements demonstrate individual initiative, a commitment to excellence, hard work, honesty and perseverance over adversity.
“I’ve been involved in children’s causes in the nonprofit world for a long time because of my severely autistic son, who has been a blessing in my life and changed me profoundly,” Robles said. “I always believed that it’s important for kids to give back and complete an education path that will help them realize their dreams. As the oldest of nine children, I always thought I’d work in the steel mill in Lorain as my father did, until I got my start in community college. I know that if you want to succeed, you’re going to need an education and the drive to work hard. These are the things I encourage in young people as their role model. It’s all about kids and education and helping others.”