retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Content Guy's Note: "The MNB Interview" is designed to engage with business thought leaders who I like and respect, and who have something to say. It will run each workday from July 1-12, and has a simple format. I posed to each of the interviewees the same 13 questions and requested that they answer at least 10 of them; I told them that their answers could be as short or long as they wished, and as serious or irreverent as they liked. What I was looking for was a window into how they think and feel.

Today's MNB Interview features Neil Golub, Executive Chairman of the board at Golub Corporation / Price Chopper Supermarkets.

I've always thought that in a lot of ways, the name "Price Chopper" does not do justice to the chain that Neil Golub has built. I don't think it reflects the passion that the man has shown me over the years for food (demonstrated when he bought me a delicious and enormous corned beef sandwich at a Ben & Bill's NY Deli located in one of their stores, not to mention the care and expertise shown in its ethnic food offerings). I don't think it reflects the broad appeal of the Price Chopper stores, nor the dedication that Neil Golub has shown toward his community. I've always liked Neil a lot - almost as much as I like his wife of 50 years, Jane - and can tell you that one of the best afternoons I've had professionally was spent driving with him, looking at stores and learning about what makes Price Chopper special.


The MNB Interview...

What's the most important thing you've learned in your career?

Neil Golub:
A) It’s the need to treat everyone with dignity and respect. In our business, everyone makes a difference. The role of the selector in the distribution center, the drivers, the meat cutters, clerks, stockers, cashiers, maintenance people … everyone plays a role in serving our customers. If we all do it well, we all win.

B) Integrity. Recently, I was asked to deliver the commencement address at the C.I.A. (Culinary Institute of America). After sweating about a subject, Jane and I were having dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant in Boca Raton. After breaking open my fortune cookie, I had my theme.

“It takes hard work and determination to get to the top, but it takes character to stay there.”

What a wonderful theme! I had lots of examples (Tiger Woods, Elliot Spitzer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Tressel). I could go on and on.

As young people, we can get away with youthful stupidity. But, as we climb the ladder to the top, our credentials and integrity are fair game. Even Joe Paterno, headed for sainthood, failed to do the right thing.

What's the biggest - and in retrospect, the most important - mistake that you've ever made, and how did you grow from it?

Neil Golub:
Fortunately, I have never done anything catastrophic. Thank goodness! But, I do have my share of ooops! Made a few bad decisions on site locations, and now kick myself for being talked into the mistakes.

What is the most significant thing you do each week, and why?

Neil Golub:
Personal: Tell my wife daily and family that I love them.

Outside: As Executive Chairman, my day to day workload has been dramatically lightened. So, I have focused on doing some pretty neat things in the community. We adopted and re-birthed our Schenectady Science Museum … miSci … in the past 1½ years. It was recently selected as the best science museum in the region.

A few years ago, the United Way changed its mission, but forgot to detail the changes to the community and its lead supporters … many of whom became disenchanted. We have created a re-launch strategy that will put them back on the map … assuming they are willing to do what must be done.

Due to our work as an advocate for Women’s Health and Go Red For Women, I was invited by the national spokesperson to be a partner in a very small company that has designed and invented a non-invasive, non-radiating medical device that can measure precisely what is going on inside cardiovascular arteries. It is a blood pressure cuff that measures blood pressure and internal artery pressure (endothelial dysfunction). The algorithms and science of this neat, compact unit will allow doctors to measure the amount of plaque inside the artery. It is easy to get readings. Doctors will be able to measure the efficacy of their treatment. Clinical trials will start this fall at four well known hospitals … the Cleveland Clinic, Ann Arundel in Annapolis MD, the Universities at Case Western Reserve, and the Bellevue Woman’s Center in Schenectady, NY. The device, called Cordex EnDys could be a watershed breakthrough in Cardiovascular Disease and, by all standards, very inexpensive.

What is the most irreplaceable or essential piece of technology you own, and why?

Neil Golub:
My iPhone. I have tons of info at my fingertips. How would I ever get along without its companionship and Yankee scores as they happen?

What is your favorite movie (and is there a business lesson in it)?

Neil Golub:
My favorite movie of all time is 12 Angry Men. I guest lecture locally and have created a very understandable presentation around leadership style and how it affects and impacts performance, and how it blends into the culture of an organization.

