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CGAEF Honors Arceneaux, Amens

CGAEF honorees

While it’s certainly an honor when one’s industry peers praise him or her, it’s perhaps an even greater honor when members of one’s own family speak of them in glowing terms. After all, they see them as they are—can’t hide one’s true self from family for very long.

Family members of Mondelez International’s Kevin Arceneaux and Super A Foods’ Jim, Renee, Joanne and Jeannie Amen spoke about them on the occasion of their induction into the California Grocers Association Educational Foundation (CGAEF) Hall of Achievement last month.

Inductee: Kevin Arceneaux, Mondelez International

Erica Arceneaux, Kevin’s daughter, described her father as “one of those people that after 10 minutes of talking to him you will feel like you’ve known him your whole life. Lucky for me, I actually have.”

Her dad has been in the food business throughout the 20-something’s life.

“I remember him saying to me, ‘Business is a part of everything, baby girl.’ Which is what led me to get my business degree,” she said. “But he taught me that business isn’t about products; it’s about people.

“His accounts and employees will tell you that he’s honest, hard-working, reliable and does a mean Lionel Richie karaoke! But seriously, the best parts of my character were instilled in me through watching him. I remember being little watching him get up when it was still dark outside to commute to work. And then come home after a long day at work only to study for his MBA. And I believe it’s that kind of strong work ethic that has made him successful.

“The greatest qualities about my dad aren’t just his integrity and his work ethic; the greatest quality is his heart,” Erica Arceneaux continued. “And the clearest evidence of that was watching him love my mom for the past 30 years. Well, at least the last 25…

“On top of all the things he did to better himself to make a better life for our family, he never forgot where he came from. He’s always been involved in Boys & Girls Club and he’s also a mentor in his alma mater, USC.”

Arceneaux has served on the board of directors of the Challengers Boys & Girls Club in South L.A. for 10 years. This club serves more than 3,500 families in the area.

Her father also passed his skill in salesmanship to his daughter. “Growing up he was constantly practicing his lessons on me, so needless to say, I won every sales competition at school. I was the first one to get out there and say, ‘This is the best gift wrap ever!’ But it wasn’t until my adult life that I realized what a wealth of knowledge I had access to.”

She says her dad’s mock job interviews were tougher than those she encountered out in the real world, so she was well prepared for the job market.

“Albert Einstein once said, ‘Try not to become a man of success but rather a man of value.’ And I truly believe that my father has done both.

“Through his mentoring management he has improved not only my life and the lives of the others that he has mentored in this industry, but this industry that for the last 34 years he has added value to. Whether it was teaching someone how to build a display or build a resume, he always leaves you feeling confident and inspired. He’s humble enough to be a student of life and constantly learning, yet skilled enough to be a teacher to anyone who will listen.

“It seems fitting that someone whose famous quote is ‘If you believe it you can achieve it’ would be inducted into the CGA Educational Foundation Hall of Achievement. So with that, Daddy, I say I’m proud of you and I love you.”

After his daughter’s heartfelt speech, Shiloh London, executive director of the CGAEF, brought Kevin Arceneaux to the stage for an interview. Incidentally, Arceneaux is California region VP for Mondelez International, responsible for the states of California and Hawaii. The company’s brands include Nabisco and Cadbury. He and wife Annette also have a son, Adam, and a grandson, Isaiah.

Though it was decided that most everyone in the room knew Kevin Arceneaux (and perhaps had a notable story about him to share), London asked him to tell the audience about his background.

“I was raised in South Central Los Angeles, and my dad was a football player for UCLA. I was raised a Bruin and became a Trojan,” he said, to cheers from the audience. “My dad had a lifetime pass to the home UCLA football games for being a four-year letterman, so I got to go and hang around these college kids. I really did aspire to (go to college). Our family couldn’t afford to send me to college so I had to hit the books. Really, really hard. My brothers and sisters all supported me…and I knew the only way I could ever go to college was to maybe get an academic scholarship. I worked hard, got good grades in school, and I did get an academic scholarship to USC. At that time, it was a USC scholarship and a California State scholarship. It was one where if I didn’t maintain a certain grade point average, I was out. I knew I just had to keep working hard.

“It’s funny; I started in pre-pharmacy. Could you see me behind the desk, counting pills? Even though it’s a great career…the sciences really hit me hard, and I changed my major. I’ll never forget—I walked out of a biochemistry exam, changed my major to business administration and then the light came on. I’ve just had wonderful people along the way as I went through USC, mentors at USC and my high school all encouraging me. My family, my mother, my dad—they were just wonderful, wonderful folks that were saying, ‘Kevin, you’re one of the kids that can make it.’”

