business news in context, analysis with attitude

Article text.
In anticipation of next week's Food Marketing Institute "FMI Connect" conference and exhibition in Chicago, MNB this week will feature interviews with three FMI board members.

Today: Colleen Wegman, president, Wegmans Food Markets and the new vice chairman for food safety with the Food Marketing Institute.

What is the biggest transition you think the industry is going to have to make over the next 10 years?

Colleen Wegman:
Our industry has consolidated and new forms of competition have emerged everywhere.  An important transition for the future is to focus on the end consumer, and ensure each business offers something uniquely positioned for its target segment.

Customers in general expect more of our industry today.  Safety is a given in their minds, however, it requires constant attention and collaboration across our supply chain.  Especially as people are consuming more fresh products.  Our standards need to be consistently high across the industry with full transparency, traceability, and open sharing of best practices.  FMI is working hard to ensure this is happening, and we continue to improve.

What do you think will be the biggest adjustment you'll have to make in your own company, and how are you laying the groundwork for it now?

Colleen Wegman:
Food safety remains a priority to our company, and our industry.  FMI considers Food Safety as one of its key strategic priorities.  This is not a competitive issue.  We are all only as strong as our weakest link here.

What demands do you think an empowered consumer base will put on the food industry? How about an entire new generation of employees that make have different expectations of what the work experience should be like?

Colleen Wegman:
The consumer demands transparency, and deserves information at their fingertips.  It’s very evident with new generations that they are asking more questions and wanting to know the “why” behind what they’re being asked to do or support.

Employees seek and deserve meaningful work, in a respectful environment.  Our industry is unique in that it employs more young people than most other industries.  We are the first job for most Americans.  We have a great responsibility to train the future workforce.
How important do you think transparency (about product sourcing, nutritional info, GMOs, etc...) will be going forward, and is there a line you think retailers should not cross because it will be going too far?  Do you think that retailer priorities will always be in synch with supplier priorities in this area?

Colleen Wegman:
Transparency is critical.  GMO is the hot topic today.  We fully support a Federal standard for labeling foods that do not contain GMO.  Our job is to ensure safety in everything we sell.  The choice of consuming GMO should be up to the customer.

What's the biggest - and in retrospect, the most important - mistake that you've ever made, and how did you grow from it?

Colleen Wegman:
You raise a good point here.  It’s fine to make a mistake once, as long as you learn from it and don’t make the same mistake twice.  I’m lucky enough to have opportunities to learn and grow everyday, whether I make mistakes or not.  Perhaps one important mistake I made early in my career was to try to do everything myself.  I clearly remember one of my mentors teach me to use my resources.  To involve people around me to do the work, and that they will enjoy it more, and so will I.  This has held true ever since.

What is the most significant thing you do each week, and why?

Colleen Wegman:
Balance time between my priorities of family, work, and community.   This is an important value to our family company.

What is the single-most important retailing rule that you've learned in your career, and how did you learn it?

Colleen Wegman:
To treat others the way you want to be treated.  From my parents, and then realizing business is no different when I began visiting stores with my dad since 5 years of age.

If you had to define the most important aspect of leadership, what would it be and why?  (And, if you are so inclined, could you give an example of this quality in practice?)

Colleen Wegman:
Ethics, and remaining true to your core values.  There are many examples.  Stop selling cigarettes.

My dad always taught us to lead with our heart.  Leading with your heart can make a successful business. That’s how free enterprise works.
Bonus question:   What is your favorite movie, and why? (And is there a business lesson in it)?

Colleen Wegman:
The Wizard of Oz.  There’s no place like home.  Yes, a big business lesson there.

Tomorrow: Randy Edeker, CEO, Hy-Vee, Inc.

KC's View: