WINNETKA, Ill. - Funeral services were held here last week for Michael J. O'Connor, one of the architects of Food Marketing Institute - an industry statesman who was described by one executive as "Mr. World Retailer."
O'Connor, 86, died March 9, 10 days after falling down a flight of stairs at his home and lapsing into a coma from which he never recovered.
He was president of Super Market Institute from 1962 until 1976, when it merged with the National Association of Food Chains to create FMI.
O'Connor played a key role in the merger process by touring 47 cities to convince retailers and wholesalers of the benefits of combining the two organizations, said Tim Hammonds, FMI president and chief executive officer. "He helped convince them that their common interests to resolve public issues, better serve consumers and forge stronger alliances with suppliers superseded any competitive differences," Hammonds said.
Byron Allumbaugh, retired chairman of Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif., and a former FMI chairman, said both O'Connor and his counterpart at NAFC, the late Clarence Adamy, took a statesman-like position by offering to step aside and retire, although they were relatively young, to clear the way for a new leader to head the new FMI organization.
That new leader was Robert O. Aders, who accompanied O'Connor on the industry tour to win support for the creation of FMI. "Mike had a lot of credentials and experience throughout the world," Aders told SN last week. "He was an excellent observer and a good teacher of what he had learned, and he liked to get people together from different parts of the world to work together and learn from one another.
"He sought out people he thought would be helpful in moving the industry along, and he seemed to have no personal agenda other than serving the greater good of the industry."
After the merger, O'Connor did consulting work around the world. "He was always looking for new ideas and new techniques to share with retailers all over the world to improve the industry," Allumbaugh told SN.
One of those retailers was Ian MacLaurin, chairman of Tesco in the mid-1970s, who once reflected on O'Connor's extensive travels, "If you wanted to know what was going on in Tumbuktu, Mike had just been there. He is Mr. World Retailer."
Jack Brown, chairman and CEO of Stater Bros. Markets, Colton, Calif., called SN last week to say, "No one in the industry knew more people around the world on a first-name basis than Michael did. The industry has really lost a treasure trove of information with his passing."
Donald Keough, retired chairman of the Coca-Cola Co. and a friend of O'Connor's for more than 45 years, said O'Connor worked as a consultant to Coke after his retirement from SMI and created Coke's Research Council "that was important for us as a way to keep in touch with key industry trends."
He said O'Connor was "a towering figure who helped the supermarket industry in America grow up. He brought a lot to every discussion and had the ability to paint a picture with broad strokes and then let each of us fill in the details and reach for new ideas."
Prior to joining the food industry, O'Connor spent 17 years in marketing and advertising, ending up as vice president, development, for Foote Cone & Belding, Chicago, when he was recruited by SMI to become its president. According to FMI, he was instrumental during his term in aligning the interests of retailers, manufacturers and consumers to enable the introduction of scanning and creating strategies to deal with the rising consumer movement.
After he left SMI, O'Connor was a senior staff consultant for the Coca-Cola Co., a special retailing consultant for Arthur Andersen, and an instructor at the University of Southern California's Food Marketing Program in Los Angeles and at the Claremont College Graduate School in Claremont, Calif.
O'Connor once summarized his own philosophy when he wrote: "Honor is not always the most profitable route from a standpoint of personal gain or comfort, but in the long run it is the most deeply satisfying thing in life if you have thought out what you believe in and then hold on to those things regardless of current circumstances."He is survived by four children, and six grandchildren. His wife, Mary, died in 1987.