2012 Power 50: No. 18 Jerry Garland

Jerry Garland, the president and chief executive officer of Associated Wholesale Grocers [3], the member-owned cooperative based in Kansas City, Kan., is never too busy to pick up a phone.

When he took the top post in 2009, he told SN he hoped AWG would be “large enough to leverage our size for the benefit of our retailers, yet small enough [for executives] to continue to answer our own phones.

“If the phone rings, I still pick it up,” he told SN earlier this year, “though today I get more texts than calls. But no matter what your title is, we know the cash register is still in the store.”

Garland will be paying attention to more cash registers in the Southeast come early 2013 when AWG opens its seventh all-purpose distribution center, this one in Pearl River, La., about 40 miles north of New Orleans, to serve the company’s new Gulf Coast region — an area identified as having “the highest potential growth for AWG,” according to the company’s annual report.

The 720,000-square-foot warehouse will serve new and existing retailers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, with a capacity that could reach $2 billion or more, one AWG director told SN.

Garland has been the top executive at AWG since March 2009, following 18 years with the wholesaler after 24 years with Kroger Co. “Kroger was a great training ground,” Garland told SN at the time of his promotion.

“As a wholesaler you can answer most questions by asking yourself, ‘How will that work in the store?’ I think every wholesale executive has to know the register rings at the store.

“At AWG our culture is predicated on the premise that if the retailer is not successful, AWG cannot be successful.”

During his three-plus years at the helm, AWG has been successful, with sales growing by about $1 billion, from an estimated $7 billion to nearly $8 billion during that period.

Garland said AWG is guided by a simple maxim — to help its member retailers thrive. “As a cooperative, our real purpose for existing is to have profitable, growing members,” he explained. “Working together, we can be much more than any of us can be individually.”

According to one industry observer, Garland “has really propelled the company forward. He’s a very aggressive leader, and he certainly has been active in growing the company.”

Roger Collins, chairman and CEO of Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., said Garland continues “to try to find ways to do things better. He doesn’t just sit back and say what we did before will be good for the future. He’s working hard to figure out how to make things better as times change.”