As we have all read, Mike O'Connor, a great statesman and industry leader for 40 years, passed away earlier this month. Much has been written about him, but I want to tell a story of my association with Mike that began a little over 30 years ago.
The year was 1975, when Ed Schnuck and Milton Perlmutter called a meeting in St. Louis of a relatively small group of industry leaders to consider merging the Super Market Institute and National Association of Food Chains. They recognized there would be challenges in such a merger, but one organization could offer greater education and research to its members and could communicate more constructively and objectively with government leaders at both the state and federal levels.
They decided to move forward and created a joint advisory board. Irving Raab was named chairman.
One of the challenges was to ensure that the new organization did not create the appearance that either SMI or NAFC was in control. The board appreciated the capabilities of both Mike O'Connor and the late Clancy Adamy as presidents of their respective organizations, but to have named either one in charge would have sent a message loud and clear that one organization was taking control over the other.
I was assigned the chairmanship of the group that was to craft a statement of objectives and by-laws for the new organization, which became the Food Marketing Institute. Little did I realize that this assignment would bring me in close contact with Mike O'Connor - a contact that remained close for many years.
Milton and I met with Mike to advise him he would not be president of the new organization. (Bert Thomas and Grant Gentry were asked to meet with Clancy). Milton, who was very sensitive to peoples' feelings, took the lead and did so in a masterful manner.
I kept thinking, "There is just one guy who, if he were to become defensive, could turn many independents and some chain CEOs against any merger. That one guy was sitting across the table that night, Mike O'Connor."
Such was not to be, however. Mike's reaction was, "The future of our industry is far more important than the career of one individual. I shall not only verbally support your efforts, but be very active in helping the merger succeed."
Looking back, I believe no one person did more to make the merger to succeed than Mike O'Connor. Not many ever knew this, but Mike presented me one day with a handwritten rough draft of a statement of purpose for the new organization.
Mike traveled around the country to meet with independents and chain CEOs to convince them that this new organization would benefit everyone. He had such confidence in himself that he gave confidence to those around him.
In the years thereafter, Mike became involved in so many worthy projects, it would take too many pages to review all of them. He was welcomed into the corner offices of companies throughout the world. Leaders on every continent respected this man.
Mike, for 40 years, you served as a giant in our industry. We shall miss you, but the food industry, worldwide, will be better because you were here. You were quite a guy.
Jack J. Crocker, first elected chairman, Food Marketing Institute; Supervalu chairman and CEO (retired)