McPhee got his start in the shoe business at an early age when he went to work at his father’s chain store, Wallace F. McPhee Shoes. He studied philosophy at the University of Santa Clara and left during his third year to serve in the Marine Corps as a first lieutenant during World War II. He briefly studied law at the University of San Francisco upon his return, before leaving to run his father’s store full-time.
He opened McPhee’s Junior Boot Shop, one of the first children’s shoe stores in Berkeley, Calif., in 1949, and it quickly expanded to five locations. After selling the stores, McPhee joined Edwards Shoes in 1955, where he continued on the operations side, focusing on almost all aspects of the business such as wholesale manufacturing, retail and management. In 1961, McPhee took over as CEO at U.S. Shoe Corp in the Jumping Jacks division. He eventually purchased the division and made a name for the brand by taking it public in 1984.
McPhee was known as a kids’ shoes entrepreneur and for expanding Jumping Jacks from a small Missouri-based business to an industry giant with more than 700 employees, according to his son John J. McPhee.