It’s not easy succeeding a legend.
That’s what Peter Larkin did this month in taking on the role of president and chief executive officer of National Grocers Association. NGA was founded and overseen for the past 28 years by Tom Zaucha, a remarkable leadership run. During that time the association was known as a staunch advocate for independent retailers, battling on a wide range of issues, from predatory pricing to the estate tax. NGA is also known for producing a range of conferences and other events, including its annual industry gathering in February.
Zaucha’s pending departure led to the creation of a search committee that tapped Larkin (but not before choosing a different candidate who soon pulled out).
Larkin, a food industry veteran, has hit the ground running. He’s traveling across the country to consult with members and non-members about the best directions for the Arlington, Va.-based association. He has formulated a preliminary agenda based on his own observations.
His guidepost is the NGA mission itself: To serve independents and their wholesalers.
“The ability to communicate that vision is what sets NGA apart and creates a unique value system for the association,” he said in an interview with SN.
His challenge will be to navigate the association and its mission through changing times, he emphasized.
Larkin’s preliminary agenda includes enhancing NGA’s already robust government relations program with new resources and “focusing even more on independent and wholesaler issues,” he said. Some of the key issues for NGA are tax policy, including estate taxes; preservation of LIFO; and defeat of the Employee Free Choice Act.
He would also like to promote the ability of independents to excel in numerous areas, from food deserts to locally grown foods.
Larkin aims to grow NGA’s membership through more aggressive outreach and recruitment. He also wants to help guide members in dealing with the long-term impact of major legislation, such as health care.
Still another goal is to trumpet independents’ role in contributing to their communities and the economy. The audience for this message includes consumers, the media, and elected and regulatory officials.
Larkin’s weighty resume includes positions with California Grocers Association, Food Marketing Institute, Kroger Co., Phillip Morris U.S.A. — and a stint on Capitol Hill.
Those credentials figured heavily in the choice to tap him for the NGA role.
“Peter has a unique set of credentials that we thought would make him a good match for the job,” Rich
Niemann Jr., chairman of the search committee and president and CEO of Niemann Foods, Quincy, Ill., told SN recently.
Larkin’s diverse background also may help foster a collaborative role with other associations at a time of relatively recent leadership transitions at Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association.
“I look forward to developing working relationships with the other associations,” Larkin said.