GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- For some, Pat Quinn's 12-year legacy as chief executive officer of Spartan Stores here is the doubling of the wholesaler's volume from $1.3 billion to about $2.6 billion, boosted by a number of acquisitions.
ity. He refers to the remaking of the company's business practices. And he talks about the vision and planning that was geared to making the 80-year-old wholesaler competitive in the next century.
"We were a good company, we just hadn't defined ourselves," said Quinn of Spartan when he arrived as president and CEO in May 1985, following executive positions with Nabisco and D&W Food Centers. Quinn arrived at a time when Spartan had experienced some rapid turnover in CEOs.
"I helped us put together a philosophy of who we were. We wrote a philosophy that focuses on people."
Quinn will hand over his CEO role to president and chief operating officer James Meyer on July 15.
Many of Quinn's early moves were symbolic. The company began referring to employees as associates because "we're all in this together." Quinn ended the practice of reserved parking (only 10% of the workforce had been entitled to that perquisite). In fact, he converted some of those parking spots to spaces for customers -- driving home the importance of the customer. The company also began using the word "partner" to refer to its suppliers.
But Quinn's focus was more than symbolism. He soon began to reshape the company's culture. "We restructured philosophically away from authoritative management," Quinn recalled. "There wasn't a lot of teamwork or interchange of information. So we added more delegation and participatory management. We made the human resources director a vice president in order to enhance our message about the importance of our people."
These moves were reinforced by the creation of a monthly "President's Forum" in which representatives of all departments meet with the president to discuss potential improvements and ask questions.
"We established an open-door policy with management," Quinn said. "Openness about communication."
Another early move for Quinn at Spartan was to emphasize the need for community involvement, which he called "civic rent."
Quinn also involved himself heavily in food industry affairs, holding posts including chairman of the board of the National Grocers Association and board member for Food Distributors International and the Food Marketing Institute.
He also recognized early the importance of reshaping the company's operations to improve practices. In that regard he was often considered well ahead of many in the supermarket industry.
"Before we heard the term 're-engineering,' we really did it here," Quinn said. "We needed to do a restructuring early. We redid the warehouse distribution systems. We redid the transportation fleet. We changed to a wood pallet system.
The early work in restructuring laid the groundwork for what was to come. In 1992, before Efficient Consumer Response became industry dogma, Spartan began working with IBM's distribution consulting group to examine the company's business processes. The conclusion was Spartan could remove a great deal of inefficient steps -- actually two-thirds of its processes -- with the right technology. In 1993 Spartan hired Integrated Systems Solution Corp., an IBM subsidiary, to help execute a technology-intensive re-engineering plan called BASE (Business Automation Support Environment). The initiative supported the use of efficient practices ranging from continuous replenishment to cross docking to electronic data interchange.
"The BASE program became the largest effort undertaken," Quinn said. "Most of it worked, some of it didn't. But the company came away better and stronger. It was all aimed at how efficient we can be. It put us in the forefront of what's important.Quinn concedes that in some ways the jury is still out on re-engineering's effectiveness. "The net judgment on all of this is will we be able to grow sales and the bottom line. That will be the real test. But if we hadn't done what we did in 1992 or 1993, we would have been in a reactive mode today, which is the way I see some other companies."Early on we formed the vision. That's why we are at this point now. I feel good that as I leave, we're capable of moving into the future, of being competitive. We have the strength."