The president of Fry’s Food & Drug Stores Inc. has died unexpectedly of a heart attack, the Phoenix Business Journal reports.
Mr. Jon Flora, 58, died Friday, Fry’s pharmacy technician and Arizona State Rep. Jonathan Larkin told the Journal in an exclusive interview. Larkin confirmed Fry’s employees learned of Flora’s death Friday afternoon.
“It’s such a sudden thing,” said Larkin (D-Phoenix/Glendale). “He was always smiling and energetic and shaking hands.”
As the Journal reports: At age 15, Flora took a job at a Dillons store in western Kansas. Slowly he worked his way up to manager and then regional manager and, in 1983, when Dillons merged with The Kroger Co., he became SVP of one of the largest grocers in the country.
But the constant travel and required board meetings didn’t make for Flora’s ideal job. He wanted to operate his own chain of stores so he could interact with the customers and employees.
In 2007, he took over as president of Fry’s, which also is owned by Kroger.
“This is a people business,” Flora told the Journal earlier this year when he was honored by the paper as one of its “Most Admired Leaders.” “It’s what it’s all about, and I enjoy every minute of it.”
When asked to describe his personality in a tweet, Flora told the Journal: “Approachable, caring and accountable.”
Flora was a major player in the Phoenix-area nonprofit community. He was honored by the Boys and Girls Club earlier this year for being one of the leading CEOs in giving back to the community. Over the years, Flora, who was instrumental in leading the grocery store’s efforts to provide meals to needy families during the holidays, won several other honors as an individual and through Fry’s for corporate citizenship.
Flora oversaw about 18,000 employees at the 119 Fry’s grocery stores in Arizona. He spent the majority of his time inside the stores, talking and interacting with Fry’s customers and employees, making sure the entire operation was running as smoothly as possible.
Flora started a blog when he became president and received countless comments from employees providing feedback about his stores and their management. Some of those comments led to significant operational changes.
“I think as a leader you need to have that open-door policy,” Flora told the Journal. “And if you really do have it, you need to have it open all the way.”
Larkin, who has worked at Fry’s since he started in 2000 at the age of 16 as a clerk, said that Flora changed the culture of the company when he came on as president.
“He changed the culture there from top to bottom. We used to tremble when people from the corporate office came to visit a store, but he treated employees with respect and changed that whole dynamic.”
Larkin said Flora was a frequent visitor to stores, particularly around the holiday season. In addition, he said Flora would frequently roll out employee incentives—including extra savings on gas while the Great Recession was taking hold.
Published reports say Flora is survived by his wife Christy Taylor, a son, daughter-in-law and daughter.
Read more about Flora here.
The feature photo at top is by Jim Poulin/Phoenix Business Journal.