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Part 5: Meijer Retailer of the Year Profile

During his final trade press interview with Progressive Grocer shortly before departing as Meijer's president to join Katy, Texas-based Academy Sports + Outdoors as its new president and CEO, J.K. Symancyk discussed his view of what helps sets Meijer apart from other employers. “As someone who’s not a family member, I can speak honestly about the fact that the beautiful part about being a member of this team is that it’s a private, family-held company,” with a consistency around an incontrovertibly “legitimate mission” to serve customers. “The more constituents you have to serve, the more you tend to have to make concessions and trade-offs,” he explains, “but the one thing that makes me most proud and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this team is that there is no ambiguity around what constituents are most important for us. It’s our customer.”

Consequently, Symancyk continues: “Team members are empowered to do the right thing — not just because it’s the right thing for a moment, but what’s going to be the right thing in the best long-term interest of serving our customers. A big part of what makes our days great is the ability to interact with so many customers and make a difference in their lives. Knowing that you have that level of support, and that you are surrounded by 60,000-plus team members who are oriented the same way, is a really cool thing to be a part of.”

Dynamic Growth Opportunities                      

Hank Meijer adds further color to why he thinks the company is an ideal organization for long-term career seekers: “If you start with the baseline, that we’re a very fast-paced, exciting, varied business, there are three things that come to mind for me. One, certainly, is a place filled with dynamic growth opportunities, which [enable employees] to take on greater challenges and responsibilities,” while being promoted and recognized as well.

The second element, Hank continues, is a palpable esprit de corps that imparts “feeling good about what you do” within “an ethical framework built on core values of doing something meaningful … as part of an organization that is doing many things that are important in the communities that we serve.”

The third noteworthy item is confidence in fellow co-workers, which, he says, “is something we really value about our culture.

“I’m certainly not objective about this topic,” he readily acknowledges, “but it’s the people I work with, in the sense of a cohesive enterprise, who serve as a constant reminder that we’re part of doing something that goes beyond selling product. It’s not only a crucial, but also an essential service. I’d like to think that as we expand in new communities, we will add something of value — that we’re not just another big box on the highway — with the difference being our people. That what’s most important to me about working at Meijer.”

Doug enthusiastically concurs. “I think one of the more interesting things about working here, especially for new staff members, is when introductions are taking place. And a key question that’s invariably asked is: ‘How long have you been at Meijer?’” In many cases, he adds, responses range from “20, 30 to 40 years — numbers which are simply amazing” in an industry notorious for high turnover.

“Our administrative assistant has been here for more than 55 years, and continues to do a great job,” says Doug. “There are many others like her who’ve been here for 40 and 50 years, and it’s just really gratifying to be a part of.”

Symancyk echoes the sentiments. “The inspiration derived in knowing that when we do what we do best, we make life better for our customers, for our team members and for our communities — it’s something that’s very powerful.”

What’s more, “it’s coupled with being able to be part of a team filled with great people, which is a true winning combination,” he notes. “I had one person on my team refer to working here as ‘retail vacation,’ because we really get the chance to focus on the fun parts of the job,” like helping customers.

Concludes Symancyk: “We get to really balance and focus on those things that are most meaningful, without the minutiae. And it’s a really big part of what gets people excited about being here.”

This is the final installment in our five-part series on PG's Retailer of the Year profile story on Meijer.

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