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Special Remarks by Craig Herkert

Posted By Robert Wray, Thursday, July 21, 2011
Updated: Friday, July 22, 2011
Joan Chow got a chuckle when she commented on last night's visionary leader--the attendee who first showed up to the chilly soiree in a hotel bath robe. Talk about innovation and risk-taking!

After being encouraged to talk amongst themselves, attendees took the floating microphones and gave feedback on what they've taken away so far from the conference. Topics of quality of life, empowering individuals and growth tools were high on the list.

Next, President and CEO of Supervalu Craig Herkert took the podium. He started off tongue-in-cheek, by showing a slide of a Food World news article where he's named "Worst CEO" of the year. Self-effacing and with razor-sharp wit, Herkert immediately had the full attention of the audience.

How to find teams? He says to take the best of what your industry has but also take in new talent.  He talked about finding diverse talent from places not even associated with supermarkets, great people with great careers elsewhere that can contribute to the talent pool you're after.

Is there more merit in working your way up than having it handed to you? 35 years ago, he was hired to bag groceries and he built his career from there. "You've got to make people excited about where they work. You must build enthusiasm for your strategy, make it fun to come to work," he says. 

Herkert says the core strength of Supervalu is its local stores. "I wanted to see if we could use social media to encourage how people saw our company." He started with, which was a change for the company's identity. "I took it to the individual stores. I just said 'share anything but don't do anything stupid.'" Stores began posting pictures, videos and comments. A great way to know what's going on and how people are responding to it. 

"Technology frees us," Herkert says animatedly. He talks about getting rid of all the cubicles in his office, freeing up his employees to work from home when they feel the need to, or attending their kids' soccer games without getting guff from upper management. "This isn't the '70s," he says. "My bottom line isn't if you're in the office for eight hours a day." It's whether you're productive inside the company.

Lately, he started a blog. He's learning how to share business, like the recent trip to the White House that Supervalu took, as it met with executives from "Wal-Mart, Walgreens and several small grocery chains [and] joined the first lady at the White House to outline a five-year program designed to improve the availability of healthy, affordable food to the estimated 23.5 million men, women and children who live significant distances from supermarkets." (StarTribune, July 20, 2011)

In between meetings at the White House and attending board meetings, Herkert amazingly has time to come talk to us about how to project confidence and inspire teams. 

He follows people on Twitter. "If I want people to engage and be transparent, getting to know there are people behind the name plate, this is the way to do it."  He wants to get to know his associates. He visits his stores, he gets behind the counter and waits on customers. 

"Respect and diversity go hand-in-hand," Herkert says. He believes it is "vitally important to be wildly aware" of customers' ethnicities and religions and what they're shopping for. "You have to take the time to appreciate people."

He went on to talk about the importance of women on teams, and how much higher the performance level of groups are when females are included in them. 

A popular topic this conference has been feedback. Herkert believes feedback definitely matters and should be listened to with open ears. That segued into understanding your work friendships, and being able to retain your leadership during tough calls.

Herkert echoed a running theme this conference: Never stop learning. Adding to it, "be a reader." Find lessons in courage and leadership, be inspired by innovators in history. He recommends the book "Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure."

Before he took a barrage of questions from the audience, he suggested people go see the movie "Bridesmaids"... just to laugh. Howcome we weren't surprised?

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