ARLINGTON, Va. — The National Grocers Association here hopes to name a successor to Thomas K. Zaucha as president and chief executive officer by the end of the calendar year, the head of the search committee told SN last week.
Michael Jackson, president and chief operating officer of Supervalu, Minneapolis, and chairman of the NGA board, said he will head a five-member search committee that anticipates selecting a successor before NGA's annual convention in February “so he or she will be available to participate in the convention and to work with Tom for several months after that.”
Zaucha told SN last week he plans to retire next summer after 28 years as the only chairman and CEO NGA has had since it was formed in 1982.
He has not set a specific date for his retirement, he noted, though it will be sometime during the summer of 2010. “I'll be 66 by then,” he said, “and there are things I'd like to do at my own pace, such as traveling with my wife Bernadette.”
Zaucha's retirement has been anticipated for some time, though there was no official word forthcoming from the association until Zaucha himself decided when he wanted to step down.
“We've been having discussions about a potential successor for some time,” Jackson said.
NGA will hire a search firm, he explained, “that will spend time with the search committee members to help identify the criteria we'll be looking for.”
Jackson said the committee has not determined specific criteria yet, although it will look for successors from inside the association and outside of it. He declined to name the other members of the search committee.
Asked to comment on Zaucha's NGA career, Jackson said, “Tom is very well-respected in the industry as an effective leader and a great communicator. Retailers, suppliers, wholesalers — everyone in the industry holds him in high esteem, and he's done a great job developing NGA into the organization it is today.”
In response to an SN question, Zaucha said it is doubtful his retirement would open the way for potential merger talks between NGA and Food Marketing Institute.
“The mission of the two organizations remain separate and clear and distinct, which would not lend itself to a merger,” he explained. “Besides, every industry segment deserves — and each demands — full representation and service, and that is the role we play for our retail and wholesale members.
“That role is recognizable and complete, and it allows us to work effectively with each industry sector, including drug stores, convenience stores, manufacturers and FMI.”
Zaucha joined the food industry in 1970 — after three years as an instructor in communications at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. — as assistant director of government and industry relations for the National Canners Association.
In 1973 the National Association of Food Chains hired him as director of public affairs. He told SN he was scheduled to become the new head of public affairs for Food Marketing Institute in 1976 when he was asked to join A&P as national director of government affairs.
“I took that position because it gave me the incentive to learn about retail operations,” Zaucha told SN. “It was at that job I really began to understand how, for government relations to be viable, it had to focus on controlling costs and/or increasing sales opportunities.”
Zaucha left retail in 1978 to become president of the Cooperative Food Distributors Association. Then in 1982 he helped forge the merger between CFDA and the National American Wholesale Grocers of the U.S. (NARGUS) that spawned NGA.
“At the time it was clear that the synergies and interdependence between retailers and wholesalers would help both groups, and NGA was the first organization that established parity between independents and wholesalers and intertwined their missions in support of the independent grocery system,” Zaucha explained.