BOISE, Idaho — Private funeral services were held here last week for Warren E. McCain, former chairman and chief executive officer of Albertsons, who is credited with playing a major role in expanding the chain into a national power.
McCain, 82, died here Aug. 2.
Bob Miller, chairman and CEO of Albertsons LLC — who worked for the original Albertsons, also based here, from 1961 until 1991 — called McCain “the best leader I ever worked for. He motivated people to do better and he demanded excellence, but he rewarded people for their efforts.
“Joe Albertson was the key figure in building the company, but Warren was right behind him,” Miller added. “When Warren became CEO, he built Albertsons into the powerhouse it was, with the best profits per store and the industry's only investment-grade rating at the time he retired.”
Gary Michael, McCain's successor as chairman and CEO of Albertsons, told SN, “It's hard to overstate how important Warren was to the success of Albertsons. Joe [Albertson] changed the industry in a lot of ways, but Warren is the person who changed Albertsons. Joe established the company in 1939 and kept it running, but the real value from a shareholder standpoint came after 1976, when Warren became CEO.
“He had a combination of street smarts and a lot of common sense. He was very disciplined, and the people who worked with him and for him had tremendous respect for him. He made all of us successful.”
Dick King, president and chief operating officer of Albertsons from 1996 until 1999 and now a vice president of Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City, said McCain was a mentor to him throughout his career.
“He gave me a lot of advice that I still use,” King told SN. “One of the things he always told me was to get all the facts, because if a project doesn't work with paper and pencil, it won't work with brick and mortar,” he recalled.
“He also urged his employees to treat every decision as if it was their own money they were spending.”
On a more personal note, King said McCain was a family friend and “father figure” during the years King was growing up.
“And once I joined Albertsons, I believe he took a special interest in me and helped mold my career with each move I made,” King said.
McCain joined Albertsons in 1959 after spending eight years with Mountain States Wholesale, a nonfood supplier. He started as a general merchandise supervisor, then spent four years in a retail management-training program before being named manager of the Denver division in 1967 and executive vice president, operations, in 1968.
He was named president in 1974 and chairman and CEO in 1976, a position he held for 15 years. When he retired in 1991, McCain was named chairman of Albertsons' executive committee.
At the time McCain joined the company, Albertsons was operating solely in the Western U.S., “but he kind of brought the company into the modern world,” King said — “moving it into self-distribution and expanding over a broader geographic area.”
According to company lore, Joe Albertson once said, “I built some grocery stores and I got rich. And then I hired Warren McCain to run them, and I got filthy rich.”
In a letter to SN a few years ago, Jack J. Crocker, retired chairman and CEO of Supervalu, said, “If someone were to ask who contributed the leadership behind Albertsons' tremendous growth, it would be Warren McCain. He was as effective as any CEO in our industry: a no-nonsense guy who started at the store level. He was always fair and objective. Above all, he had a very strong will to win.”
McCain is survived by his wife, Bernice, two daughters and three grandchildren; a son died in 1995.