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Tugboat Institute @Meijer: Persist with Purpose and Create Something Extraordinary

Tugboat Institute @Meijer: Persist with Purpose and Create Something Extraordinary

Chauncy Gardner
Tugboat Institute
October 10, 2023

While not well known outside of the Midwest, Meijer is a remarkable Evergreen® company founded by Hendrick Meijer and his son Fred Meijer 90 years ago. If the Meijer family wasn’t so humble, many more would know about it beyond the states in which it operates and in which Hendrick and Fred introduced the one-shop-stop superstore concept in 1962.

The purpose of Meijer is “Enriching Lives in the Communities We Serve.” Last week at Tugboat Institute® @Meijer, Tugboat Institute members were able to see how this Purpose comes to life. CEO Rick Keyes and his outstanding executive team welcomed us to Grand Rapids and inspired us to keep believing in the power of the Evergreen company to grow from modest beginnings and make a staggeringly positive impact on its employees, customers, suppliers, and communities over decades. We were treated to three inspiring and interesting days of learning, connection, and celebration.

In 1934, Dutch immigrant Hendrick Meijer opened the first Meijer grocery store as a way to utilize a building he owned for his barbershop. He passed leadership to his son Fred, who started in the business at the age of 10, and who grew the business into one of the largest and most influential companies in the country.

Rick Keyes is the CEO of Meijer and works with the 3rd generation of Meijer stewards, who serve on the board and remain committed to Meijer’s values and growth. Rick started working at the company 34 years ago as a pharmacist in a store in Columbus, OH, and he quickly fell in love with the complex, energetic, and fast-paced model of the superstore. He moved rapidly into leadership, first in the pharmacy division, and then store management, at the age of 24. He served the company in many leadership roles over the years and was named CEO in 2017.

Under Rick’s leadership, which is characterized by humility, commitment to excellence and the founding values, and a profound desire to perpetuate Meijer’s positive impact in its communities, the company has continued to grow and thrive. Among other notable accomplishments as CEO, Rick has moved the company from a pattern of growth in fits and starts to a more regular cadence of growth, through which they aim to open 5-7 new stores per year, while refreshing every store once a decade.

As is our custom when Tugboat peers gather, we began our week with a celebration. Reconnecting with old friends and to discovering new ones always sets the stage for an energetic and inspiring week. We spent the next few days hearing from Rick, his executive team, Hank Meijer, and Mark Meijer at the impressive Fred Meijer Corporate Office in Grand Rapids. They covered topics ranging from the history of the company, the role of the family in the company today, the many ways Meijer takes care of its team, new innovations in the works in marketing and store experience design, supplier inclusion, pragmatic innovation, and more. We were all struck by the collective generosity and trust that characterizes Tugboat membership as Rick, his team, and the Meijer brothers candidly offered a deep look into the structures and processes that drive their impressive company, as well as the challenges they have faced over the years. Then we had the opportunity to visit one of Meijer’s superstores and see for ourselves how deeply aligned and cohesive the whole team – from executive leadership to store directors to cashiers – is across the organization. The level of excellence, care, and positivity that Rick and his team presented are abundantly evident in every aspect of the stores themselves.

In the evenings, we spent time celebrating in downtown Grand Rapids, and we also had the opportunity to visit the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, which stands as the embodiment of the Meijer family’s deep care for and commitment to their community. Fred Meijer had been collecting and warehousing sculptures and when the idea of creating a botanical garden was raised by a local non-profit, they took the opportunity to create something unique for their Grand Rapids community. In addition to beautiful greenhouses attached to the main building which hosts a museum on the site, the 158-acre botanical gardens are home to one of the world’s most important collections of outdoor sculptures, including pieces from Fred and Lena’s personal collection, pieces on loan from other collections, and pieces commissioned for the gardens themselves.

Longtime company and family leader Fred Meijer often repeated his aim to “leave the world in a little better shape than when I entered it.” After our week together in Grand Rapids, we can say with confidence that Fred would be astounded by the extent to which his vision is being fulfilled today. Rick, Meijer family leaders, and the entire Meijer team stand as exemplars of the extent to which an Evergreen company can, if it persists and stay focused on its Purpose and the other Evergreen 7Ps® principles, make a dent in the universe.

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