Timing is everything. No woman in the independent grocery business knows this better than Barbara Wiest of IGA. After 34 years with the company, filling roles in almost every department, she is now VP of communications. Wiest is an integral member of her team, well-respected, and the recipient of the 2015 WGA Woman of the Year Award. These achievements are truly remarkable, especially since her career began by chance.
“Quite honestly, my career in the grocery industry wasn’t planned. It was 34 years ago, I was newly divorced, I had a young child and I needed a job,” Wiest said. “IGA was warm and welcoming, and I was pleased to find that it, and the independent grocery industry, were a good fit for me.”
With 30-plus years in the industry, Wiest is able to authoritatively speak to changes within the female workforce, particularly at the store and company leadership level.
“When I started at IGA more than 30 years ago, the retailing women of IGA were often silent-partner wives. Today, we are beginning to see these women and women like them running successful businesses and doing so with some of the industry’s most innovative ideas to attract shoppers. It’s inspiring to see, to say the least.”
This type of inspiration comes easily to a company within the independent grocery business, Wiest says. She names entrepreneurialism and merit-based recognition as other signature industry values.
“My first job at IGA was as an administrative assistant, and it was at a time in the grocery industry when women had very little opportunity for working their way up the ladder. But even then there was something different about IGA. IGA corporate had the same entrepreneurial family values that were practiced on a store level. If you worked hard, you were rewarded, and so over the years I found myself working in just about every area of the company, which meant in one way or another, I participated in just about everything we pushed out to the retailers from marketing materials to communications to fundraising events.”
These company values would not be possible without strong leadership to implement and encourage. Wiest said she found a leader and a career mentor in Dr. Tom Haggai, chairman of IGA.
“Dr. Haggai has been boss, my mentor and my family friend for most of my career. He saw talent in me that I didn’t know that I had, he nurtured—and pushed me—to grow in every way,” Wiest said. “There is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be where I am today without his guidance, and I can’t thank him enough. I’ve tried to lead by his example to help the IGA employees I’ve managed grow into proud and productive business leaders.”
As Wiest reflects on her climb at IGA, she acknowledges the contemporary challenges independent grocers face in today’s marketplace: attracting young people to the industry, both on a corporate level and at the store level.
“If Millennials are our biggest customer base now, we have to make sure younger talent is entering—and staying—in the independent marketplace,” Wiest said. “We need their perspective to make sure independents are not just staying on track with the chains, but moving ahead of them. We’re in the perfect position to win, because we have the flexibility as independents to move quickly. Millennials and their creative ideas can be our secret weapon if we listen and learn from them.”
Hard working, innovative and committed to advancing the cause of independent grocery retailers on a global scale, Wiest’s lengthy career and many professional contributions provide a real-life example of a successful, happy accident.
Do you know someone who should be the 2016 WGA Woman of the Year? Visit nationalgrocers.org/wga to nominate someone.