Meg Major: Welcome to Endcap, Nick, and congrats on your recent promotion to lead Ahold Delhaize USA’s Carlisle, Pa.-based Giant Food Stores as president, which is clearly well deserved. What is your leadership philosophy?
Nicholas Bertram: I started out in a family business, and my leadership philosophy is grounded in a mindset that no one is too good to do any task, and that we do whatever it takes, and know how to do that. It’s something I learned from my dad and my grandfather that’s stayed with me in every job I’ve ever had. Aside from that, I base my philosophy on values-based leadership, which means you must remain inflexible on the things that you most strongly believe in, and always ground your decisions against them.
MM: Beginning your retail career as a part-time grocery stocker and working your way through the ranks in past senior roles at Walmart, Jewel-Osco and Supervalu, it’s safe to say you’re a grocery “lifer.” What do you most enjoy about working in the retail food industry that others could benefit from knowing?
NB: What I love about retail is that there is more variety with opportunities in this industry than any other I’m aware of. You can literally do anything. Retail also provides an opportunity to work in different geographies, and that’s when it really gets interesting, because the Chicago customer is quite different than the Philadelphia customer, and so on across the country, where there are unique features to learn about in each market. So if you’re a curious person who likes to ask questions and figure out how to solve puzzles and learn about the way things tick, then retail is for you.
I also think retail is more fulfilling than I would have ever expected when I was a part-time stocker, since you get to build relationships not just with the people you work with, but also with families you see in the stores week in and week out. It gives you a chance to connect with people in a way that is quite literally helping to make their lives better, and that’s really fun and fulfilling. As you get into multiunit and other roles, the focus changes to be more about colleagues and the associates you work with. But when you’re in the store, it’s really cool because you get to meet the customers and know their life and how to connect with them; and when you move on, you get to expand on those experiences that stay with you forever.
MM: When announcing your appointment, Ahold Delhaize USA CEO Kevin Holt recognized your talents as a key architect of the company’s ongoing brand-centric strategy that puts the customer at the forefront. What do you believe is most crucial to achieving that evolving mission?
NB: What’s most crucial is never slowing down in the pursuit to understand exactly what the customer wants. Our recent reorganization is focused on putting more leadership closer to the customer while still hanging on to the great systems, processes, and access to data and technology that comes from being part of a big organization. [We] couple that with the direct access to local communities, where all of our skills and resources come into play, and build from the new model we’ve created, which is slightly unique in the industry. In fact, I think it will be the competitive advantage for each of our brands.
MM: What are you learning—either about yourself, company associates and/or customers—right now that most surprises you?
NB: I’m most surprised by how confused customers are by all of the messaging they get from the various channels about what “healthy” actually means. It’s fascinating how shoppers are just trying to figure out exactly what is healthy, and how to provide better meals for their families. There’s almost too much information, which has created a need for us as grocers to make it easier for them to figure it out. And I didn’t expect that. You would think that with more technology, social media and access to information in general it would be the opposite, but it’s actually led to greater confusion. And that’s a big opportunity for all of us.
MM: As the father of three sons, it’s safe to assume that your home life is extremely lively and equally fulfilling. What traits do you most appreciate about each of your boys?
NB: My 7-year-old is the bravest person I’ve ever met. My 5-year-old is the most passionate person I’ve ever met. And my 3-year-old is the happiest person I’ve ever met.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I’m constantly talking about the importance of being an entrepreneur, as well as the 95-year-old startup we’re creating.
Do you play a musical instrument?
I play the piano. I was supposed to be a musician—I had scholarships and everything, but I chose retail instead!
How would you describe yourself in one word?
Illustration by Olivier Balez