CEO put people at the heart of a turnaround plan
NEW YORK – Since assuming control of a wobbly Southeastern Grocers, in 2017, Anthony Hucker says he’s “put people first” in every aspect of the retailer’s turnaround — essentially placing a bet that by trusting and empowering employees, the workers would save the company.
And that’s precisely what’s happening, Hucker said Tuesday during a keynote session at the NRF Retail Converge conference, being held virtually this week due to the pandemic.
Over the past three and a half years, Southeastern Grocers (SEG) has emerged from bankruptcy, returned to profitability, earned a Great Place to Work certification, and is growing again, he told CNBC’s Kate Rogers, who interviewed Hucker for the session, billed as an exploration of “a future fueled by trust.”
“There’s an old adage that you can never over-communicate. Trust is earned, or taken away, in a kind of balance sheet. We set about on a journey of communication and transparency. You have to help people understand the why before the how or the what,” Hucker said. “It gets to the purpose, what we call our way of being.”
Jacksonville, Fla.-based SEG added nine new stores in 2020 and upgraded nearly three dozen existing stores. The company also allocated funds for programs aimed at improving the lives of individuals and communities across its seven-state region. The company operates more than 500 stores under the Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie banners in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“We say we’re in the people business — we just happen to sell groceries,” Hucker told Rogers.
Hucker joined SEG in 2016 as chief operating officer. He previously served as president and chief operating officer of St. Louis-based Schnucks. Before that he was president of Landover, Md.-based Giant Food, and served on the executive board of Ahold USA. Earlier, Hucker spent seven years at Walmart in a variety of leadership positions, internationally and domestically. He began his career as a food industry analyst and later worked for 10 years with Aldi, with assignments in Germany, the United States and Austria. He was part of the leadership team that set up Aldi UK.
Since being named SEG’s chairman and CEO, Hucker said he has worked to implement a four-stage financial and cultural transformation process. The first two phases — “correcting the business” and “getting fit for purpose” — have been completed and phase three — “getting fit for growth” is proceeding toward the final phase, “fit to win.”
“The cultural turnaround has helped the financial turnaround,” Hucker told Rogers. “There’s a famous African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.’”
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