Judy Spires: 2008 Executive of the Year
When Supervalu acquired Albertsons in 2006, there were a number of experts in the food trade who said that Shaw’s and Acme Markets were the jewels of the chains coming under the wing of Supervalu.
Judy Spires, president of Acme Markets, agrees with that statement as she exudes pride in her company, her staff, store customers, and vendors. A confident, happy person, she looks forward to coming to her office every day, noting it is more of a hobby than just a job. “I really have never worked a day in my life. I love my job. It’s my passion.” She describes her management style as “very, very people-oriented, energetic, and inspiring.”
She began her career at Acme as a teenage cashier in 1970 noting that her father drove a bread truck. “I bleed Acme blood,” she said.
During her food career, she has worked at various roles within the company such as vice president of sales and advertising, vice president of human relations and administration, operations and marketing. She was the first woman to be accepted in the Acme management training program in 1975 and knew on the first day that she would one day be Acme president. She has also served as president of Albertsons’ operations, spending two years in the Rocky Mountain division and another two years in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. When she was appointed as president in 2006, on Valentine’s Day no less, Ms. Spires said it was a life-long dream of hers to keep the family connection at Acme.
“From my early days of listening to my father, an Acme truck driver, talk about the company to my first day as president here, I have always been impressed by the passion displayed by Acme associates.”
One of the keys to her success is her organization and communication skills. She believes very strongly in organization and discipline. The basic management philosophy she tells her staff is three driving principles: “We want to be the best place to work, the best place to shop, and the best place to invest.”
But with that comes the statement that she must let her staff know that the company can’t be run without them. She is quick to point out each recognition and success for her employers. In weekly internal newsletters, she publishes Judy’s Corner, a celebration of staff members and their accomplishments.
She has a weekly meeting with department heads and a monthly Town Meeting where associates from each store are invited to openly ask questions.
Ms. Spires said this Town Hall and weekly meetings have helped her tremendously, communicating with the entire staff while getting valuable input. She has an open door policy and every associate has her business phone number with a promise that every phone call will be returned within 24 hours.
Ms. Spires has encouraged vendors to meet with her and let her know about their concerns. In a previous interview she said, “Tell me like it is. Don’t beat around the bush. This world is moving too fast not to handle issues directly. Get ahead of the curve. Come to me with things that can help us get ahead in this very competitive arena. Tell me how we can make Acme better and benefit your business as well.”
She is not afraid of change, noting that “We have always looked at change as an opportunity for growth and renewal of our focus on our customers.” She is not afraid of the economy either, saying that eating at home will spur more grocery sales and opportunities for customers to rediscover Acme through fresh, quality products, and healthy solutions.
And she is not afraid of competition, noting that her marketplace can be summed up in four W’s: Wegmans, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and Wawa. In what she calls a “Share of Stomach,” she estimated that within the Philadelphia market there are 25 opportunities a day to purchase something.
She strongly believes that the company’s 117-year history, the great ideas of 16,000 store associates, and the neighborhood touch of its stores will set Acme apart from its competitors.
Ms. Spires is very excited about the company’s premium fresh store concept, which debuted a few years ago and ahead of the curve. It includes a cheese shop, a grain-olive bar, an expanded organics, and new ready-to-go foods. This program has shaped the remodeling of Acme’s stores, which are averaging 20 to 25 remodels per year among the 130-store chain.
She has been impressed with Acme’s new owners, Supervalu and its leader Jeff Noddle. “ I think he is a fabulous leader. He is approachable and smart and wants people to talk to him.”
She has helped to promote a women’s group at Acme and the Network of Executive Women in the Philadelphia area.
Her top mentors have been her father, Bill Rogers who told her that she could be anyone she wanted to be; Jack Ottinger, her first store manager, her husband Bob Spires; her merchandising director, Toney Devinney; Theresa Buck, president of American Stores; and Mike Jackson and Jeff Noddle of Supervalu.