Stater Bros. Putting People Before Profits
It’s pretty common for CEOs of retail chains to talk about how valuable their people are but when push comes to shove, most make the decision to shove employees out the door if it will provide a small boost to the bottom line. An exception to this rule is Jack Brown, chairman and chief executive of the 66-store Stater Bros. supermarket chain.
Mr. Brown, who started his career in stores like 90 percent of the people who work for him, is serious about his obligation to workers even earning admiration from the union that represents store employees.
He recently told The Press Enterprise, "I am responsible for the future of this company. I owe it to the Stater Bros. family who come to work every day and put their shoulders to our wheel, to be sure the company makes the right decisions to help them and their families."
Mr. Brown added, "My biggest challenge is to keep our people working. When I go to bed at night I think about our people and when I wake up in the morning I want to get there and see what I can do to help them keep their jobs."
Stater Bros. gained a competitive advantage back in 2003 and 2004 when Mr. Brown reached an agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers while the union was engaged in a lockout/strike with Albertsons, Kroger and Safeway. Consumers who were unwilling to cross picket lines turned to Stater Bros. and many have stayed. Stater Bros., according to Mr. Brown, continues to see customer counts go up despite California’s economic challenges.
Discussion Questions: What leadership lessons do you take from Jack Brown’s tenure running Stater Bros.? Do you think the chain is stronger competitively because of Mr. Brown’s approach to employee relations than others in California with CEOs who are seen as less worker-friendly?