Kroger CEO Takes the High Road


Rising up from the ranks is a term often used to describe a successful executive or leader of a group. Sometimes it is only a phrase, a description, a metaphor for someone who is stepping into a new position, usually a step up from a previous career. For Kroger ‘s new Chief Executive Officer, Rodney McMullen, it is more than just a catch phrase, but a journey of higher achievement on the road of success taken from inside the company

He is an executive of the Kroger Co., headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, and he has risen from a store clerk in Lexington, Kentucky and eventually to Chief Executive Officer of Kroger Co., though the history in-between those intervals is stocked with character shaping experiences. It has been the Kroger company’s history to hire from within its ranks when cashiers, clerks or department managers show promise. This week, after 36 years with the company, McMullen is the at the top of that chain and the recognizable person everyone will think of when someone says Krogers.

Probably because he came from working-class parents, William and Henrietta, who worked several different factory jobs to stay employed, McMullen is self-effacing and modest. His humble roots gave him a grounding in hard work, reward, responsibility and respect. Having an austere lifestyle growing up gave him the incentive to reach higher and with his parents encouragement he went to college.

McMullen’s parents helped him the first year of college, hoping a higher education would offer more security once he graduated. McMullen took up the challenge, but surpassed their expectations. McMullen started with Kroger in Lexington, Kentucky in 1978 on his way to becoming the first member of his family to go to college and perhaps become an attorney. He earned a master’s degree at the University of Kentucky in four years.

He steadily rose through the ranks doing every and any job or shift in the store, except cashier. He found it difficult to punch in customer’s orders, even though he was studying to become an accountant. As his studies drew to a close the local vice-president of operations wondered if McMullen thought a career at Kroger’s was a good fit for him.

McMullen moved up the ladder of the Kroger corporation and played a key role as a financial analyst in stopping a leveraged buyout by corporate raiders. Another move, inspired by fierce competition from discount stores, pharmacies and dollar stores, helped the company once again maintain a profit margin and continue as a standout supermarket. The road to success is filled with highs and lows, for a CEO or a stock boy, even at the Kroger Co., and it takes hard work to remain at the top of the grocery store food chain. Kroger lowered their prices, took a smaller piece of the grocery pie, and added outstanding customer service.

Kroger As a Cincinnati based company it was discovered the revitalization of the downtown area was being overlooked by the Giant supermarket chain. Cincinnati’s has everything in the downtown spruce up except, a grocery store. Most of the grocery stores in the Kroger family are large, extensive, expansive places to shop, with a wide variety of food products available. The downtown area, however, is not the best stop for that type of store.

Always looking to partner with people who need practical experience in the real world, Kroger’s has partnered with University of Cincinnati architectural students to design a concept that will fit in with the downtown area. A site has not been purchased, but McMullen and company have raised the excitement level in the downtown area for a grocery store as there has not been one there for years.

There are two bright spots on McMullen’s star as the new CEO of Kroger, the acquisition of Harris Teeter grocery chain and an exceptional rise in a first quarter stock performance when total sales rose almost 10 percent. This can be attributed in part to the Harris Teeter purchase. From stock boy to CEO, Kroger’s new king of the mountain took the high road all the way to the top.

By Andy Towle

The Motley Fool
Cincinnati Business Courier

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