ORLANDO, Fla. — David Dillon, chairman and chief executive officer of Kroger Co., revealed at FoodInstitute’s 2013 Future Connect conference here one of the keys to Kroger’s extraordinary success over the past decade.
The secret to the company’s industry-leading performance, it turns out, is that it is run by people like Dillon. From the moment he first walked out on stage as chairman of this year’s Future Connect event to deliver welcoming remarks, without jacket or tie, Dillon put his stamp on the conference — it was about working, learning, networking, growing and, ultimately, delivering results.
"You were hand-picked to be here," he told attendees in his opening remarks. "What will you do in return?"
He talked about the need for continual improvement, with the bar always being raised, as he sought to motivate attendees to “use this time here in a very effective way."
Again and again, he also showed his own willingness to continually learn and improve his own game. On Wednesday morning, for example, he thanked a colleague for introducing him to Shazam, the digital music service, which helped him look up the name of a folk song he could not remember the day before.
“Networking in this group really works,” he quipped, but the message was clear — you can learn something from everyone you encounter.
That spirit was again demonstrated by another Kroger executive, Marnette Perry, who spoke on a panel closing out the day on Wednesday. “Some of my best mentors have been people who report to me,” said Perry, senior vice president of strategic initiatives and operations at Kroger.
Each of Dillon’s appearances on stage at the general sessions also showed his humility and leadership, whether he was praising others, thanking competitors for making Kroger improve — a message he credited to Norman Mayne of Dorothy Lane Markets — or teaching lessons in how to listen to others that he learned in a marriage workshop.
His closing comments on Wednesday — he was leaving before Thursday's closing sessions — again inspired attendees to think about their careers and their paths in life. Rather than exhorting them to roll up their sleeves and get to work, however, as he did in his opening remarks, he simply read aloud what he said was his favorite poem, “The Road Not Taken,” by his favorite poet, Robert Frost.
Photo by Greg Cohen