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OPINIONRetailers

1-on-1 With Albertsons EVP, COO Susan Morris

Retail exec discusses how 'raising her hand' has enabled her to seize opportunities.

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Susan Morris—who has proven to be a valuable part of Albertsons Cos.’ leadership team, and who is widely admired within the company for readily accepting new challenges, developing others and bringing teams together—began her career in Albertsons’ Denver division while still in high school. She worked her way up the ranks while proving her ability to lead, execute and cultivate great teams in one assignment after another in her 30-plus years in the retail grocery business. Her career has spanned roles from store director to corporate grocery sales director, VP of bakery and operations and—upon the sale of Albertsons Inc.’s assets to Supervalu—VP of customer satisfaction. In 2013, Morris was named Intermountain division president after a three-year stint in the company’s Southwest division, and subsequently was tapped to lead the Denver division in 2015. Morris was named EVP of East Operations in 2016, and in 2017 was appointed to helm the company’s West Region Operations, which she continues to lead as part of her current EVP and COO duties.

Congrats on your recent promotion in early 2018, Susan. When making the announcement, Bob Miller, Albertsons’ chairman and CEO, commended you for two things that caught my eye: your talented leadership and demonstrated commitment to running “really good stores.” What do you consider to be the most essential keys to running said really good stores in 2018 and beyond?

Susan Morris: Honestly, our people are, and will always be, the most important piece in running a really great store. Store formats and consumer tastes may change over time, but informed and engaged employees who truly care about their customers never go out of style. Our goal moving into 2018 and beyond is to ensure our people are prepared to make every day a better day for our customers.

The second thing that sparked my interest in Bob’s remarks was how you “raised your hand to come to Albertsons in 2010” when you were an SVP for a competitor and took the only job available at the time: a grocery sales manager in the Southwest division. What do you believe is most important to note about “raising your hand” for an alternate position that others might benefit from hearing?

In this case, raising my hand meant I was willing to take several steps backward in my career in order to join a company whose cultures and philosophies aligned with my own personal beliefs and goals. I raised my hand, asked for what I wanted and asked for them to take a chance on me—then I worked my tail off to prove to them I could do more. I have never once regretted that move!

What kinds of experiences have you had as a woman in the traditionally male-dominated industry that have—or have not—influenced your leadership style?

I have worked with great leaders throughout my career who helped me find a path and stay on it, but it didn’t mean the doors were always opened for me. I learned to take risks, to perhaps make the uncommon choice or the divergent decision when I felt strongly about it. Today, I try to be an active listener. I find that conversations help spark ideas and make me a better, more encouraging leader.

What do you consider to be the greatest opportunities for the next generation of future industry leaders?

I think all future leaders will need to be authentic and approachable across any communication channel—and this is not an easy task in the world of technology. There are stories that Joe Albertson knew the name of every one of his customers in the first store he built in 1939. He truly wanted them to know they were welcomed in his store. Today, we have technology that enables companies to develop more personal relationships with customers around the globe. The key to success going forward, whether it is online or in a store, is to be as authentic and welcoming as Joe was when he started Albertsons.

When or where are you most content?

When I see members of my team flourish and grow. There is no better feeling than seeing someone you have mentored reach for new heights and accomplish more than they originally expected.

Lightning Round

Describe your present state of mind.
Excited for the future!

Who are your heroes?
Anyone who goes out of their way to make someone else more comfortable.

What is your favorite board game and why?
Trivial Pursuit. My family plays it when we go home for the holidays. We absolutely, positively stink at this game, but we laugh till we cry every time.

Illustration by Olivier Balez

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