2010 Power 50: No. 4 Craig Herkert

Blank - Power 50 Profile

Whether it’s a small neighborhood store or a giant national retailer, leadership is leadership, as far as Craig Herkert is concerned.

“The greatest influence on my leadership style has been my experience in grocery retailing,” Herkert said when asked to reflect on his development as a leader. “When I became assistant manager at a Jewel store in Joliet, Ill., at age 21, I came to understand that leadership is about listening, knowing your customer, understanding your business and being accountable in the decision process. Keeping this in mind has served me well throughout my career.”

Herkert, who took over as chief executive officer at Supervalu [3] a year ago, has called on those skills while putting together a new team and a new strategic outlook for the ailing retailer. The former head of Wal-Mart Stores’ international division and former American Stores executive said his focus has been on remaking Supervalu as a customer-oriented organization as a means to overcome sales and structural challenges. He has moved decisively to sell several groups of stores, launched a bold expansion for the Save-A-Lot discount format and a plan to focus its conventional stores around improved “shoppability” and “hyper-local” product offerings.

“He’s probably in the hottest seat of anyone in the industry,” Neil Stern, senior partner at McMillan Doolittle, Chicago, said of Herkert. “He inherited a lot of challenges. Not only does that company have a pretty profound sales challenge right now, they also have some financial and structural challenges in front of him.

“Most people would have their hands full just wondering, ‘How can I get the sales better?’ He’s got to do that while also thinking about, ‘How do I make this company better structurally today?’” he added.

Dave Pylipow, executive vice president of human resources and communications at Supervalu, said Herkert has brought a new energy and purpose to the organization.

“Craig’s influence at Supervalu was felt almost immediately in his high-energy approach to leadership,” Pylipow told SN. “He addresses issues head-on, consulting with the subject experts and engaging teams to be accountable in the process. Our business is moving faster than ever before, and Craig’s ability to focus on things that we believe will move the needle for us has been important. He is candid, approachable and committed to this business. He’s challenging our teams to move faster and do better every day.”

Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, New York, said Herkert’s prior success at Wal-Mart and American Stores indicates he has the ability to reverse fortunes for Supervalu.

“At Wal-Mart International he went into Brazil, which had been a problem for them for years, made a few key acquisitions and completely turned around the Americas,” he said. “He’s a very savvy executive in knowing consumers, and having good leaders in every key area. He’s competed against great global retailers. He’s a very deep thinker, very bright and a consummate pro who knows this business on a 360-degree basis.”

“As CEO, people are looking to me for direction, and they deserve to be listened to and to understand why decisions are made,” Herkert told SN. “As Supervalu fulfills the role of ‘America’s Neighborhood Grocer,’ I will ensure our focus always remains on our customers by meeting their needs and exceeding their expectations at every opportunity.”