Western Region SVP Shelly Milum Armstrong Celebrates Retirement after 30-Year Career
Despite her father, Albert Glenn, serving 21 years in the Air Force and her mother, Josephine Glenn, working at the Lackland Air Force Base Exchange camera counter for a time, Shelly Milum Armstrong hadn’t given the Exchange much thought when she graduated from college. Plans quickly shifted when the Exchange recruited her for its college trainee program.
“The interviews went well and they made an offer,” Armstrong said. “So I accepted, and my first on-the-job training assignment was at Keesler Air Force Base as a sales area manager.”
Thirty years and eleven moves later, Armstrong is preparing to retire as the Exchange’s Western Region Senior Vice President.
“I never even saw myself leaving Texas!” Armstrong said. Nor did she see herself becoming a senior vice president.
“All I ever wanted to be was a store manager. That was my ultimate goal. Everything after has been a cherry on top,” said Armstrong, who held positions of store manager, general manager, regional vice president, store policy chief, store operations manager and vice president of marketing and advertising, among others. “You never know what path you’ll end up following. All my previous positions gave me great insight in my current position.”
Armstrong was instrumental in establishing several Exchange processes that stores still use today, such as the pick-and-pull system, where stores select which marketing elements they want, rather than the Exchange automatically sending all elements to every store, a change that cut marketing costs for the organization. Armstrong also helped implement the workload planning system to help directorates collect data from the field.
“I’m most proud of those accomplishments that make things better for the associates who came after me,” Armstrong said. “It’s nice to know some of the things I’ve done with the Exchange will be there long after I’m gone.”
She describes her leadership style as democratic, emphasizing the need to get people’s buy-in.
“You have to give people a voice so they’re comfortable expressing their ideas,” Armstrong said. “I want to make sure I’m putting people in a position where they can accomplish what they want to accomplish, and it’s not just, ‘Do as I say.’”
It’s also important not to be all business all the time.
“It can’t always be about the job when you’re interacting with people. They have to know you care about them as a person,” Armstrong said. “I always encouraged my associates to take their vacation time, spend time with their family. That’s what’s most important.”
While Armstrong fondly remembers her Fort Leonard Wood assignment as one where she got to lead a lot of “firsts”—opening the first in-store bank and implementing Smart Pay are two examples—her favorite assignment was Fort Benning, where she met her husband, Jimmy.
“I was standing on a ladder hanging something in the store when I first met him,” she recalls.
Her husband has been an almost honorary Exchange associate during the last 20 years.
“I went to a conference by myself and everyone was asking, ‘Where’s Jimmy?’” said Armstrong of her husband, who served 24 years in the Army. “He’s always been there for me and been supportive. My retirement almost feels like a retirement for him, too, because he’s been so actively involved.”
Armstrong and her husband are looking forward to the next chapter, where they plan to slow down and take road trips along famous pathways such as Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway.
“When you PCS, you’re going from point A to point B as quickly as you can,” she said. “Now we can slow down and take our time. We don’t need to be to a certain place by a certain date. We can turn off the main road if we want.”
Armstrong is also planning to get back into photography, a passion of hers, and spending more time with her family, including her two sons, Corey, who served 24 years in the Army, and Carlos, who served 20 years.
Reflecting on her career, Armstrong’s favorite part has been the relationships she’s built over her three decades with the Exchange.
“Ask anyone what the best part of working for the Exchange is and they’ll tell you it’s the people you meet along the way. I’ve built lifelong connections here,” she said. “I’ve gotten to have these experiences with people from all around the world, everywhere I’ve gone. What better company is there to work for? You can’t beat that.”