On June 4, Randy Edeker came to work as the newly minted chairman and chief executive officer of Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, only the fourth person to hold those titles in the 235-store Midwestern chain’s 82-year history.
Edeker, 49, is the very definition of “promoting from within.” After growing up down the street from Hy-Vee’s original headquarters in Chariton, Iowa, he started, fresh out of high school, as a part-time employee at a Chariton Hy-Vee store, launching a 30-year career with the company. Along the way, he received three “Hall of Fame” awards from Hy-Vee, including store manager of the year. He succeeded Ric Jurgens as president of the chain in 2009 and in May was elected by the board to succeed Jurgens as chairman and CEO.
Jurgens personally mentored Edeker over the past eight years. “I’ve been Ric’s right-hand lieutenant,” he told SN. “We would discuss things and I think he and I were philosophically very well aligned.”
As a decentralized, employee-owned company that allows each store director to chart his or her own course, Hy-Vee presents unusual managerial challenges to its chief executive. But Edeker sees no reason to change the company’s organizational structure. “This is an 82-year-old model, so our CEOs in the past [Jurgens, Ron Pearson and Dwight Vredenburg] have been able to manage that and keep everybody going in the right direction, yet allow them to have a voice,” he said. “I’m a 30-year product of that methodology so I don’t see it being a problem.”
Even with the decentralized structure, Edeker in his most recent roles as president and chief operating officer has helped bring about a number of companywide changes at Hy-Vee, particularly emphasizing consumer education. For example, Hy-Vee now employs 195 dietitians, who provide nutritional advice across all 235 stores. “We have towns of 3,000 people where we have the only dietitian in the entire county,” he said.
Hy-Vee has similarly been adding in-store chefs throughout the chain and now has more than 100.
One notable chef — Australian TV personality Curtis Stone — has created recipes for Hy-Vee as part of an advertising campaign that is winding down. “I think [the campaign] did a fantastic job of elevating the focus of cooking at home and eating healthy,” Edeker said. “It’s also elevated our store knowledge and helped drive our chef’s program.”
Edeker’s emphasis on sustainability has resulted in a new sustainability section on Hy-Vee’s website, a new sustainable seafood program, an impending LEED-certified fuel station and a line of four private-label products, called One Step, linked to sustainability and hunger projects. “Sometimes sustainability and health and helping society get merged into one, and I think we are doing a lot in those areas,” he said.