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Grocery, CPG CEOs share leadership advice

The winners of this year’s leadership awards at the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference sat down to discuss what makes them great leaders.

5 min read




A diverse group of grocery and CPG executives were bestowed top executive leadership honors at last weekend’s Food Marketing Institute Midwinter Executive Conference in Miami. They sat down with FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin to talk about what it takes to be a great leader in today’s grocery retail industry.

Honor your past to inform your future

As chairman of the nearly 130-year-old Coca-Cola Company, Muhtar Kent had some advice for how to fuse a company’s heritage with its future. “A great heritage doesn’t mean anything if you can’t properly, effectively, fuse it with the future and make sure you’re consumer-centric every single moment,” he said.

For Tom Heinen, co-president of Heinen’s Grocery Stores, sticking with his grandfather’s original mantra of “Buy the best, sell the best, treat your customers as guests and invite them back” has served him well in his leadership role. “We use different words, we’ve modernized the language, but to be honest with you, that’s pretty much how we’ve stayed in business, I believe,” he said. “We’ve stayed true to that kind of mantra.”

A similar mantra has been important to Hy-Vee CEO Randy Edeker: Honesty, integrity, caring, sharing and trust. “It’s knowing when to change and when not to change,” he explained. “Change, evolve, keep up with the customer, follow their lifestyles, adapt quickly, but then stay true to who [you] are.”

Invest in your relationships

One of the biggest advantages for a businessperson can be the relationships he or she creates, according to Kent. “Nurture them, grow them and invest in them because it’s the best investment you can make,” he said. “In creating this close environment with other people, that’s really what gets everything done.”

Kent believes breaking bread with people can be a great way to foster relationships. “Never eat alone,” he said. “Don’t waste that opportunity because when you break bread is when you can actually create a great relationship.”

Ern Sherman, retired vice president of retail industry affairs at The Coca-Cola Company, also believes having friends in the industry can be a great advantage. “At times, this business can be pretty challenging, and when it is challenging, how nice it is to have friends,” he said.

“Find as many friends as you can,” Sherman continued. “Be a real student of the game. Find someone you can look up to you who you think really delivers on those expectations that you have in business, then just follow your passion.”

Create a positive company culture

Edeker says creating a positive culture at Hy-Vee starts with bringing in the best and brightest employees. “We have a strong culture of finding people with promise — some folks that just need a hand,” he said. “Maybe they don’t show all the promise but there’s potential there. I think part of our culture is about how do you help people better themselves.”

Heinen believes his company’s culture is a large part of its success. “It’s really built around our two corporate values of honesty and respect,” he explained. “We really try to deliver the message that we are there to help everybody grow and be successful, and that we’re there to nurture them and really get them to love coming to work.”

Communicate with your team

When it comes to his morning routine, Hy-Vee’s Edeker says it’s important to start talking to his team first thing. “[I like to] see what’s happened overnight with 88,000 people — make sure everybody is OK,” he explained. “With that many people, there’s invariably something that could’ve happened to someone somewhere and we’ll touch base on those things.”

“When I talk to my people, I hear what’s going on,” he continued. “I hear what their opinions and their thoughts are and it helps me formulate where I go with my day. The mornings are always great for me because I feel like everyone is fresh and you’re thinking about what has to get done.”

Full list of winners:

Sidney R. Rabb Award
Randy Edeker, Chairman of the Board, CEO and President, Hy-Vee

William H. Albers Award
Muhtar Kent, Chairman, The Coca-Cola Company
Ern Sherman, Vice President, Retail Industry Affairs (Ret.), The Coca-Cola Company

Robert B. Wegman Award
Tom Heinen, Co-President, Heinen’s Grocery Stores

Glen P. Woodard, Jr. Award
Greg Calhoun, Awarded Posthumously, Calhoun Enterprises

Herbert Hoover Award
Mark Batenic, Chairman, IGA

Esther Peterson Award
U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA)

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