Leading from behind
Hy-Vee's new leader Randy Edeker doesn't want to be the center of attention, but he plans to keep the grocery chain at the center of the community
Friday, September 14, 2012 7:00 AM
Hy-Vee focus will stay on charity, customer service and healthful eating
Hy-Vee’s new leader plans to keep and grow the chain’s focus on health, customer service and contributing to local charities.
“Some things, we’re going to keep doing like we always have.” said Randy Edeker, Hy-Vee Inc.’s new chairman, president and CEO.
And remember Hy-Vee’s old slogan? Edeker said there will be a big emphasis on delivering a “helpful smile in every aisle.”
“Delivering on the equation of a great service experience, is what we’re internally focused on,” he said. “I think that (service) is crucial in this day in age. Lots of folks can fight on price, and I feel like we’re priced well with all of our competition. But really, delivering on the promise of a helpful smile is important to us.”
Another thing the company will put a greater emphasis on is continuing to be a leader in the grocery business.
“We’re studying lifestyles of customers -- what are the foods that they want?” he said, adding that customers’ preferences brought in celebrity chef Curtis Stone.
“They wanted more of a culinary focus,” he said. “We’ve done a good job at improving how we approach food. And our customers are demanding that.”
Another way the chain is improving its sales effort with food is by increasing its options in the health food market, including fresh and local produce, organic food, and gluten free choices. “Since we began it eight years ago, the health market continues to be one of our fastest growing departments in the entire store,” he said.
As Hy-Vee continues to partner with Gov. Terry Branstad on the Healthiest State Initiative, Edeker said the company wants to focus on the business of health.
“We have 195 dieticians and we will continue to grow that,” he said.
Edeker said in some counties, residents only have access to a dietician if they suffer from diabetes or a heart attack. He wants to ensure that Hy-Vee customers have the ability to consult with a dietician.
Edeker wants Hy-Vee to continue its strong involvement with community events, as well as find more larger-scale opportunities like the Honor Flights, and its charity work with Variety - The Children’s Charity and juvenile diabetes.
“If there’s anything that kids are involved in, our stores are there to be involved from little league to soccer. I think we’ve raised $14 million for JDRF, those good works that our folks do won’t change,” he said.
When Hy-Vee Inc.’s new store in Urbandale opened inAugust, the upscale mega store, with its sushi bar, artisan breads, and an extensive health-food market, was the talk of Greater Des Moines.
And whether he’ll admit it to you or not, Randy Edeker, the grocery store chain’s president, chairman and CEO, had a big hand in everything that store has to offer. He was at the store late into the night, helping put finishing touches on things before its grand opening. However when it came time for the press and the ribbon cutting, Edeker was nowhere in sight.
“That’s because it wasn’t his store. It’s (store director) Josh Asche’s store,” said Scott Raecker, Urbandale’s state representative and the executive director of Character Counts in Iowa. “He’s never one to be out in the front. He wants others to be given the attention instead.”
Raecker has known Edeker, who serves on the board of Character Counts, for several years and said he is passionate, grounded and a big thinker. He’s an example of the company’s values of honesty, integrity, friendliness, and caring, he added.
“Every community is going to benefit with Randy in charge,” he said. “Hy-Vee is so much more than a grocery store. It’s invested in the community, and does things for the right reasons and will continue to be.”
A quiet leader who chooses to stay out of the spotlight, Edeker, 49, steadily worked his way up through the ranks at Hy-Vee.
He began his career with the company in a part-time position and the plan was to only stay a year. Edeker, who had just married his high-school sweetheart, Dawn, said the two were young and didn’t have much money. He had a brother who worked for the company and Edeker hoped to save some money so he could attend college.
Instead, he spent more than 30 years with the grocery store chain, moving from state to state and filling a variety of roles before being named president, chairman and CEO -- only the fourth person in the company’s 82-year history to do that job.
“I don’t think many people grow up intending to be in the grocery business,” he said. “They find a job that they love and that works and they stay.”
Edeker took a deep breath before rattling off the long list of jobs he’s held with Hy-Vee over the years, which includes courtesy clerk, checker, night stockman and assistant manager. In 1993, he became the director of a store in Columbus, Neb., where he worked for two years before moving to the corporate side of the company.
Edeker was the director of operations for two geographic regions, vice president of marketing, senior vice president of retail operations and the executive vice president and chief operating officer.
“When you work for one company since you were 18, there’s not much you haven’t done,” he said.
Stockholders elected Edeker to succeed Ric Jurgens as president of Hy-Vee in 2009 and he was named chairman and CEO in May of this year.
“It has been my privilege to serve Hy-Vee and our customers for over 43 years,” Jurgens said back in May. “Since I’ve given my entire working life to Hy-Vee, the future of our company is very important to me. I retire with great confidence knowing that we have a strong, talented leader in Randy Edeker, and knowing he is surrounded by an outstanding team of executives at every level who will make Hy-Vee even better in the years to come.”
Never one to accept praise, Edeker said being named president wasn’t in his plans. “I just loved what I did,” he said, saying that Hy-Vee’s culture and its effect on the communities it serves were the reasons he stayed.
“The grocery industry is involved with so many aspects of business and manufacturing,” he said. “It affords you the chance to be a part of the community and what’s happening. Those are the things I saw early on. You’re really part of the tapestry of the community if you do it right.”
He said that as he drove to the the board meeting where he would be confirmed as president, chairman and CEO, he looked in the mirror and thought to himself, “How did I get here?”
“The thing that I reflected on the most is that it seems that at every point while at Hy-Vee, someone would take me under their wing,” he said.
This is especially true about his relationship with Jurgens. The two men developed a strong friendship over the years, he said, by taking on large projects, like the Hy-Vee triathlon, and building them together.
“Ric and I had a unique relationship,” Edeker said. “We would always talk out every decision ever since I was the vice president of marketing. … We would discuss and vet ideas, and build those right down to the last project he took on, which was the Healthiest State initiative.”
Now that he’s the one in charge, Edeker wants to continue to focus on the communities that Hy-Vee is a part of and the employees he’s in charge of. He said he’s a strong believer in putting himself second.
“Always open the door for somebody else. Always say thank you. And if there’s a chance to sit in the front seat or the back seat, let somebody else sit up front. It doesn’t mean you’re giving up the authority or the power, but it means you’re staying humble,” he said.
Edeker said he’s happy to guide the store in the direction it needs to go, but Hy-Vee has thousands of employees that keep it on its path.
“Besides, too much gets written about guys like me,” he said. “They’re the ones that we should talk about.”