Executive to Watch: Randy Edeker Grows Up With Hy-Vee

Randy Edeker Title: Incoming chairman and CEO, Hy-Vee Biggest Challenge: Maintaining strong growth trends and preserving Hy-Vee’s unique culture

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Randy Edeker cannot imagine being anyplace other than where he finds himself — less than three months away from becoming chairman and chief executive officer of Hy-Vee Food Stores [4], a company he has literally grown up with.

Before the chain moved its headquarters here in 1995, its headquarters and original distribution center were located on Osceola Avenue in Chariton, Iowa — just down the street from where Edeker grew up.

“The Hy-Vee trucks went by my house all the time and, because Chariton was a town of just 4,000, we all knew the Hy-Vee executives,” he explained.

So it wasn’t a surprise when Edeker took a part-time entry-level job at a Hy-Vee store when he was 18. What was a surprise, he told SN, was that he’s stayed with the company for the last 31 years.

“I didn’t intend to stay,” he said. “I wanted to be a football coach and to teach. But when you find something that works for you, you need to stay, and that’s what happened with Hy-Vee.

“So I feel it’s one of the greatest honors ever to be offered the position of chairman and CEO of a company I’ve grown up loving.”

Because the store he originally worked at was so close to the company’s offices, Dwight Vredenburg, the chain’s first chairman, used to come into that store, Edeker recalled “so I had several opportunities to meet with Dwight and carry out groceries for him.”

Edeker, 49, is scheduled to succeed Ric Jurgens [5] as chairman and CEO June 1, when Jurgens retires. Edeker will be only the fourth CEO in the company’s history.

Steve Smith, chairman and CEO of K-VA-T Food Stores [6], Abingdon, Va., told SN he expects the transition to be seamless. Edeker and Smith both serve on the Topco Associates board.

“Randy has come up through the Hy-Vee system and he’s been mentored by Ric,” Smith pointed out, “so he certainly understands the Hy-Vee culture and the rich heritage there of how to go to market.”

Smith said Edeker has “a Midwest common sense that enables him to analyze a situation and put a lot of good thought into it before moving forward.

“He’s very easy-going, but no one should underestimate his smarts. He’s a very intelligent, focused individual, and he’s got all the tools it takes to be a great leader.”

Randy Melville, senior vice president for Frito-Lay, Plano, Texas, said that, having observed Edeker in business meetings and on social occasions for more than 10 years, he believes Edeker to be “inclusive and collaborative in his management style. He’s very focused and makes his priorities very clear to his team, yet he’s also a good listener who values input from that team.”

Career Track

Because Edeker has spent his entire career with Hy-Vee, “he has a profound appreciation for its past,” Melville added, “but he’s also a visionary who is likely to explore new directions for the company rather than building solely on the past.”

Edeker worked in store-level positions in four states before being named a store director in Columbus, Neb., in 1993, where he was named “store manager of the year” in 1994.

He moved to the corporate office in 1995 as director of operations for one of Hy-Vee’s divisions and was voted “department director of the year” by his peers in 1998. A year later he was named assistant vice president, operations, for the chain’s new Kansas City region.

He was named vice president, marketing, in 2004 — being voted “officer of the year” in 2005; senior vice president, retail operations, in 2006; executive vice president and chief operating officer in 2008; and president in 2009.

Edeker told SN he knew a year ago that he would be Jurgens’ successor as chairman and CEO. In fact, Jurgens groomed him very deliberately for the job, he noted.

“I once heard a talk by Michael Eisner [former chairman of The Disney Co.], who spoke about the concept of business partnerships between senior and junior executives. I’ve been the junior member of a team, with Ric as the senior member, and I’ve learned a lot from him over the years.

“When business decisions have come up, we’ve talked about them multiple times and bounced ideas off each other and come to a decision we agreed on. So it’s been a fabulous learning experience for me because he’s afforded me that.

“Ric and I have always talked. But we see things differently. Ric is very much a skilled administrator, and I probably approach things more as a marketer, because marketing has always been my strength. But we usually reach the same conclusion from our different paths.”

Since his partnership with Jurgens goes back several years, Edeker said he doesn’t expect much to change once he becomes CEO. “Everything will be business as usual when Ric retires,” he said.

“However, it’s always different when you’re the second person and then you become the first, so the weight of that responsibility and leadership may feel different, but I believe I’m very well prepared for it and it’s something I’m excited to embrace.”

Hy-Vee is a $7.3 billion company operating 235 stores in eight contiguous states — Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, and, most recently, Wisconsin — “and over the next five years we will continue our path of steady growth in those states,” Edeker told SN. “You won’t see us jump into any additional states or leap over one state to move into another.”

Aside from the acquisition in 1997 of seven Kansas City stores from Schnuck Markets “and maybe an independent here and there, we’re not a company that’s grown through acquisition,” Edeker said, “and we don’t expect to acquire companies of any size as we grow.”

He said Hy-Vee will continue to open between five and seven new stores per year and remodel or relocate 12 annually.

Working for Hy-Vee is a passion, Edeker explained. “What makes this company so special is the culture.

“We’re an employee-owned company, and our people like having the ability to make decisions on their own, close to the source, to improve the lives of their customers and respond to competition.

“It’s a culture that’s been implemented over the last 85 years, and it takes a special individual to enhance that responsibility — someone who wants to have a say in how things are done and who’s focused on customer care and being friendly and helpful.”