Thursday, December 10, 2009

News to Share: The Next Generation

In the summer of 1999 Chuck Eggert, Stan Amy and I sat down at the Widmer Gasthaus Pub to share a pitcher and dream about what it would mean to create a new grocery company that had a true commitment to its community. While we had high hopes, I don’t think any of the three of us could have imagined the amazing place that New Seasons Market has become. What a wild and gratifying ride it’s been! I’ve been incredibly honored and fortunate to work along side our seventeen hundred staff members for the last ten years. Their commitment to our core values, day after day, combined with the ongoing support from our customers and community has made my job fun and exciting. Thanks to all of you for the important part you’ve played in modeling a new way of doing business.

And now it’s time for the second generation of leaders to step up and take charge. To help make that happen, early next year I’m going to retire as CEO. My new role will be Chairman of the Board. Lisa Sedlar, our current President, will be promoted to President and COO and will assume my current responsibilities.

Because Lisa plays a huge role in the company, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there was a time before she was here. From the beginning, I committed to leading New Seasons Market for ten years, so five years ago we launched a search to find someone to eventually replace me. We were lucky enough to connect with Lisa and convince her to become our President. She and I have been working “joined at the hip” since then and she is truly ready to step-up. Lisa brings a broad perspective to the job because of her varied experience. First of all she’s a formally trained chef, so her love of local, fresh food influences everything else she does. But most importantly, Lisa worked her way up into her position, so she completely gets what it’s like to work the front-lines of our business. She started her career in grocery as a clerk at a small store in Michigan, and since then has been a department manager, Director of Purchasing, Vice President of Sales and Marketing and of course, our President. Lisa has gone native here in Portland. She is well known in the community for her service on the boards of the Oregon Food Bank, the Sustainable Business Network and the Portland Public Market. She is also on the business advisory committee of the Food Alliance and the Food Innovation Center. Congratulations to Lisa for her promotion and for a job well done.

One of the primary goals of the founders of New Seasons Market has been to figure out a way to have the ownership of the company more broadly-based. This could happen through an employee stock ownership program or some type of community stock offering or a combination. We’ve been working to achieve those goals for the last five years, but it has been a complicated and challenging process and over the last year or so we realized we could use some help.

As a result, we’re very pleased to announce that Endeavour Capital, Portland’s own private capital firm and a leader in helping food and retail companies move to broad-based employee ownership is becoming an investor in New Seasons Market. Endeavour’s investment will allow many of our current shareholders to sell some of the stock they own in the company. Endeavour’s expertise is the next step towards transitioning New Seasons Market to a new ownership structure. At the end of this process, the majority of the company will be owned by the original shareholders and staff members.

I want to emphasize that the company is not being sold. For the past four or five years, there’s barely been a week that we haven’t received a phone call or letter from some private equity firm trying to buy us. We’ve never even returned a phone call because our commitment to being a mission driven, locally-owned company has never wavered. There are a number of things about Endeavour that make them unique and the right partner for our community.

First of all Endeavour is headquartered in Portland. Second, a significant portion of their investment capital comes from right here in our region from groups like the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System, the University of Oregon Foundation, the Oregon Community Foundation, the Meyer Memorial Trust and more. In other words, New Seasons Market will play a part in supporting some of Oregon’s best foundations and retirement programs. Third and probably most important is that Endeavour shares many of our values about how to do business. I know people say stuff like that all the time, but what I’m talking about is actually included in the written operating agreement that we’ve signed with Endeavour. For instance take a look at this section:

“In determining what a director (member of the company Board of Directors) believes is in the best interest of the corporation, the director may consider (among other things):

a) Economic, environmental, social, legal or ethical interests the director may reasonably regard as appropriate for responsibly conducting the corporation’s business;

b) The interest of the corporation’s employees, customers and suppliers and other persons who have business relationships with the corporation;

c) Effects the corporation has on the communities or geographical areas in which the corporation operates;”

That may sound like common sense to you and me, but for the most part, this type of contractual understanding is pretty much unheard of.

Okay, so what is going to change? Not much. Lisa has been leading the day-to-day efforts for the last couple of years, so nothing in the stores should be different. Aside from my leaving, the rest of the management team will remain the same. The staffing levels in the stores and the types of products and services we offer will be the same. Our commitment to our local farms and ranches will be the same. The support that we offer to the communities where we do business will be the same.

We will be expanding our Board of Directors. Chuck, Stan and I have been the board since Day One and we’re going to continue in those roles. Stephen Babson and Bradaigh Wagner, from Endeavour will be joining us and sometime in the next six months or so I expect we’ll be adding at least one or possibly two independent directors. We all believe the new, broader perspectives that will come with the new board members will be a benefit to our company.

I’m excited about this new phase we’re entering into and think it will add value for all stakeholders; our customers, neighborhoods, staff, farmers, ranchers, fishers and other suppliers and our shareholders. Since Lisa is going to be running the show my job will be to support her when she asks but mainly to stay out of her way. I’ll still be around –– you’ll see me in the community, or in the stores and you can get a hold of me at brianr@newseasonsmarket.com. Please let us know if you have any questions and we’ll do our best to get them answered. Thanks.