1-on-1 With Eric Stille, President and CEO of Nugget Markets

WGB’s September Endcap guest talks about how a fun-and-family-first philosophy has nurtured a thriving company culture and a high performance team.
Illustrations by Olivier Balez

Meg header

Welcome to Endcap, Eric. As a longtime fan and ardent admirer of Nugget Markets’ employer-of-choice practices, rooted in investments in associates, a strong culture of spirited fun and camaraderie, and family-oriented support, I can’t think of a better Endcap guest for our “Building Better Retail Workplaces” issue than you. What galvanized your fun-and-family-first philosophy?

ES: I would say, “It’s in our DNA!” Since 1926, when my grandfather and great-grandfather started the business, family and having fun have always been important and in our roots. Family and fun are two of our five core values, along with positive attitude, RAVE (respect, appreciate & value everyone) and integrity. As you know, my father is as about as fun-loving as they come. And he learned that from his father, who learned it from his father. The aspect of fun transcends to our guests as well. Our associates go out of their way to pull our guests into the enjoyment—since shopping can be a chore, everyone’s mission in the company is to make shopping fun again! In regard to family, we all come together with a sense of belonging (community) and a commitment to one another, based off respect and camaraderie (RAVE). The presence of family is huge in this company and it’s the No. 1 response from our associates in the annual Great Place to Work Survey.

Nugget Markets earned a spot on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list for the 13th time earlier this year and was recently named one of 50 “Companies That Care” in 2018 by People magazine and Great Place to Work. What’s most important to you when reflecting on these impressive achievements?

ES: I look at the process as our ultimate 360-degree review. … How am I doing as the CEO? As a company, are we on track? As leaders, are we in touch with our team? The accolades are nice, but I truly appreciate the affirmation and the confirmation we are on the right track. Remember, being a world-class employer is our third top company goal, along with guest satisfaction and constant improvement.

I recall something you said several years ago that stuck with me: “Treating people right doesn’t cost a thing.” Can you please briefly elaborate?

ES: I think the best way to look at this is to dive into the “building blocks” of Nugget Market’s culture. These 10 building blocks do not cost a dime to implement, but they are key in building a thriving company culture and a strong team. Our 10 culture drivers—which also build trust and a high execution level in the company—are communication, positive attitude, family, knowing your people, having clear expectations, following through, rewarding the doer, having fun, RAVE and servant leadership. Bottom line: Everyone wants to be treated with respect and to feel appreciated. Individuals want to belong and know what is expected of them. They want to grow and have fun. Team members want to be a part of something with purpose; they want a family feeling. Lastly, it does not cost one red cent to be nice to people! The world could use a whole lot more “niceness” these days.

You were once quoted as saying: “We want Nugget to feel like family, and it does. It is a core value for us. Positive attitude is a non-negotiable and it was likely what got you hired.” But as we all know, families can often be messy, so how to you make it work with nearly 2,000 members?

ES: Positive attitude and RAVE, as part our five core values and key building-block elements, along with honest, two-way communication, keep the “guardrails” on the family front. From day one of our orientation process, we speak about creating an open dialogue with all associates, where robust communication is encouraged, as long as it is spoken in a respectful manner. We insist on realism as we evaluate our performance and operations and we are always looking for ways to improve. When we are being positive and always exhibiting RAVE, a trusting dynamic is created—a great platform to build family dynamics. Trust is everything.

Nugget Markets excels at a many things, but in my view, its common denominators are its servant leaders; modern, attractive, well-maintained stores; and dedication to providing extraordinary experiences for guests, with great food as the star attraction.

ES: Thanks for the compliment, Meg. My team works hard each and every day to create a world-class shopping environment, and I am so proud of them.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given, and by whom?

ES: “Take care of your people, and they will take care of the business (you).” My father ingrained this advice in me, just like his father and my great-grandfather. Our people have always come first at Nugget Markets—that is also the reason we have never had a layoff in our 92-year history. Remember, it is always about building trust with your team.


Lightning Round

What is your least favorite business jargon term?

“Transparency” … way overused.

What’s your favorite book of all time, and why?

For business, the book "Execution" by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan really helped us propel an execution mindset throughout our company and focus on getting things done. One of my favorite lines in the book is, “The culture of a company is the behavior of its leaders, and leaders get the behavior they exhibit and tolerate.” I also love anything from Steven Covey.

Favorite day of the week?

I love Saturdays, but every day is a great day if you put you mind to it!

Favorite city in U.S. besides the one you live in?

Boston. The history, beauty, food, vibrancy and people are hard to beat. It was a very sad day for Kate and I when our son graduated and left Boston.

Sourdough or wheat?

Two bananas and honey. I love both, especially hot out of our ovens!

Do you think cats have any regrets?

Not the Spirit Cat—our bag-off trophy for the store that brings the most spirit and pride to our annual bagging competition!

What was special about your first car?

My first car was a Dodge Demon (lime green) that my older brother sold me—not the car to drive during an oil embargo. … I guess that’s why he sold it to me.


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