Welcome to TEACH Talks, Featuring H-E-B President Scott McClelland
For the latest episode of our TEACH Talks interview series, we’re pleased to be joined by Scott McClelland, President of H-E-B—or, as he is affectionately known to Texans, “the H-E-B Guy.” As he steps down from his post with H-E-B at the end of 2022, we can think of no better time to sit down with Scott to discuss his career highlights, his thoughts on the importance of education and what the future holds for him and his family.
Welcome to Part 2 of our TEACH Talks conversation with Scott McClelland. Enjoy the video above, and follow along with the full transcript below. Our series will be distributed on ToEducateAllChildren.org, via social media channels, and to our email subscribers. If you are not already a subscriber, join today so you don’t miss a new episode.
H-E-B President Scott McClelland
Scott McClelland is the outgoing President of H-E-B Food/Drug Stores. H-E-B is a $36B retailer that operates 390 stores in Texas and Mexico. In his capacity, Scott oversees the operations of all H-E-B banners across the state of Texas. Named America’s top Grocery Retailer in 2019, H-E-B is known for operating stores with low prices, unique products tailored to Texans’ tastes and friendly partners.
Scott has worked at H-E-B since 1990, after a ten-year career at Pepsico’s Frito Lay division. He served in several marketing and operations positions before being named President of all H-E-B stores in July 2017. Previously, Scott served as President of H-E-B’s Houston operation. Under his leadership, H-E-B’s market share has grown from 11% to a market-leading 34%. Known as the “H-E-B Guy,” Scott is the local face for H-E-B, starring in TV commercials along with JJ Watt, Jose Altuve and other Houston notables.
H-E-B strives to be a good corporate citizen, and as such, Scott serves on numerous local boards, including the Greater Houston Partnership, where he served as the chairman on their board of Directors. In 2017, Scott co-founded education-based non-profit Good Reason Houston, focused on improving education for ALL students across Harris County by eliminating achievement gaps. Scott is the former board chair of the Houston Food Bank and headed their $56mm capital campaign to fund the construction of the largest food bank warehouse in the United States.
Scott received his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Southern California and graduated from Harvard’s Advanced Management Program.
Alvin: Hello. My name is Alvin Abraham, Executive Director of To Educate All Children, better known around the Houston community as TEACH. Thank you for joining us for TEACH Talks, our video series featuring one-on-one interviews with some of Houston’s most influential leaders. Today, we are pleased to be joined by Scott McClelland, President of H-E-B, or as he’s affectionately known to Texans, the H-E-B Guy. We enjoyed our conversation with Scott so much that we didn’t want you to miss a moment. To that end, we’ve decided to share this interview in its entirety by creating two episodes. If you happened to miss Part 1, you can watch it online at ToDducateAllChildren.org. Welcome to Part 2 of our TEACH Talks conversation with Scott McClelland.
Scott has worked with H-E-B since 1990, being named president of all H-E-B stores in July 2017. Under his leadership, H-E-B has grown from a market share of 11% to a market leading 34% and was named America’s Top Grocery Retailer in 2019. In addition to helping H-E-B take a big bite of the grocery market, Scott has served on numerous local boards. Scott is a strong advocate for the power of education to shape futures. In 2017, Scott co-founded Good Reason Houston, a non-profit focused on improving education for all students across Harris County. And on a personal note, Scott and his wife Soraya have co-chaired TEACH’s own annual gala, Touchdown for TEACH, for the past four years. While Scott is accustomed to serving as TEACH’s interviewer and emcee, today, we will be the ones asking the questions.
As he steps down from his post with H-E-B at the end of 2022, we can think of no better time to sit with Scott to discuss his career highlights, his thoughts on the importance of education, and what the future holds for him and his family. We hope you enjoy this interview with our very own the H-E-B Guy. So, Scott, we’re so excited that you’re here. During your tenure, you’ve also remained committed to H-E-B standing as a good corporate citizen. You personally serve on numerous local boards. And of course, you and your wife Soraya have co-chaired our Touchdown for TEACH gala many times. What does community involvement mean to you, and how do you find the time and energy to do all of it?
