Business Leader and ‘Modern Renaissance Man’ Jim Keyes Named Recipient of 2024 Robert S. Folsom Leadership Award

From leading Fortune 500 companies to co-founding a space-focused startup and authoring a book on the power of education, Jim Keyes' journey from humble beginnings to visionary leader embodies the "American Dream."

The multifaceted philanthropist, artist, and pilot is set to receive the 2024 Folsom Award from the Methodist Health System Foundation for his significant contributions to business, education, and the community.

Jim Keyes, the former top executive at retail giant 7-Eleven and movie rental pioneer Blockbuster, has been tapped to receive the 2024 Robert S. Folsom Leadership Award. The honor, bestowed annually by the Methodist Health System Foundation, recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the community and exemplify the leadership qualities of former Dallas Mayor Robert S. Folsom.

Keyes will be feted at a gala dinner on May 17 at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas. He’ll join an esteemed list of past recipients that includes business leaders, philanthropists, and former U.S. First Lady Laura Bush.

From burgers to blockbusters: Keyes’ corporate climb

Keyes’ life story reads like a classic tale of the American Dream. Born in 1955 in Massachusetts, he grew up as the youngest of six children in a family that often struggled to make ends meet. But from an early age, he showed the kind of grit and determination that would define his career. At 15, Keyes took a job at McDonald’s to help support his family. He quickly rose through the ranks to become a shift manager, all while juggling multiple other jobs as a truck driver and a church organist.

Majoring in political science in college, he continued to work at McDonald’s.

Fast forward a few decades, with an MBA in hand, Keyes had become one of the most prominent business leaders in the country. As CEO, first at 7-Eleven and then at Blockbuster, he led both through periods of rapid growth and transformation.

But Keyes’ impact extends far beyond the boardroom.

Philanthropy, education, and the arts: Keyes’ passion for giving back

According to the foundation, the leader is known as a philanthropist and advocate for education, supporting many causes and organizations. From the American Red Cross to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School to the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, Keyes has lent his time, expertise, and resources to make a difference.

And he did it all while pursuing an astonishing range of interests and passions. Often noted as a “modern renaissance man,” Keyes is a commercial pilot, a musician, and an artist. His induction into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans in 2005 recognizes his professional and personal accomplishments.

To infinity and beyond: Keyes’ next frontier

Keyes isn’t one to rest on his laurels. He also co-founded Back To Space, a startup that uses immersive theater and virtual reality to give people a taste of lunar exploration and inspire the next generation of space explorers.  And he’s sharing his insights on the power of education in his new book, “Education Is Freedom.”

Education has long been a focus of Keyes’ philanthropic efforts, describing his own parents as highly intelligent but under-educated. As a founding director of the Dallas Education Foundation and the founder of the Education Is Freedom Foundation, he champions education as a means to empower others to overcome life’s challenges and adversities.

Methodist Health System Foundation President Jim Johnston said Keyes, like Robert Folsom, “has a lifelong commitment to education, has been a global business leader and has provided leadership and support of many philanthropic endeavors in Dallas and beyond,” per My Sweet Charity. 

Patron event and a “fun and elegant” dinner to transform lives, one newborn at a time

Nancy Ann and Ray Hunt, Lottye and Bobby Lyle, and Carolyn and David Miller, the Folsom Award event co-chairs, are preparing to celebrate Keyes at a “fun and elegant” dinner on May 17.

Funds raised from the 2024 Folsom Leadership Award dinner will benefit the transformation of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, ensuring that every newborn in Methodist’s service area in Southern Dallas has access to advanced life-saving neonatal services, according to a news release.

In addition to the awards dinner, a Patron Party will be held on May 1 at the home of Kathryn and Craig Hall. Invited guests will include Folsom Leadership Circle donors of $10,000 or more. Since 2005, the Folsom event has raised over $22 million for the health system’s programs and services.

Go here for information, tickets, and sponsorships.

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