The last time John Douglas sat behind a work desk was in 2005, when he was senior vice president of operations within the USAA Life Company. He retired that year after being with the insurance giant for 25 years.
On June 1, Douglas, 69, returned to the workforce after an eight-year hiatus to lead Guide Dogs of Texas (GDTX) when the nonprofit’s board of directors appointed him as the new president and CEO. He fills a vacancy after former president Larry Tuttle retired in January.
“At first, there were some reservations because I was retired for eight years,” said Douglas, who previously served as the organizations’ board chairman. “But I do have a passion for the organization, and I have always been fascinated by dogs. When I was in the military, I used to marvel over the interaction between the dogs and the handlers and the things they could be trained to do.”
Douglas is well aware of the challenges that visually impaired people face. When he was 10-years-old, his mother, who was 40 at the time, went blind from a rare form of glaucoma. At age 14, he had to get a driver’s permit to help his mom with transportation needs when his father was deployed to Korea.
“I know how devastating it was for her when she lost her vision,” he said. “She loved to camp and fish. So I know first-hand how limiting that was for her. She had to have a sighted guide from then on.”
As president and CEO, Douglas said one of his goals is to develop a strategic plan to grow and expand the organization here and in Houston, Dallas and Austin, where some of its clients reside. “We want to have staff and instructors to train our guide dogs and care for our clients in those cities,” he said.
GDTX board member Chris Carmona, who chaired the selection committee, said Douglas was a perfect choice to oversee GDTX’s $1 million annual operating budget and 13-member staff.
“John brings to GDTX a proven track record of quality and strong leadership that will help move this organization to the next level and closer to fulfilling our vision of servicing all Texans who are visually impaired and who would benefit from the use of a guide dog,” Carmona said. “Besides his exceptional leadership skills, John’s passion for and understanding of GDTX’s mission is spot on.”
Douglas said his years of experience at USAA will serve him well in his new role as president and CEO.
“The culture at USAA is very focused on customer satisfaction, and the lessons I learned will translate to GDTX” he said. “There are several customers we have to take care of who include our clients, volunteers and donors. We have to make sure we provide them with the best possible service.”
Douglas retired in 1992 from the U.S. Army Reserves as a colonel after 26 years of service. He is a 1966 graduate from St. Mary’s University with a bachelor’s degree in finance.
Guide Dogs of Texas raises, trains and provides guide dogs to visually impaired Texans to improve their freedom, mobility and independence. It is the only guide dog school in Texas and is an accredited member of the International Guide Dog Federation. For more information, visit www.guidedogsoftexas.org.