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Food Industry Hall of Fame Southeast

‘It’s A Simple Business, We Just Try To Make It Hard’

Antolock Harris Teeter
Tammy DeBoer and Rod Antolock

Rodney “Rod” Antolock, former president of Harris Teeter and a vital part of the company for two decades before retiring in early 2022, has been inducted into The Shelby Report’s Food Industry Hall of Fame. 

Antolock joined Harris Teeter in 2000. At the time, he was the division president for Albertsons in San Antonio, according to another former Harris Teeter president, Fred J. Morganthall II. 

“We hired Rod to run operations,” Morganthall recalled. “We had been looking for a long time to find a great operator. And Albertsons had a good reputation for having good operators, although not just anyone from Albertsons would have fit into the Harris Teeter culture. Rod fit into the history and culture immediately.” 

Morganthall was impressed with Albertsons’ operation and Antolock’s role in it. He said Albertsons was known at the time for its “great store conditions and profitability. When I interviewed Rod, it seemed very appropriate that he could bring that to Harris Teeter.”

Antolock joined the company as the SVP of operations. By 2007, he was EVP of operations and merchandising, though he had been working in merchandising for Harris Teeter long before receiving a title for it.

“At the time [Antolock joined], we also had an opening for VP of merchandising,” Morganthall said. “It became apparent quickly that Rod was as good at merchandising as he was in operations. Within the first six months that Rod was with us, he had both operations and merchandising responsibilities.”

Within three years of Antolock’s arrival, Morganthall saw the full potential for him to be his successor. 

“Good leaders need to replace themselves,” he said. “And the sooner you find good candidates, the better off you are. Looking for someone to succeed you a year before you retire, it doesn’t lead to good succession planning. 

“With Rod, it was really easy. We shared a lot of time together and we shared philosophies together. I brought him in on many areas that I was responsible for. I turned [over] store design fairly early on.”

In 2014, Cincinnati, Ohio, based Kroger purchased Harris Teeter. Morganthall didn’t have plans to leave Harris Teeter for three years following the merger. But after just a year, he was ready to move into a new position at Kroger.

“Rod had about a 24 hours’ notice that he was about to become president at Harris Teeter,” Morganthall said with a laugh. “We were supposed to have about a six-week transition and we had a 24-hour transition. But he was ready.”

Since that day, Morganthall has kept a close eye on Harris Teeter and watched Antolock’s moves as president.

“Rod established best practices for store operations at Harris Teeter,” Morganthall said. “We improved our customer service and that’s not something just to say we ‘improved customer service,’ we measured it. When we found what needed to be improved, he developed methods to improve our customer service through training and development of our people.

“He rewrote all of our standard practices. Under Rod, we went to the certification of our department managers, along with our store managers. Everyone was certified every year. We improved our productivity in our stores. We decreased our shrink in our stores. I could go on and on.” 

Antolock had begun decreasing the overall shrink at Harris Teeter after being named EVP in 2012. According to Morganthall, he did so companywide by nearly 50 percent. 

Antolock was known for two things while president – decisive decision making and his love of being in the stores. 

“It’s a simple business, we just try to make it hard,” was something he was known for saying, according to multiple sources, including Morganthall and Tammy DeBoer, current Harris Teeter president.

“Rod has an incredible insight into what makes this business so interesting and engaging,” DeBoer said. “He has expectations for his people. He has high expectations for the brand. And he knows how to meet those expectations.”

Forty-year veteran Craig McKenzie, SVP of operations, worked closely with Antolock. 

“He’s a great people person. He had a great vision and a great mind for business,” McKenzie said. “I was always amazed at spending time with him. He could spend a minimal amount of time inside a store. He could sense and identify what some of the root causes were inside that store.

“He could just walk the perimeter of the store, find where you may be missing some operating profit dollars. It could be a product mix. He could find waste opportunities…in no more than 30 minutes, he’d be able to identify those areas of the operation.”

McKenzie shared another memory of Antolock: “When he first came on to Harris Teeter, he said, ‘Keep Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays open. I’m going to be visiting stores.’”

As McKenzie recalled, a short time later Fred Morganthall called a meeting on a Thursday. 

“Rod was relatively new at the time and Rod didn’t show up for the meeting. Fred called and asked, ‘Where are you at?’ Rod told him, ‘I won’t be there. I explained that I like to visit stores on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. I try to visit stores on these days.’”

Chuck Thompson, SVP of merchandising at Harris Teeter, also worked with Antolock for a long time, including at Albertsons in the San Antonio Division. 

“Rod was an incredible teacher…He was very confident in his job, very empowering – not a micromanager,” Thompson said. “That was an incredible strength of his. 

“He always told me – and taught anyone around him – that the grocery business is not a hard business. We try to make it a hard business. But it doesn’t have to be that way. He was just constant on the fact that simplicity always creates better. One of his favorite phrases was ‘more is not better, better is better.’”

Antolock believed that the strength of Harris Teeter comes from the people – those who shop there and the stores’ associates. 

“He taught me that it’s all about the people,” Thompson said. “He knew that you have to keep that in mind with every decision you make. It will ensure your people and your business are successful. That stayed with me my entire career. I try to keep those philosophies in my life to this day.”

Taking the helm as president came at a challenging time for Antolock. Morganthall had left not long after Harris Teeter had become part of the Kroger family. Antolock had to find a way to lead the company while navigating a big merger still in its infancy. 

“It was a pretty tumultuous time for two mega companies to come together,” McKenzie recalled. “He’s been through some tough situations and came out very successful. He has a unique style of knowing what’s important and coaching us to focus on those things that set Harris Teeter and our people apart. It’s the reason he’s been successful. 

“He has never taken a quick win. He’s always focused on the cure…tough decisions, easy decisions, you knew that what he was doing was going to benefit you, your family and your business.”

Being friendly yet authoritative was Antolock’s way. You knew what you had to do and how to get it done, according to Director of Customer Marketing John Robinson. 

“He was not flashy. He had a real strong sense of purpose. He communicated his expectations really clearly,” Robinson said.

“When you did something wrong or when he needed you to do something different, you knew it. But he had a gift, he knew how to keep things simple.”

With his decisiveness and level-headed leadership, Antolock remained a humble man. He was known for giving great advice but also to admit when he was wrong. 

Chuck Munn, Harris Teeter’s VP of non-perishable merchandising, developed a close relationship with Antolock. Even after retirement, Antolock and Munn can be found on hunting trips. 

Munn echoed a sentiment that the customer helped guide the decision of the overall company. “We always said there are no registers in the corporate office or the warehouse. All the registers are out there. At the end of the day, the customer makes the decision in the store through the registers. 

“I think the point of view is, you’re going to see things. I think the reason he was in stores so much was he felt really comfortable out there. People would see him and he was not scary…if he was here in the room, you wouldn’t know he was the president of the company.

“Some presidents are scary, but you could talk to him about anything. That’s anybody. That’s the executive team. That’s the courtesy clerk and the customers. And the whole time he is listening…Rod knew the simple fact that if it didn’t look right here, it’s not going to look right in the next store and probably not in the other 257 stores.”

Antolock is enjoying retirement. He’s reportedly spending much more time with his family, as well as fishing and hunting.

To read the full Retailer of the Year section by The Shelby Report, click here.

About the author

Jack R. Jordan

Content Creator

Jordan joined The Shelby Report in May 2022 after over a year in the newspaper industry. A native of Marietta, Georgia, he studied writing and communications at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. He spends too much time in the grocery store trying to find recipe ingredients, so he looks forward to covering the industry.

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