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2013 Power 50: Bob Ling, No. 5 in Wholesalers

Bob Ling
Bob Ling
The appointment of Bob Ling as president and chief executive officer of Unified Grocers, Los Angeles, is providing the member-owned cooperative with a chance to look inside itself to see if there are better ways of doing things.

Ling told SN he and his management team are focusing on making sure Unified’s performance including all the basic blocking and tackling is at a superior level, as part of a major effort to fulfill the needs of its retail members.

"Any top-level transition is an opportunity to look at all you do," he explained "At Unified we’ve chosen to do that to determine if we should continue a process as is or to change or modify it to improve what we do."

Ling became Unified’s CEO on May 1, following the retirement of Al Plamann, who held the title for nearly 20 years. Ling joined Unified in 1996 as general counsel and had been named president in August 2011.

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Dick Goodspeed, chairman of Unified and a former CEO of Vons, said Ling was elevated to president and, ultimately, CEO "because he was well-networked with the membership, which is a key element in the independent environment.

"In addition, as in any business, you have to have a certain amount of continuity along with new ideas, and Bob brings a different outlook as CEO. He looks at the business differently than Al Plamann, just as Ling’s successor will look at it differently than Bob does.


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"Bob is putting a new focus on accountability. What happens in all organizations is that people lose focus, and Bob’s finding new ways to measure performance."

To measure performance, Ling said Unified has created a customer satisfaction team that crosses organizational lines, "to make sure it’s easy for members to work with the warehouse and to ensure that all aspects of the customer experience are at the highest level to make sure the warehouse is in-stock, deliveries are going out on time and orders are correct," he told SN.

Read more: Unified Revamps Under New CEO Ling

"In doing so, if we see a need to change a process at the warehouse level, then our industrial engineers can come in and adjust the standards accordingly."

Unified has approximately 425 members operating about 1,200 stores, mostly along the West Coast. Sales have been flat $3.85 billion for the fiscal year ended last September, compared with $3.9 billion a year earlier.

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