. - Services were held here last week for Robert B. Wegman, who grew his family's retail food store into one of the nation's most respected supermarket chains.
At the time of his death, he was chairman of Wegmans Food Markets, a position he had held since 1969. His son, Danny Wegman, is chief executive officer, and Danny Wegman's daughter, Colleen, is president.
Robert Wegman's father and uncle opened a 20,000-square-foot store here in 1916, two years before Robert Wegman's birth. The store received national attention for its innovative merchandising, which included refrigerated food display windows, a 300-seat cafeteria and vaporized water spray.
Robert Wegman joined the company in 1937 and become a store manager in 1947 at age 29, following a stint in the Marine Corps. He became president in 1950 at age 31.
According to a biography issued by the company, Wegman made the decision not to "purse growth for growth's sake," but instead to operate "the finest food stores anywhere."
He continued the legacy of innovation left by his father and uncle, and gradually expanded the business with a network of large superstores that emphasized customer service, broad product selection and generous employee compensation. He launched a scholarship program that has given nearly $56 million in tuition assistance since 1984, and he has also donated millions to elementary and high schools in the Rochester area.
Last year, Wegmans was named the No. 1 company to work for in America by Fortune magazine, and it was No. 2 in 2006, the ninth consecutive year it has made the list of the magazine's Top 100 companies to work for. Wegman called the achievement of attaining the No. 1 ranking "the culmination of his life's work," the company said.
Wegman was influential in the rollout of UPC bar-code scanning in the industry. In 1967 and 1968, he served two terms as president of Super Market Institute, predecessor to Food Marketing Institute, when scanning was in its initial testing phase.
Wegman "took ahold of it [scanning] and said he would undertake to make it happen," said Robert Aders, former Kroger chairman and inaugural president of FMI. "Some other people got a lot of the publicity, but he was one of those pioneers in the background."
"He came across as being friendly, but if you didn't see things his way, then he got a little more insistent," Aders said. "But everyone had a great deal of respect for him as a person and because of the kind of business he ran."
Byron Allumbaugh, a former chairman at Ralphs and past president at FMI, said he remembers a meeting where Wegman was soliciting financial commitments from retailers to help drive the rollout of bar-code scanning.
"There were a lot of mixed signals at that meeting, but he finally stood up and said, 'Listen, we are at the intersection where either we can move forward, or else this will not happen,'" he said, after which Wegman himself committed a large sum to the project.
"This industry would not be what it is today without the leadership of Bob Wegman," said Tim Hammonds, current president and CEO, FMI. "Scanning would never have got off the ground without him."
Hammonds said that in all of Wegman's activities on behalf of SMI and FMI, he "was always about people putting aside their competitive differences for the good of the entire industry."
"With the customers, he was alert, responsive and eager to please," he said. "With employees, he recognized that one of the biggest problems chain stores had was turnover of personnel, and he tried to fix that by making it pleasant to work there and giving people an incentive to stay."