CHICAGO -- Small food brokers can compete in much the same way that small retailers can: by focusing on customer service and differentiating themselves, said Bill Grize, the recently retired chief executive officer of Ahold USA, at a meeting of independent brokers here last week.
"The No. 1 advantage of working with independent brokers is that you go the extra mile," he said at the Independent Food Brokers of America Top-to-Top Executive Conference, citing a list of positive attributes his employees at Ahold related to him. "You are specialized and focused. All your lines receive your full attention. You tend to be more detail-oriented. You are great for regional brands. You can focus on innovative new items."
Those are perceptions that retailers have of independent food brokers already, and small sales agencies should seek to exploit those advantages, he said.
Grize also praised small food brokers for their ability to nurture entrepreneurial suppliers, which he described as part of the backbone of the economy.
"What drives job creation and growth in this economy is the entrepreneurs, and you represent a lot of them," he said.
Some of the perceived disadvantages of small brokers, he said, are their lack of an extensive system of field representatives and their technology capabilities.
He also stressed the importance of people in an organization, along with a firm commitment to core values.
"If you are honest, and you operate with integrity, you will get trust," he said. "If your people trust you, they will move mountains for you."
In addition, Grize described six qualities that he said make a good leader: integrity, courage, curiosity, compassion/empathy, optimism and humility. He offered the following comments on each of those characteristics:
- Integrity, he said, is "broader than honesty." For example, he said, operating with integrity involves "following the intent of the law, as opposed to the letter of the law."
- Courage, he said, "supports our decision to do the right thing."
- Curiosity, he said, is important because leaders must be "catalysts for ideas."
- On compassion/empathy, Grize said, "If you care about people, they will care about you."
- Optimism, he said, gives leaders a platform from which to direct an organization. "Optimism gives you passion and energy, and you need passion and energy to do anything."
- Humility is also important, he said, because leaders must be open to learn new things, and in order to learn, you must be approachable.