Back in the late 50’s, Douglas McGregor wrote a book, "The Human Side of Enterprise." He coined Theory X and Theory Y as leadership styles, and built his thesis that the command and control of Theory X did not have upside potential. Theory Y recognized people liked work, want to be involved, want their ideas considered, and, further, that the synergy of a team could be far more productive than “do what you’re told” leadership. In the early 60’s, Blake & Mouton, University of Texas, designed a grid of leadership styles based on concern for people and concern for getting the job done. A 9:1 was command and control … shut up and do it. A 1:9 was more interested in friendship and, if the job got done, that was OK, too. This contribution to understanding leadership style was monumental. Dr. Bob Lefton took this work a step further by focusing on Q1 to Q4, dominant and submissive skills. All these authors put leadership skills in an understandable and actionable framework.

Each of these works focuses on Theory Y leadership. The true Theory Y manager maximizes concern for both work and people through involvement, listening, participation, synergy and teamwork. The book, "It's Your Ship," written by Captain Michael Abrashoff, describes how a Theory Y manager leads. It is a great read for all up and coming leaders.

12 Angry Men was not written to support these three works of art but, in fact, the movie became a treasure to those who were trying to show how leadership style, or lack of, impacted individuals and the culture. Henry Fonda is the lone leader surrounded by a few tyrants, a few “who cares?”, a few “let’s be happy and get along”. This 1957 movie is so good at what it didn’t intend to do, it is a must-see. The characters are so precise in their portrayal of leadership style, that it is an instant eye opener. The guy who wrote it had no idea of the magnitude of his work. 12 Angry Men is truly an educational leadership classic. I would require it as a prerequisite for all leadership training.

Content Guy's Note: Neil has this absolutely right ... this is one of the great movies about organizational strengths and weaknesses and the nature of leadership ... and you can watch the whole thing here.

Kirk or Picard?  And why do you prefer one’s management/leadership style over the others?

Neil Golub:
I grew up with Kirk … who is Picard?

Who has been the most influential person in your business life, and why?

Neil Golub:
The person who most influenced my career was my dad. He provided the environment to learn, the education, the support. Like a good chef, he gave me the ingredients, but I had to learn how to cook. With him, it was all about opportunity and making the most of it.

I was lucky. As I thought about it, I can pinpoint 9 people who most influenced my career and my values. One mentor said, “Never get in a fight with a gorilla … you’ll lose.” The gorilla was the IRS. Do it the right way all the time and you’ll sleep at night. Boy was he right, and I did listen.

Another said, “Decisions will mark your way as a leader”. Too many people get hung up and avoid, or don’t want to make decisions. You will never be right all of the time. It’s all about paving a way. If it’s wrong, get out fast and get back on track. The good decisions will build your confidence and so will the bad ones. Hopefully, smarter the next time. Sometimes forging a direction opens the door for better ideas and decisions later on.

Keenest insight (so far) from your life and/or career?

Neil Golub:
When I’m stuck, I like to sleep on concerns. Very often, the following morning, I have a direction. My second directional path is asking the question … what is the right thing to do? Very often that answer is blurry but we still have to try, and never lost sight of our values.

When it comes to food, what is your greatest pleasure and your greatest weakness?

Neil Golub:
I don’t over indulge! I love comfort foods … that includes Chinese. All these new dishes created by exotic chefs which include fusions, cross ethnic variation on a common theme drive me nuts. The most intolerable is a salad made of weeds, cilantro, goat cheese with a drizzle of “what the heck is that?”

Most memorable meal?  Where & what & why?

Neil Golub:
A) On our honeymoon in 1963, we ate at the Rotisserie Room at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico … Steak Diane with real wild rice, flamed at the table with brown sauce. Waiter refused to give us the recipe … he’d get fired! Jane found a Hilton cookbook at the hotel with the information. Also, El Yunque, a banana foster type dish made with pineapple and served with ice cream. We make both. Delicious!

B) Michele’s in Honolulu, Waikiki Beach. Weather, sights, sounds of ocean, and great food. Memorable.

Favorite place to go to eat/drink, not your home?

Neil Golub:
Too many to pick one, but I love a great steak house. In Albany, NY, 677 Prime is really good. I am always open to new ideas, so let the recommendations flow. Also, Caffe Italia. Both are wonderful.

What is the thing that you haven't yet done that you would most like to do?

Neil Golub:
Travel more and see the world.

If you had to define the most important aspect of leadership, what would it be and why?

Neil Golub:
Consistency, open-mindedness, listen for good ideas, recognize people and good ideas, if only a smile and a pat on the back. Once on track, don’t settle for mediocre. Always walk the talk. Otherwise, you run the risk of people seeing through you, rather than being transparent. Be the best you can be. Set attainable goals and then try to exceed them. See question #5. I believe that Theory Y holds the tools for greatness in leadership.


Tuesday: Gary Cohen, CEO, Timex Group.

KC's View: