by Kristen Cloud/staff writer
Independents and independence have more in common than simply their pronunciations.
That was the message Jay Campbell, president and CEO of Associated Grocers of Baton Rouge, shared during ROFDA’s 2012 Fall Conference.
“Even though they’re called independent retail grocers, they will be the first to tell you that they are dependent in many cases; they’re independent in many cases; and they’re interdependent in many cases,” said Campbell, who also serves as ROFDA’s chairman. “If they were independent they would just flex their muscles and say, ‘I’ll buy my own stuff, I’ll distribute my own stuff, I’ll sell my own stuff. Don’t call me, I’ll call you.’ But they don’t. They’re part of a retailer-owned network. We serve them and they understand about working together, cooperatively, in an endeavor.
“So they have to give up a little bit of their independence and they have to become a little bit dependent so that they can be interdependent with one another,” he added.
Campbell presented “The Spirit of Independence” on Nov. 11 on the conference’s opening day; the comparison of independent retailers to the notion of independence was appropriate on Veterans Day as Campbell asked if freedom, or independence, truly means having no limits, no boundaries and no restraints. He discussed the founding fathers’ “basic tenets” and definitions of key words like freedom, rights, privilege, duty, free enterprise and entrepreneur.
“(The founding fathers) believed that independence for them involved freedom of religion; they did not want a monarchy, they wanted a republic form of democracy; freedom of speech, no taxation without representation; they believed in property ownership, they believed in capitalism and free enterprise; personal responsibility; and self-reliance,” said Campbell, noting how the interpretation of these tenets have changed, even from the time when he was growing up.
“We had civility in the world,” Campbell said of that time. “It was a time to me when personal responsibility and self-reliance were a major focus. Citizenship involved rights, responsibilities and privileges.”
Today, he reveals, there’s confusion about these principles.
“We’re not real sure we know what freedom is,” Campbell said. “I think some view it today as unbridled, with no restrictions and no limitations: ‘I’m an American and I can do what I want. Just check it in the Constitution. I have a right.’
“Well, if I go back to that first definition of right—adherence to duty, obedience to lawful authority, a just claim and a privilege to which one is justified—then go on to the definition of privilege—aright or immunity granted as a benefit, advantage or favor…then those who run around America saying ‘I have a right to do this’ and ‘what you have should be mine’ and ‘I want to take it because I have a right to it,’ I think they’re missing the mark. I don’t think they truly understand what a right is, nor what a privilege is and what a privilege it is to be an American and to be in this country.”
The concept of government, Campbell points out, is to regulate conduct for the common good—“for efficiency, effectiveness, productivity, safety, security and protection.”
However, he believes the role of government has gone beyond what was intended.
“…For the most part the government has done a fairly good job of regulating conduct, and yet we now see the government in all areas, at all levels, changing in many cases to create new freedoms,” Campbell said. “New things that cross, in my view, moral boundaries, ethical boundaries that should not be broached; some of the things that our founding fathers said you do not do, you do not cross that line, and some of our churches and faiths say you do not cross that line, yet our country is wavering and saying we need to cross that line.”
Setting limits, saying no is freedom
Campbell told the audience that one of his AG-Baton Rouge mentors kept a bank statement from when the company was first getting off the ground that showed the business had $3.
“He was very proud of the fact that, many years later, there were seven digits left of the decimal in the bank account,” Campbell said. “But he showed me a time when it had $3. And the company had to endure, it had to place restrictions, it had to place limits, it had to say no.”
Freedom, then, isn’t really what we want to do, Campbell notes.
“Maybe freedom is the recognition by each of us that, if we are restrained properly and we take out those distractions and those temptations that can take us off course, we might get stronger and better,” he said. “…We have to make some sacrifices. We have to put some limits on ourselves, we’ve got to put some restrictions on ourselves to get there. We cannot be independent and we cannot be dependent, we must be interdependent on one another. We must have extraordinary trust for us to reach the goal that we set.”
ROFDA, a retailer-owned cooperative based in Gardendale, Ala., celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012 and has 14 members spanning the U.S. The group’s Spring 2013 Conference will be held in Amelia Island, Fla., May 18-21. Visit rofda.com for more information.
In the photo: Jay Campbell, ROFDA Chairman, presents a plaque to retiring Dean Sonnenberg, URM Stores.