SN editors have a secret this time of year.
They worry a lot about our annual Hall of Fame picks, in particular the choices involving active leaders. That’s because Hall of Fame is a career honor, and the book hasn’t closed on current leaders.
But our team didn’t lose sleep over this year’s choice of David Dillon, chairman and CEO of Kroger Co., who is very much an active leader. He joins a 2012 class of inductees that includes two celebrated former leaders, Sol Price, inventor of the warehouse club store, and Clarence Birdseye, an icon of the frozen food industry.
Here’s why we weren’t worried about choosing Dillon. As this week’s SN profile points out, he has transformed Kroger over the past decade with an unwavering focus on customer needs. His tenure has produced a long string of sales and market share gains, with a series of growth plans for the future. Dillon has shown the ability to take big risks, including on price, and to change his stances if it benefits the customer.
Moreover, Dillon has a deep understanding of what Kroger’s role in the universe should be. He raised eyebrows recently in redefining his company as far more than a supermarket channel player, but that description was on target in underscoring Kroger’s ability to compete for wider market share.
Dillon’s perspective on Kroger’s role sometimes seems to evoke the Spider-Man principle: With great power comes great responsibility. This became especially clear to me last year when Dillon spoke on an industry sustainability panel and participated in an SN video at the GMA Executive Conference in Colorado Springs.
He emphasized that Kroger has no interest in environmental greenwashing. “We are absolutely committed to only doing things that are real, not just nice marketing,” he said.
He advocated industry collaboration, saying Kroger’s direction is “very tactical by moving sustainability into a more collaborative process working with suppliers...”
And he showed a great deal of trust in Kroger associates, remarking that “many of the people we have today at Kroger got us to where we are now” on sustainability. “We didn’t bring in some gurus to do it,” he said of energy savings in particular.
Dillon is an excellent addition to SN’s Hall of Fame. He’d probably say we should instead honor his customers and associates, but we don’t have a hall that big.
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