The McKenzie family business’ success comes from a spirit of community and a model of servant leadership. Now, Mickey and Barbara McKenzie have ensured that the Phi Delta Theta family’s young leaders receive the best-in-class preparation through the McKenzie Family’s $1 million endowment of the Presidents Leadership Conference—the premier annual membership development experience.
In August 2019, Barbara and Michael McKenzie, Texas Tech ’67, joined the Phi Delta Theta history books when they became the second living donors to make a $1 million gift to the Foundation. Barbara and Mickey made their gift to support member development, namely the Presidents Leadership Conference, which takes place annually in St. Louis and is attended by all chapter and emerging chapter presidents.
Mickey was initiated into the Texas Epsilon Chapter of Phi Delta Theta at Texas Tech in 1965 and was elated when thirty years later, his son Ryan was initiated into the brotherhood that had influenced his life. When presented with the chance to give back to Phi Delt, Mickey says he felt privileged to support an organization that provided Ryan, ’98, and him with wonderful opportunities and life-long friends. Having never seen a Brinks truck going to a cemetery, he and Barbara wanted to make their contribution now so that in their lifetime, they can witness the impact on chapters and build solid young leaders who will make a difference for those who come after them.
Mickey is the chairman of the board of Grocery Supply Company (GSC), founded in 1947 by brothers Curtis and Kenneth (Mickey’s father) McKenzie, and Woodrow Brittain. GSC is rooted in a mantra of “families serving families.” While the company has grown and evolved since its founding, they stay true to the family culture. Both the McKenzies and Phi Delta Theta value servant leadership as a key to building strong organizations, attributing stewardship, humility, service, gratitude, and self-awareness as the crucial elements when dealing with internal and external constituents.
Ryan McKenzie, COO, notes the staff’s longevity at GSC by stating, “I’ve known many of our employees since I was a kid working in the warehouse during the summers. Of our six-hundred employees, one-third of them have been with our company for over twenty years. We see this as a true blessing. Our business continues to grow, but GSC remains committed to our family culture.” GSC has numerous stories of co-workers helping one another in times of need. Employees of GSC have created several charities for those most in need in the community. One example was a truck driver who desired to help military veterans and started a charity called Operation Victor Echo Tango (VET). GSC sponsors an annual barbecue cookout with all proceeds going to local vets and their families for emergency financial needs.
The family business comes in second only to the business of the family. In addition to Ryan (and his wife, KK), Barbara and Mickey also have a daughter, Mariah; they have also been blessed with eight grandchildren: four future Phi Delts and four lovely granddaughters. Barbara and Mickey enjoy traveling the world in their free time, having visited six continents! Scotland is a favorite return to their ancestral roots, and Mickey often wears the original McKenzie clan tartan kilt at formal events.
Mickey is also quite close with several of his Texas Epsilon brothers and makes an annual trek to the group’s New Mexico gathering. The Fraternity has certainly been a lifelong experience for Mickey, and one that he hopes to pass on to future generations. Phi Delta Theta is thankful to Barbara and Mickey for their monumental support of this brotherhood leadership learning experience. We are proud to cement their legacy in the newly named McKenzie Family Presidents Leadership Conference.
“I have great memories of visiting Texas Tech with my family. I was always amazed at the close friendships with my dad’s Fraternity brothers and how happy they were to get together over college football weekends in Lubbock. To this day, he is still close with many of his Texas Epsilon brothers. Years later, when I became a member, I cultivated many similar friendships and couldn’t be more appreciative. Many of us were the sons of older Phi Delts, which made it even more special for both generations.”
“My dad has always fostered and nurtured friendships, and I certainly think I learned that from him. The men I’ve met through the Fraternity have shaped who I am today, that’s for sure. Without a doubt, my Dad and I both have lifelong friendships through Phi Delta Theta, and I am extremely grateful for that.”