He, in turn, has long done mentoring at USC, is on the school’s undergraduate school advisory board and is a regular speaker in business classes. “Constantly trying to recruit some USC Trojans into Mondelez,” he said.

“This education thing, I will tell you it’s been important my entire life. We’ve just got to do our best to keep talking to the kids about opportunities that exist when you do get an education,” he said, lauding the CGAEF and the CGA for keeping an emphasis on education and scholarships.

London asked Arceneaux about his three principles that guide his career (and that he often shares with others via his business card).

Arceneaux said the foundation for the three—attitude, work ethic and salesmanship—was formed early in his career, starting with E & J Gallo, followed by Frito-Lay and then Kraft/Mondelez/Nabisco.

“I just noticed something about the sales folks in all those organization that were successful. They first had a great attitude. You really love being around them, you love talking to them and you learn something from them. It was the folks that always had this positive outlook on everything, even when things weren’t that great.

“The next thing we know to be true in our grocery industry is that this work ethic is extremely important. From a vendor’s side, retailers want you to come in, take care of your responsibilities and then get out so they can serve their consumers, right? So this work ethic—getting up early, going to work every day, not having someone cover you all the time—was consistent in all the companies I worked for.

“The salesmanship piece is really this thing about understanding that the customer is king. It is all about trying your best to meet their needs, take care of them. You won’t be able to meet all their needs all the time, but when you do your best and you have the right attitude and you’re doing your part on your company’s behalf—talking about the benefits of your products and all the things we have to offer them and benefit them—I will tell you that you start to build these relationships…When you take care of people, they take care of you.”

Arceneaux took the opportunity while he was on stage to sing to his wife of more than 30 years, Annette. He chose a vintage Kenny Rogers song, “Lady,” and loud applause followed.

He also took the opportunity to introduce his youngest sister, Lynn, to the group.

“Only through the grace of God is my sister here with us tonight,” he said.

A routine colonoscopy resulted in a punctured colon for Lynn. It took the doctors three days to find the puncture; her recovery took nearly 15 months after she nearly died on the operating table. A subsequent surgery resulted in Lynn catching a “superbug” that only 10 to 15 percent of patients recover from.

“So my baby sister is a miracle child…God is good, and Lynn, you are good. You are so strong. I admire you so much—your strength and your determination, and you being here tonight with us means a lot.”

Inductee: The Amen Family, Super A Foods, Commerce, Calif.

Super A Foods was founded by Lou Amen in 1971. Four of Lou’s seven children and a son-in-law are involved in the business. Lou was inducted into the CGAEF Hall of Achievement in 1999.

Lou’s son, Jim, is the president, and three daughters—Jeannie, Renee, and Joanne—work for Super A Foods Inc., a privately-held chain of grocery stores. The stores cater to the needs of their L.A. communities, whether Latino or Asian.

Dr. Daniel Amen, one of the siblings not involved in the business, spoke at the induction ceremony. Dr. Amen is a physician, double board-certified psychiatrist, teacher and eight-time New York Times best-selling author who is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on applying brain imaging science to everyday clinical practice. Dr. Amen is the founder of Amen Clinics in Newport Beach and San Francisco and Bellevue, Wash., Virginia, Atlanta and New York City.

“What a joy for me to be able to introduce my siblings to you,” Amen said, in turn introducing the other two siblings in the audience.

“We got our work ethic from our dad…a strong one. Our father was president of the California Grocers Association, chairman of the board of Unified Grocers. He, in my mind, has always been the embodiment of The American Dream. His parents emigrated from the Middle East and were dirt-poor. He started working in a grocery store when he was 12. So it’s probably not a mistake that when I was 10 he took me to the store (laughter).

“As he represented work ethic, my mother represented play. She played all the time with us, from teaching us table tennis and tennis and golf and she drove us around. She’s just, with my dad, the most incredible person I have ever met in my life. In so many ways she is the glue that held us all together while my dad pursued his dream. But then of course he took all of us to work…Cheap labor, come on! When I think of Jimmy and Jeannie, Renee and Joanne, I think of my best friends. Literally, Jimmy growing up, he’s 18 months older to the day than I am, and Jeanne is 13 months younger than I am. My mother had four children in four years…

“I really got my dad’s work ethic—work like a mad person; my brother (Jim) more got my mom’s play…(laughter) He is just one of the sweetest, kindest, loving people that I have ever met. And it didn’t actually happen until he was 7, because before that he beat me up every day, but that’s another story,” he joked.

He described Jeannie as “loving, sweet, consistent. We did everything together growing up and she’s just amazing.

“Renee is the CFO. Which, think about that—in a Lebanese family where men are really ‘it,’ to have a woman CFO shows the evolution of our culture in our family and I am so proud.

“Joanne is the baby. But in so many ways she and I are so. She’s…full of heart and passion and hard work.”

