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Supervalu CEO says diversity makes teams smarter

Monday, July 25, 2011  
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Craig Herkert, president and CEO of SUPERVALU, shared "Ten Business Lessons I Learned by Heart" at the Network of Executive Women’s fifth annual NEW Executive Leaders Forum, July 21 outside Los Angeles. Two hundred senior-level executives from the consumer products and retail industry attended the three-day conference.

The SUPERVALU chief cited a recent Harvard Business Review web post, "What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women." The study found "there was little correlation between a group’s collective intelligence and the IQs of its individual members. But, if the group includes more women, the group’s collective intelligence rises," Herkert reported.

What mattered most "wasn’t that group members were all really smart, IQ-wise, but that they listen and respect each other," he said. "It’s about respect, inclusion and consideration for many different outlooks applied to a common issue."

Herkert 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."

Another lesson was having a thick skin. As the audience laughed, he showed a web post naming him "Worst CEO" in the food industry. He also said executives should "cast a wide net" when recruiting talent. He said he has gone outside the industry for new hires--like Cub Foods President Keith Wyche--with great success.

You "set the tone" as leaders, Herkert told the mostly female audience. "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 said. "Show you care," he said. "Every name on the org chart is a living, breathing person."

The CEO also believes in technology. "I wanted to see if we could use social media to encourage how people saw our company." He started with business social site "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.'

"Technology frees us," Herkert says animatedly. He talked about getting rid of all the cubicles in his office, freeing up his employees to work from home when they need to, or attending their kids' soccer games. "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."

CEO Craig Herkert (center) posed with members of the SUPERVALU family before his presentation at the NEW Executive Leaders Forum 2011, July 21. Pictured from left: Teresa Chipps, vice president, sales and marketing development, supply chain, for the firm’s Northern Region; Sue Klug, president of the Southern California division; Linda Johnson, vice president for diversity and inclusion, talent acquisition; and Michelle Murphy, senior vice president for corporate HR and labor relations.

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