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Looking Back on Five Years of Ranking Power Players

Looking Back on Five Years of Ranking Power Players

When SN began its annual Power 50 rankings in 2003, three of the four top spots were devoted to Wal-Mart executives. The current list, which appears in this week’s theme issue (see Page 24), has only one Wal-Mart representative: president and CEO Lee Scott, who was in fact demoted a few places from the prior year in the face of mounting challenges for the retail giant.

So it goes with the Power 50 rankings, which have measured shifting levels of influence among movers and shakers for the past five years.

Changes in the roster usually reflect evolution of industry priorities. In the government sphere, for instance, an intense focus on terrorism and food security in 2003 led to the inclusion of Tom Ridge, Homeland Security secretary, and Tommy Thompson, Health and Human Services secretary. Yet, in later years, government officials chosen reflected different priorities, including food safety.

Proponents of various causes often made brief appearances on SN’s list. In 2006, for example, mounting concern over trans fats led to the inclusion of the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, after that organization pushed the Food and Drug Administration to change labeling rules. That same year consumer privacy concerns about RFID led SN to include the director of CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering) on its list.

The Power 50 has also reflected the impact of hot product trends, including the low-carb mania that prompted the 2004 inclusion of Dr. Robert Atkins, who had died the year before. Atkins’ name was pulled the following year as the trend unraveled.

The world of finance has been reflected on SN’s roster as well. In 2003, William H. Donaldson, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, made the list because of the national focus on restoring investor confidence. The next year, SN named “the shareholder” (generic designations are occasionally used) to mark the more activist role taken by this group. In 2006, “the new private investor” was inserted to underscore the growing role of that sector.

The impact of industry consolidation was always apparent on SN’s scorecard. In 2004, Associated Wholesale Grocers’ Gary Phillips made the rankings after his company picked up nearly 500 customers following the collapse of wholesaler Fleming Cos. Supervalu’s 2006 acquisition of the best-performing divisions of Albertsons led to the rise of Supervalu’s chairman and CEO, Jeff Noddle, on the list — and the removal of Albertsons’ top executive, Larry Johnston.

On the lighter side, in recent years SN has highlighted the influence of celebrities such as TV stars, with Oprah Winfrey included last year and celebrity cook Rachael Ray this year.

Unlike those stars, most of the Power 50 are unlikely to be trailed by the paparazzi. Yet, SN’s editors will closely track all the players for inevitable changes in influence in coming years.