Scott: Well, I think it goes back to if you’re going to live in a city, then you need to invest in hoping to make it better. And so, you then look for the intersection between what are you good at and what are you interested in? And you try to take your time and your talent and your treasures to see where you can make a difference in that. For me, it’s been public education, simply because, as I said, the raw number of people who work for H-E-B, the opportunity looks there. But when you start to say about, “Well, how do you get the time to do it?” Because the easy out is always to say, “I don’t have time.” And I would say one of the things that I work very hard on is time management because there are a lot of things I want to be able to accomplish in my life.
Early in my career, I worked super hard and my entire focus was on how to get promoted to be in charge of all of H-E-B. And what happened was, at one point in time, someone got promoted ahead of me, and after the fact, it became evident the reason that someone else got promoted and I didn’t was, I was trying so hard to get promoted that I was somewhat of a tool. If you did a good job, I had time for you, if you didn’t, I probably didn’t have time, and I was just going to outwork everyone. And what became clear was, I didn’t spend any time thinking about who did I want to be as a husband or a father or as a citizen, or my physical being or my spiritual being? And so, I sat back and begin to think about so, not what do I do, like how much time do I spend? But who do I want to be? And then begin to try to craft all the things I wanted to get done around a more holistic definition of who I am, into the hours I have available.
So, for 30 years I worked out at 5:15 in the morning because I wouldn’t have a meeting then, but I was going to be committed to working out. I was going to commit to investing back into my community. And so, I just became just regimented in terms of how I looked at time management. And then a funny thing happened was, after doing that for a few years, and not focusing on getting promoted because I didn’t think I would, I got promoted. And so, I think when people tend to look at their lives more holistically and instead of focusing on what is it you want to do, because most people define what they want to do in terms of, “I want a job title and how much am I going to get paid?” And instead looking at, “Who is it that I want to be in total, for my family, for my community, for myself?” And then you add on to that your work. And so, it’s not to say that I didn’t work hard because I worked plenty of hours, but I found a way by managing time carefully of just cramming more into each and every day. Frankly, I felt blessed and more fulfilled because of it.
Alvin: I wonder if that 5-15 workout time will still continue post retirement.
Scott: I’m sleeping in 30 minutes more every day and I’m loving it.
Alvin: Just the little things, right? So, on behalf of our entire team, thank you so much for everything you’ve done for TEACH…
Alvin: …but also for education specifically in our community. I know it’s something that’s incredibly important to you. So, ensuring every child has access to great education is definitely something you don’t take lightly. In fact, in 2017, you co-founded the education nonprofit Good Reason, Houston, specifically to focus on improving education for students all across Harris County. What has been your greatest achievement in that role?
Scott: Well, first let me talk a little bit about the need, is that if look at the greater Houston area, less than 50% of all public schools are rated A or B. Only 40% of third graders are reading at grade level in the third grade and only 22% of all kids who start high school will go on to get a two year or four-year degree within six years of graduation. So, if you just sit and let that sink in for a minute, it says, gee, we don’t have enough good quality schools. If a kid isn’t reading at grade level in the third grade, they aren’t going to drop out in the third grade, but there’s probably a good chance they aren’t going to go on to college. And the new jobs that are being created more and more are requiring a two year or four agree, but only 22% of kids that go through our public school system.
And frankly Houston’s no different than Dallas or San Antonio. I mean, we are just simply a microcosm of a much bigger issue. And so, what we said is look, we can stand around and complain about it or we can do something with it. So, what we do with Good Reason Houston is we work with superintendents to help craft a strategic plan. And so, in that respect, we’re like a consultancy, but typically a consultant comes in and hands you a plan and then they leave and what we do that’s different is we help you implement the plan. And because we’re well capitalized, we have money to put against the initiatives to help them do it. And it’s simple stuff. So oftentimes in public education, people talk about transformation. That’s not what we do. We take known best practices, take your best teachers, put them in your hardest schools.