Presidents Leadership Conference
Twenty Years of Preparing the Leaders of Tomorrow
By Jesse Moyer, Senior Vice President of Member Development and Support
Before the turn of the century, Phi Delta Theta did not offer education for the most prominent, if not most important, undergraduate officer—the chapter president. Because serving as president of a Phi Delta Theta chapter can be compared to leading a small business, it became apparent that executive leadership education was missing from the Fraternity’s educational offerings. This changed in January 2000 when over one-hundred-fifty chapter-presidents gathered in a hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, for a weekend of officer education, leadership development, and brotherhood at what has become one of Phi Delta Theta’s cornerstone educational conferences, the Presidents Leadership Conference (PLC). Since that first PLC, 4,571 chapter presidents have attended the event.
Providing access to world-class speakers, the highest caliber volunteer support the Fraternity has to offer, and a network of fellow CEOs to lean on during the inevitably challenging, and sometimes lonely times as president, the event now serves as a springboard for Phi Delt’s best and brightest leaders as they embark on one of the most exciting and rewarding leadership experiences of their life.
From the first event in 2000, the experience has been best-in-class. That does not mean it has been without improvement during its twenty-year history. For instance, the Leadership Forum was added to expose attendees to alumni who have realized professional success in business, government, or sports. Through the years, additional officers have made the trek to St. Louis to join the presidents as they acquired the information and skills to support the Fraternity’s priorities. Most notably, recruitment chairmen and Phikeia educators have been a part of the event in an effort to recruit and retain the best and brightest young men on our college campuses. While presidents are there to become the greatest versions of themselves, this does not come without some lighthearted fun. This includes poker tournaments, stand-up comedians, movie nights, Phi sports events, and t-shirt swaps. Providing downtime to attendees allows them to network with other chapter CEOs, creating and exchanging strategies to improve their chapters and celebrate the great brotherhood Phi Delta Theta has to offer.
Coming from a small campus where Greek life was not necessarily embraced, recruitment was always a major challenge for our chapter. The working sessions at PLC where I exchanged recruitment struggles with other leaders at similar-sized campuses helped put perspective around how challenging the recruitment process can be. With the help of our mentor and workshop leaders, we were able to identify innovative changes we could make in our approach to finding quality men on our campuses to help grow our chapters. I brought these concepts back to my recruitment chairman, and we completely refreshed our recruitment program. We received overwhelming support from our chapter and united around common goals. The result was the largest Phikeia class in thirty years and nearly doubling membership that semester.”
—Chapter President Dean Sadowski, Ashland ’15
In 2021, as PLC begins its third decade of preparing undergraduate leaders, it will undergo a rebranding thanks to the generosity of Michael “Mickey” McKenzie, Texas Tech ’67, and his wife Barbara Esslinger McKenzie. PLC will now be known as the McKenzie Family Presidents Leadership Conference. By endowing the event, the McKenzie family enables the Fraternity to continue strengthening the existing leadership skills of our chapter CEOs while challenging our presidents to be men of character, good citizens, and leaders in their communities, both now and for life.
The role of president requires critical decision-making, strategic planning, partnerships with the university community, and unity with the General Headquarters Staff. At PLC, presidents participate in programming that will help them bridge the gap from being an admired brother to a true leader. Whether it is formalizing risk management policies, expanding chapter academic goals, understanding how to get the most out of the Phi Delt network, or sharing best practices in philanthropy, PLC covers the gambit of preparation, planning, and execution!”
—David Kovacovich, Arizona State ’98, PLC Faculty
Going forward, the McKenzie Family PLC will strive to give our highest-level undergraduate leaders an experience that will enable them to be transformational leaders within their chapters, universities, communities, and eventually within their chosen professions. This gift reinforces that Phi Delta Theta is strongly positioned to continue to prepare our future leaders.
As Phi Delta Theta strives to be the premier fraternal leadership development society in North America, the McKenzie Family Presidents Leadership Conference’s foundation is now part of the McKenzie family’s legacy both within the Fraternity and the world.