MINNEAPOLIS -- The calm aspect and clear strategic thinking of Alfred N. Flaten is moving Nash Finch Co. smoothly into the future, but the shocking death of Harold B. Finch Jr. left an emotional void in the organization that won't be filled quickly.
h, Harold Finch Jr.'s grandfather, was the first employee hired by the Nash brothers. Harry Finch eventually became CEO, and the company took its present name in 1921. Harold Finch Jr.'s father also headed the company.
Flaten, now president and CEO, is the first to say what the loss of Harold Finch Jr. means to the company: "The death of Harold Finch handed a tremendous loss to our company. It's a tragedy that's beyond explaining. I still have a hard time believing he isn't going to return. Every once in a while I look out the office and think he's walking by my doorway to go to his office.
"He was loved and respected by every employee of the company. Harold was a very unpretentious person; everyone called him 'Shorty,' except in the South, where it was 'Mr. Finch.' "He didn't like the 'Mr. Finch' because he was of the firm belief that he was no better than anyone else, nor should anyone in management think they are better than anyone else. It's just that we have different jobs. That thinking went through the entire organization and gives us our view on how to treat people: You treat them fairly, you treat them alike and you don't play favorites. "When he passed on, he left that kind of organizational culture, a culture that will be continued and fostered because it has worked well for 110 years.
"After all, there are not too many companies around that have been around for 110 years and not been sold, or had some ownership change. We think we'll keep it that way -- that's our goal." Flaten told SN Finch died in a traffic accident that occurred when an automobile transporting two people who were visiting the Twin Cities area sideswiped a truck heading west on the region's interstate beltway. The car, headed in the same direction as the truck, bounced off the truck, then was flung across the dividing median and hit three cars heading east. Finch was the sole fatality in the mishap.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the motorists involved in Finch's death approached the Finch family to express their sorrow, Flaten said. "Those people felt so bad; of course, anyone would. I understand they came to the church before the funeral -- on the day of the funeral -- to see Shorty's wife and the children. They tried to express how deeply regretful they were at the happenings.
"Then, as I understand it, the day before they left town, Shorty's wife went to talk to them to let them know there was no animosity whatsoever."
Finch is survived by his wife, Catherine; three sons and a daughter; a sister, and three grandchildren. None of Finch's children are actively involved in company management.
Flaten said the graciousness of the family in the face of tragedy illustrates as well as anything "the way the family is, and it reminds us, too, of what kind of man Shorty was."
With the death of Finch, the names of the two founding families also have passed from the company, with one exception: that of Robert F. Nash, vice president and treasurer. The chairmanship of Nash Finch is expected to remain vacant for a time in honor of Finch's memory.