Look at schools and say, “Should we close them? Do we need to open more schools?” You look at curriculum and the importance of choosing the right curriculum, oftentimes in a classroom setting, you have to teach to lowest common denominator. So can you get a curriculum that allows kids to thrive regardless of where they are in the spectrum within that grade level and doing things like that. And so, I’m super proud of the work that we’ve been able to do. Currently we work with Houston Independent School District, Aldine Independent School District in Spring and three areas that have got very high, free and reduced lunch or low-income students who attend. And I think what we’re going to be able to see is that this will make a difference in terms of the programs and practices that we’re putting in place.
Alvin: So, as a grandfather of four young grandchildren, what is your hope for the future of public education in the Houston community?
Scott: Yeah, I think it’s I look at what my hope and my desire is, is that… Look, my grandkids, luckily because they have good parents and they have some means, they’re going to do fine in school. But what do you do with kids who don’t have means and their parents may not be as active and the schools may not be as good? And so how do you equalize the educational experience across the continuum? Because frankly the future of the State of Texas is going to be predicated upon not how well we educate Anglo students, how well we educate black and brown students. Because look you can argue about immigration all day long and if you shut down the border completely and had no more immigrants, we’re still going to be a browner and blacker state. That’s just the fact of the matter. And so, creating opportunities, not at the expense of one ethnicity, but how do you raise the tide for all to create more opportunities. Therein lies the opportunity.
And one of the things that frustrates me when I talk to people about public education and their response will be, “Well, my kid’s doing pretty well.” This isn’t about your kid. This is about all kids who live in Texas and raising that tide so everyone has an opportunity for the overall good of the state of which regardless of where you are on that spectrum, you’re going to benefit. So why is it that certain industries go to Northern California, tech? Why is it biomed resides in New England, Boston? It’s because of the quality of the education and the talent level that they have. And so, if we want to be able to attract more new industries coming in, we’re good at importing talent from other parts of the country. Because, like me, who moved here from Canada, I didn’t want to be cold anymore. But that still doesn’t address that 78% of the kids that don’t go on to get a two-year or a four-year degree. Are there going to be blue collar jobs that pay them middle income wages? Some, but not nearly the possibility and potential if they’ll go on and get the two-year or four-year degree.
Alvin: If you don’t mind, if we shift gears-
Alvin: … and have some fun with the last few questions.
Alvin: So, as the H-E-B guy, you starred in lots of television spots, alongside many of Houston’s star athletes, J.J. Watt, Jose Altuve, Carlos Korea, to name a few. But you’ve also amassed a celebrity status of your own. When did you first start getting recognized in public, and what were those first few experiences like?
Scott: I think the way in which we’ve set the commercials up to where I play kind of the dumb grocery guy. With J.J. Watt in particular, I was his next-door neighbor that was always trying to show up on his doorstep. It really wasn’t much of a creative stretch for me to be able to do this. But I think the role that I played kind of the every man, just kind of wanted to hang around with these sports stars combined with the fact that I wear big glasses and have a big nose made me somewhat recognizable.
The real beauty of having done the commercials is not all the stars that I got to work with. That was fun. But frankly, when I’m out in stores or at the airport or at restaurants, the different people who’ll come up and talk to me simply because they think they know me because I’ve been in their house on TV and the multitude of relationships that I’ve been able to create and interesting people that I’ve been able to talk to and learn from and just enjoy, that’s been the biggest payoff. Sports stars have been terrific, and I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. But all the people that I’ve been able to meet really is a bigger payoff.
Alvin: So, you’re clearly a natural on camera. What tips do you have for me as I do this work?
