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Michael Wright, Former Supervalu CEO And Gophers Alumnus, Dies At 81

Michael Wright Supervalu
Michael Wright

Last updated on March 25th, 2021 at 07:23 pm

Michael Wright, who built Supervalu Inc. in the 1980s and 1990s into the nation’s largest grocery wholesaler, died Jan. 27 at his home in Wayzata, Minnesota, according to a report in the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

Wright, who was 81, died of complications from pneumonia. Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

He grew up in Minneapolis and was an All-America high school athlete in football and basketball at St. Thomas Military Academy. He continued to play both sports at the University of Minnesota, became captain of the football team in 1959 and remained a prominent backer of Gophers sports all through his life.

In the 1960s, he was drafted by teams in the NFL, AFL and Canadian Football League and decided to take the highest offer, an $11,000 salary from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, which was coached by another Gophers alumnus, Bud Grant.

While playing pro football, Wright also attended law school at the university on an ROTC scholarship. He graduated in 1963. After a stint in the Army to fulfill his ROTC commitment, Wright joined the Minneapolis law firm Dorsey & Whitney. Among his clients was Supervalu, which hired him as chief executive in 1981.

He remained in that job until 2000 and oversaw an acquisition spree that built Supervalu to $20 billion in annual revenue. It was the nation’s largest food distributor at that time and the 10th-largest retail grocer, with Cub Foods as its flagship.

Wright retired in 2002.

John Hooley, former EVP at Supervalu, recalled Wright’s role in the company’s 1992 acquisition of Wetterau Inc., the deal that lifted Supervalu above the wholesale industry’s then-leader Fleming Cos.

“They were a St. Louis wholesaler with the Save-A-Lot stores, but Wetterau wanted to cut Save-A-Lot from the deal. It was a showdown until the last minute and it became one of our best acquisitions,” Hooley said. “He was a brilliant guy.”

Wright’s son Adam, a Minneapolis businessman, described his father as someone who fostered personal relationships with many employees. “He ate in the company dining room with all the other employees,” he said.

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