An Independent Voice: Change can do you good

Guided by new leadership, this year’s NGA Convention featured spirited discussions of health care, politics, energy and other challenges facing today’s independent grocers.

By Jane Olszeski Tortola

While attending this year’s National Grocers Association’s (NGA) 2011 Annual Con­vention and Supermarket Synergy Show­case in bustling Las Vegas, I recalled words once shared with me long ago by a colleague when I was transitioning into the role of president of my family’s small Ohio-based supermarket company: No one ever promised that change would be easy, but when managed properly it can produce great results.

Such is the case at the Arlington, Va.-based NGA, as newcomer president and CEO Peter Larkin and his staff organized what attendees are describing as a “world-class event.” The show focused on collaboration, diversity and taking charge of the change that continues to challenge our industry.

Recognized for its commitment to exclusively serving independently owned supermarkets, NGA once again rallied a host of supportive sponsors and left no stone unturned in covering the issues and topics most relevant to today’s family-owned businesses. From green marketing, health care legislation and best-in-class practices to the role of social media, estate planning strategies and coaching frontline employees, the entire program was indeed impressive.

In addition to the various workshops and a high-energy show floor, I was particularly intrigued with the convention’s opening general session, which set the tone for the event. The session featured Larkin, along with former Florida Gov­ernor Jeb Bush and media and political icon James Carville.

Sure, Bush and Carville shared exclusive insider views and predictions on the U.S. economy, upcoming elections, health care, domestic energy policies and more, but it was Larkin at the podium that captured the audience’s undivided attention.

Now eight months into the job, he addressed the recent change in leadership at NGA—the first in 29 years—and outlined top priorities for his team, including membership development, strong government relations and creating new and effective partnerships with retailers, wholesalers and suppliers.

He also shared the results of the recent “Larkin Listening Tour,” during which he spent his first couple of months at the helm traveling throughout the country visiting retailers and other constituents to learn more about their businesses and how NGA can best meet their needs.

Additionally, Larkin spoke enthusiastically of some of the association’s most recent works, including the new Member Value Proposition Project—referred to as MVP—and a new consumer research report that was introduced at the event.

“At NGA, we must continue to listen, increase value for our members, and avoid the duplication of efforts between our counterparts,” he summarized.

While change is never easy, it was obvious after participating in the 2011 Supermarket Synergy Showcase that the NGA Board of Directors made the right decision in selecting Peter Larkin to lead its organization into the future.

He has energized a talented NGA staff, navigated needed change, and understands the needs of his constituents. We congratulate Larkin on a job well done thus far in serving as the leading advocate for independents operating throughout the country.

Remembering Jim Stoll
It was at the 2011 convention that NGA members and staff learned of the passing of former chairman and outstanding Ohio retailer Jim Stoll after a long battle with cancer.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Jim’s wife, Cindi Stoll, and their family. Jim was a tireless advocate for independent grocers and we will remain forever grateful for his devotion and service not only to the National Grocers Association but the entire food industry.

Jane Olszeski Tortola, a regular columnist for Grocery Headquarters, devoted more than three decades of her career to working at a family-owned supermarket company founded by her late father. She is a graduate of The Ohio State University and is active in a number of food industry organizations. She can be reached at

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