Scott: I don’t know if I have any tips. I guess my tips are, what I have for anybody in life in general is just be you and be enthusiastic. It’s funny, my store managers in my store, I don’t think they always realize the impact that they have on the people who work for them. I have a rule at H-E-B. “You can’t be an asshole and run one of my stores, period. Because, you have 400 or 500 people who are working for you, and if they don’t like coming to work, are they’re going to do a good job?” So, you want someone who’s going to be upbeat and create an environment where people want to work. So, we talk a lot of about fake it until you make it.
There’s some days when you don’t feel great. Every day you’re on stage and one of the commitments my wife and I made when I started to do the commercials was anyone who came up and wanted to visit for a minute or take a picture, we would always say, “yes.” I might not have always felt like it, but I was going to put on a smile and do it anyway. It’s funny, the one big controllable you have beyond time, which I talked about, is your attitude. You can get up every day and choose to make it a good day, or you can choose to not make it a good day. And what you find is that what you’re able to get out of people and the joy that you can create, not just for other people, but for yourself, by being upbeat, pays off a lot. I don’t know, maybe I’ve tried to do a little bit of that in my commercials.
Alvin: That is very evident on screen for sure so thank you for sharing that. So, from big screen now to your own living room, you and your wife Soraya met in high school and have been married for over 40 years-
Alvin: What’s the secret to a lasting relationship?
Scott: Look, I was smart because I’ve dated one person in my entire life. That’s Soraya, and I realized I found someone way over my head-
Alvin: Hold on tight-
Scott: Before she could date somebody else and find someone better, I locked her in. We’ve just been so fortunate in that we enjoy each other’s company. I know people that I’ve worked with in the past or other people within industry, they get ready to retire and they’re like, “You know, I’d like to retire, but I really don’t like spending time with my wife.” For me, the idea of being able to spend more time with my family, my wife, my kids, and my grandkids brings me such joy. Oftentimes because of the hours I worked at H-E-B, I didn’t get to do everything with them that I wanted to.
Look, when I’m eight weeks into this and I would say, “She’s not sick of having me around, and I’m enjoying just tagging along with her on a lot of things that she does.” But I think in any relationship, if both parties feel that they’re giving a little more than 50% than what you find out as you get 110% relationship. The reality is my wife probably gave more like 60, and I tried to give 50 all the time that I possibly could. But she’s made me a better person, that’s for sure.
Alvin: That’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. As your H-E-B chapter comes to a close after more than three decades, what are you most looking forward to in retirement?
Scott: Well, there are a couple things that got me to think about retiring now. One is, when you’re young, you tend to have physical ability, but you don’t have time and you probably don’t have much money. And when you get to be older, you’re going to have time and you probably aren’t going to have a lot of physical ability because it declines. And if you’re lucky, you’re going to have a little bit of money. And so, one of the things that I’m looking to do over the next five years while I still can, is chase daylight and do a lot of physical things that I’ve always wanted to do before I time out. I’m going to hike to the base camp of Mount Everest in October. I like to go to Yosemite. I’m going to hike Half Dome later on this year. I ride a bike. I’ve always wanted to ride my bike across the United States. And I’m afraid that chapter has closed, but to be able to go on long bike rides. So that’s one thing, just the physical component of life and having the time to do that.
And then the second thing would me just to invest more time with my kids and grandkids. It’s funny when your kids become teenagers, you find out you get stupid. And then about the time they get out of college, you start to get a little smarter. And luckily over time, what happens in most cases is your kids then transition to become your close friends, which I’m so fortunate in with my two daughters and my two son in laws. But my grandkids now, their ages span between five and eight and they’re of the age now where they like to hang out with their grandparents. And so, we’re going to try to do as much of that as we can, spend time on my educational nonprofit. And if after a few months I find out I’m bored, then maybe I’ll look for something else to do. But thus far, I’m just having a good time.
Alvin: I’m a relatively new dad. So, I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old. What advice do you have for me as I look forward to the next 20 years of parenting?
