Late last month, the editors of Mass Market Retailers hosted a reception and dinner in Chicago. The occasion was to recognize several of the growing number of women who are starting to lead and shape mass market retailing in America.
The event was noteworthy for several reasons. For openers, there were the women themselves, leaders representing such world-class retailers as Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart, Albertsons Cos. and several others. Each reaffirmed why they had risen to the top of their respective organizations, demonstrating the poise and elegance that have come to be expected of them as retail leaders.
But in recognizing these leaders, the editors of MMR were only touching the surface of what mass retailing has become to the American business community. The evening was further impacted by the publication’s decision to invite — and recognize — several members of the United States women’s Olympic team, one that had acquitted itself so favorably at the recent Olympic Games in Tokyo.
These Olympians were invited — indeed encouraged — to speak about themselves, their accomplishments, and, in particular, the travails they experienced on the road to Olympic glory. And it was the latter that drew the audience’s attention. These were, it became clear, women who had overcome more than their share of setbacks, obstacles and discouragement on the road to Olympic recognition and medals. Lesser individuals might easily have become discouraged, disillusioned and despairing of attaining a life achieved by so few. But these women persevered, endured and, in the end, triumphed against odds that would have defeated ordinary people. Clearly though, these women will never be ordinary — as the accolades of the hundreds in attendance made abundantly clear.
Other highlights emerged from the evening’s event as well. Among them was a group of young adults who attended, invited by their parents (and sanctioned by the editors of MMR) to meet and eat with the Olympians, who, in turn, eagerly welcomed and embraced the youngsters. In meeting these athletes, each youngster in attendance saw themselves — or, at the least, what they might become, given the encouragement and nurturing of loving parents who are prepared to open the same doors for their children that these Olympians had already so successfully passed through.
But the true meaning of the evening had less to do with the honorees and celebrities who made the occasion a memorable one than with the attendees who welcomed them. As background, MMR and sister publication Chain Drug Review have traditionally viewed mass retailing as an ongoing experiment, one that builds on each previous generation of leaders to strengthen the next generation.
So it was that the attendees who most clearly valued their inclusion in the evening’s events were those people that time and the passing parade tends to overlook or, worse still, forget. As he usually is at such events, Jim Whitman, the glue that holds NACDS together, was there as the event’s co-host. And, as always happens, his presence made a memorable evening all the more memorable. Walgreens president John Standley was a guest — no, he was not among the honorees — because recognizing and appreciating the chain drug industry in America is an integral part of what he does.
Jim Devine was there, appreciative as always at being included and humble as always at any recognition. Bob Goode came to Chicago for the event, as did Gary Rosenthal, both centers of attention because they hadn’t been much seen in public recently. Retail legend Mark Panzer was an eagerly anticipated guest, his legendary contributions to mass retailing still resonating with the other guests. And Kelly Coughlin is a welcome addition to any gathering (in addition to being the charming daughter of the late Tom Coughlin, former Walmart president).
Finally, Judy Mansuetto, who once ran our Midwest office and still occupies a special place in our hearts (despite her recent retirement) was an honored guest, and performed the way she always has: flawlessly. Thanks Judy.
The list could go on and on (in fact it did go on and on), not because these guests were once part of the mass retailing industry but because they remain an integral part of that industry, the people who built the platform that enables the industry’s current leaders to perform so admirably.
So this little note is in fact a thank you note. It is our opportunity to express our gratitude to those specially invited guests who took the time to travel to Chicago for an evening which we hope (and believe) was a very special one.
Many thanks, and keep your calendars open for the next event.