MINNEAPOLIS -- Harold B. Finch Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Nash Finch Co. here -- known affectionately to his friends as "Shorty" -- has died following injuries suffered in an automobile accident. Funeral services for Finch, 67, were held here last week. Alfred N. Flaten, president and chief operating officer of Nash Finch for the past three years, was named to succeed Finch as CEO. The office of chairman will remain vacant "for at least a period of time in honor of the memory of Harold Finch," the company said last week.
Flaten said last week, "Words cannot adequately express the shock and sorrow felt by the directors, officers and employees of the
company at the untimely and senseless loss of this warm and distinguished man. "As we at the company endeavor to deal with our own sadness, our hearts go out first and foremost to his family. "The energy, dedication and perseverance that marked Harold's leadership of the company will continue to guide us as we commit ourselves to moving forward and building upon the record he established." Finch is survived by his wife, Catherine; three sons and a daughter; a sister, and three grandchildren. The accident that claimed his life occurred Nov. 12, when Finch was on his way to a meeting at the Nash Finch office. Two other cars were involved in the accident, local sources said, but Finch was the only fatality. "Harold was a very hard-working man, and the company was an important part of his life," Norman R. Soland, vice president, secretary and general counsel, told SN last week. "He was a great friend to everyone who worked at the company. We have an open-door policy here, and in his case, that was very accurate because he was available to talk with anybody. "He lacked any semblance of pretentiousness. He was a very honest man who was loyal to his people and who really did feel that our employees were the company's most important asset." Allister P. Graham, chairman and chief executive officer of Oshawa Group, Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada -- and a member of Nash Finch's board the past few years, said, "Shorty was one of the most unique individuals I have known.
"He did a tremendous amount of work for the industry whenever he was asked, and he had a strong sense of what the industry, and his own corporation, were about in terms of great family values."
Nash Bros. was founded in 1885 by the three Nash brothers, and Harry Finch, Harold Finch Jr.'s grandfather, was the first employee hired. He eventually became chief executive officer and changed the company's name to Nash Finch in 1921. Harold Finch Sr. succeeded his father as head of the company, and Harold Finch Jr. ultimately succeeded his father. He is the last member of the Finch family active in the company. Although he was not particularly short at 5 feet 9 inches, both Harold Finch Jr. and his late father shared the nickname "Shorty." Finch graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1952 and joined Archer Daniels Midland Co. here, an agribusiness concern. He joined the family business in 1966 as director of planning, moved up to vice president of sales and operations in 1972, and was named president and chief operating officer in 1978. He added the CEO's title in 1982 and was named chairman in 1985. Finch was active in the National-American Wholesale Grocers' Association, serving as a member of its executive committee, its communications and marketing committee and, for the past four years, as secretary-treasurer. He received one of NAWGA's Distinguished Service Awards in 1992 for his guidance in the development of the Partners Program at the association's annual convention (which replaced the trade exposition at the convention with a series of scheduled meetings between manufacturers and wholesalers). John Block, NAWGA president, said, "Although he was known as 'Shorty' to his friends in the industry, Harold Finch was truly a man of great stature in the community of food distributors. "Both his company and our association benefited tremendously from the generous and substantial gift of his leadership." John Hanson, president of Sixth Street Food Stores, North Platte, Neb., a Nash Finch customer, recalled Finch as "a charismatic, people-oriented person who had a naturally intuitive leadership style. Although he was from the 'old school' of executives that put this industry together and saw it through the transition to a more complex business, he was able to adapt." With Finch involved in NAWGA and Hanson on the National Grocers Association board, the two spent a lot of time discussing trade issues, Hanson said. "We worked together on class-of-trade issues and vendor relations," he noted. Hugo Magnuson, secretary-treasurer of Valley Markets, Grand Forks, N.D., another Nash Finch customer, said Finch was "an intelligent, honest and fair man who helped many people. He had a tremendous amount of reserve ability, and whenever any question came up, he was ready to discuss it and help both sides arrive at a conclusion."