James W. Keyes

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James W. Keyes is a global business leader, philanthropist, educator, artist, musician, commercial pilot, and modern renaissance man. He is the former CEO of two internally recognized Fortune 500 companies, 7-Eleven, Inc. and Blockbuster, Inc. His other business interests cover a broad range of industries from retail, consumer products, technology, healthcare, cyber security, new space, energy, and advanced nuclear. He sits on several public company boards and serves as a board adviser to a venture capital firm and a number of start-up companies.


Keyes’s philanthropic initiatives have an equally broad focus, including serving a three-term seat on the Board of Governors for the American Red Cross, acting as the former Chairman of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and serving on the board of directors for institutions such as UT Southwestern Medical School, Cooper Institute, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dallas Performing Arts Center, SMU Cox School of Business, Columbia Business School, and his alma mater, College of the Holy Cross. He has had a lifelong commitment to education, serving as a founding director of the Dallas Education Foundation and is the founder of the Education Is Freedom Foundation. Keyes is a personification of the American Dream, as he comes from humble beginnings. He was inducted in 2005 as a Member of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.


New book from Keyes – Education Is Freedom

Growing up in poverty in a small town in central Massachusetts, James Keyes seemed destined for a difficult life—one working at the local factory alongside his father and struggling to get by. Instead, he went on to become the CEO of 7-Eleven, where he increased shareholder value by tenfold during his tenure and led the sale of the company to its Japanese licensee. How did he defy the odds?


Education was the key to unlocking his freedom. In EDUCATION IS FREEDOM: The Future Is in Your Hands (Savio Republic; February 27th, 2024) with a foreword by Stedman Graham, Keyes shows how lifelong education and education access shaped his life and how they can empower us with the mindset to overcome adversity and achieve our full potential.  


He offers a roadmap for growing our wisdom throughout our lifetimes with his C-Suite of Learning. This includes understanding what to learn, how to learn, and most critically, why it’s important we learn. At an individual level, these tools can make us more productive professionally. Collectively, it can make us more responsible citizens. As Keyes reminds us, an educated electorate is the fundamental prerequisite to a working democracy.  


Speaking Topics:

  • An overview of Keyes’s new book EDUCATION IS FREEDOM, delving into topics like how education and lifelong learning helped him achieve the American Dream and made him a better leader as CEO of 7-Eleven and Blockbuster, and why corporations must support education to ensure a steady supply of educated workers, and for global competitiveness.
  • A discussion on how to revive a dying industry or company, drawing on Keyes’s experience leading Blockbuster during the company’s most difficult times.
  • A roadmap for growing our wisdom throughout our lives with his C-Suite of Learning (which includes what to learn, how to learn, and why to learn).
  • Why a college degree and education will remain valuable, despite the push towards skill-first hiring. Keyes argues that those without degrees will struggle to find steady, well-paying work in the information age and emphasizes the importance of education for a functioning democracy and American competitiveness.

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