Scott: Yeah. I would say above all is love your kids unconditionally. There’s some days where they’re going to bring you more joy than what you think they can or what you deserve. And there are going to be some days where they frustrate you more. In our own lives, we all made good decisions and bad decisions. I always say, “Bad decisions make for good stories eventually.” But I think what you find is you just hang on to doing the best job that you possibly can with them, create a framework for them in which they can make good decisions.
I remember maybe one of the smartest things we did with our kids was they were in junior high and we set them down and we said, “You’re getting ready to go to high school. And we aren’t going to be with you every minute of every day. And there are going to be a lot of questions that get asked of you in situations you’re put in that while we might answer them differently, frankly, it’s your decision to make. And what we would ask is you think about who it is that you want to be with regard to these. So, with regard to drinking, with regard to drug use, with regard to premarital sex, with regard to what kind of student, we can answer those for you, but that’s not our job. Our job is to create an environment in which you can make good decisions.” And so, we really stressed for our kids to think about that. And thank God I have two kids that have got good, common sense, because they made good decisions along the way. But I guess that would be my advice.
Alvin: And here’s what I call our five fast favorites. These answers require no explanation, just a lightning round of quick answers. The first one’s going to be tough though. So, what’s your favorite H-E-B Primo Pick?
Scott: It’s easy. It would be vanilla MooTopia. So, we take milk and we separate the liquid from the solid and then we put it back together. So it has twice as much protein, half the sugar, and then we put vanilla in it and it’s like drinking vanilla pudding in a glass.
Alvin: That sounds delicious. I have not tried that. I’m sure my kids would love it too. So I need to try that. What’s your favorite grocery store aisle?
Scott: Ooh, that’s a good question. Salty snack because it really teams both steps of my career working for Frito Lay and working in the supermarket.
Alvin: Favorite family vacation destination.
Scott: Oh, we’ve been blessed in that we’ve been able to go to a lot of different places, but I grew up going to Yosemite. I took my kids to Yosemite and in June we’ll be taking our grandkids to Yosemite and it’s not the fanciest place, but the beauty that’s there and just the fun things you can do, whether it’s hiking or floating the river.
Alvin: Who’s captaining your next fantasy football team.
Scott: Wow. Well let’s think. I think I would probably go with Joe Burrow based off of the Super Bowl this year is he’s got a lot of upside for a lot of years ahead of him. So, I think he would be my first draft choice.
Alvin: Favorite book to read to your grandkids.
Scott: You know, there are a number of books that I… I like to read books to them and there’s one that I’m taking out to California with me tonight that talks about a hundred different places to visit in the world and different things you can see and they’re young. Some of the places they’ve never even heard of. But I think the idea of planting the seed is that the world is a big place and there are a lot of people in different areas. And so, I think books that talk about different places to visit or how people’s lives are different, those would be probably at the head of my list.
Alvin: Thank you so much for being part of TEACH Talks today. We really appreciate it, and I wish you tremendous fun and excitement and lots of long bike rides during your retirement.
Scott: Thank you.
Alvin: Thank you for joining us today for the second and final installment of our TEACH Talks conversation with H-E-B President, Scott McClelland. Scott’s love for people is evident throughout the interview. I loved hearing about the teachers who’ve touched his life, his career path through the corporate ranks to become the leader to over 130,000 H-E-B partners, and his journey with his incredible family. I personally appreciated the way he has been so intentional about prioritizing the important things in his life.
As he steps down from his post at H-E-B, we hope to see him cycling at around the neighborhood and continuing to be a champion for public schools. Thank you again for tuning into TEACH Talks. We would like to thank Scott for what he has done these past years for not only Teach, but also for the tremendous work he has done for our community.
We wish Scott the best of luck in all his future endeavors and especially with his continuing work with Good Reason Houston. Please be sure to share this video through your social channels. We look forward to seeing you soon for our next episode of TEACH Talks, featuring Dr. Renu Khator, Chancellor of the University of Houston System and President of the University of Houston. Thank you for supporting public education.