Last year, Super A scholarships sent 34 kids to college. During the past 12 years, the company has donated nearly $400,000 to the CGAEF Scholarship program.

After bringing the Amens on stage, London asked Jim what the Hall of Achievement induction meant to the family.

“If you look at the list of the inductees, it’s really unbelievable, starting with my father; Jack Brown from Stater Bros.; Jim Lee last year from Stater Bros.; Roger Hughes, who is no longer with us; Darioush Khaledi, Al Plamann—the giants of the industry. So we are, as a family, very honored and very touched that the CGA has chosen us as honorees.”

Joanne’s husband is the son-in-law that works for the family business.

London asked her to share the story of how she met Hal and what Lou Amen told her when he found out they were dating.

“We both worked for Super A; I worked in the office and always had the hots for the guy, but he always ran the other way—boss’s daughter, stay away. So it took me about a year,” she said.

“When we started dating, my dad found out…and he brought me in the office and he sat me down and he said, ‘I want you to know, if something happens between the two of you, I’m not firing him—he’s too important to the company.’ So we got married and we both need our jobs so we’ve stayed married 27 years.”

Jeannie was asked about her first job at the company and why she decided to make her career in the family business.

“My mom used to take me to work. We used to go to El Segundo and I used to help her in the office. That was probably my first memory. Then my grandfather sold butter toffee peanuts and I used to have to sample them in the stores…No one wants that job because their teeth will break and it was embarrassing to ask if they wanted free food. Then I think I turned 16 and Dad said it’s time to go to work. We have a Hollywood store at Hollywood and Vermont, the first Super A. I was a box girl and I was not allowed to go outside. I wasn’t allowed to go outside at all; he was very protective of me. When he wasn’t watching, the girls would let me get in and start checking. That was a lot of fun. Then he got other stores and I became a trainer and I used to train people on how to check. It’s been a blast, I absolutely love it. I love people calling on me, I love the sales people. And Kevin (Arceneaux) is right; if they take care of you, you’ll do anything for them and they’ll do anything for you.”

London then asked Renee how it is to work with family every day.

“I’m very blessed to work with my family every day. I go to work and get to see my dad and my siblings every day. My mom often comes and meets up with my dad, and I get to see my brother-in-laws; sometimes my nephew Andy comes in. Most days, it’s really easy. But there are those days that it’s a challenge. We’re all very strong-willed and very opinionated. And sometimes we say our piece and we don’t always get our way, but we know that we’re respected and loved and you know, we say what we need to day and we drop it, we’re done. It’s resolved. It’s a great experience. I’m very blessed to have been able to have this experience for all these years.”

As noted, supporting education is very important to the Amen family. The company has held an annual golf tournament for about 17 years, and for the first couple of years, funds raised went to local elementary schools. Lou and Jim Amen then decided to amplify their efforts by “piggybacking” on the CGA’s Scholarship Program.

“For the last 15 years, the money we made on the golf tournament we gave to our employees, and last year…everyone who applied got a scholarship, whether it was $1,000 for junior college or $5,000 or $6,000 for the university. Education is very important, and the cost of education today is astronomical. A four-year education at USC is probably close to $300,000. And these poor kids that don’t have an opportunity for scholarships, that amount of student loans they may never pay for. Thanks to my father and my sisters and all my brothers-in-law who work for us, we put on a golf tournament every year and the vendors are very generous. We put on a nice show for them but they give the money, and in turn, whatever money we make on the golf tournament, $60,000, $70,000, $80,000 a year goes straight to scholarships for people that work for us. So we’re very fortunate. Education is very important, and hopefully we can keep doing it.”

He added, “I am one of the luckiest people in the world, to go to work every day, see my father and my sisters—it’s just been a pleasure and God has really blessed me.”

To wrap up the evening, London asked Jim Amen the question on everyone’s mind: When did you start being known for wearing tennis shoes all the time?

“That’s a good question. I don’t know where it began; it’s just something I’ve always done. I’m very comfortable in tennis shoes and I’m a very casual person. It’s amazing; I put a tie on once a year. Anyway, thank you all, thanks so much.”

The CGA Educational Foundation Hall of Achievement provides the food industry with the opportunity to recognize the achievements of those individuals who, through their foresight and dedication, have enhanced California’s food distribution industry. Proceeds from the event help fund the Foundation’s college scholarship and tuition reimbursement programs. For the 2012-13 program year, the Educational Foundation awarded 275 scholarships totaling $328,250. The Foundation also disbursed more than $110,000 in tuition reimbursement.

In the feature photo at top: With their Hall of Achievement Awards, from left: Jeannie and Joanne Amen; Kevin Arceneaux; Jim and Renee Amen. (Find more event photos here.)





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