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5 Questions For The NGA Foundation

Kirk Clark and Dante Franceschelli

by Jim Dudlicek / NGA Director, Communications and External Affairs

As we celebrate Foundation Awareness Week, we chat with the chairman and vice chairman of the NGA Foundation’s Board of Regents on the importance of leadership development, diversity and the future of the grocery industry.

Kirk Clark, who chairs the Foundation board, is director of merchandising at Albertville, Alabama-based Mitchell Grocery Corp. Vice Chairman Dante Franceschelli is vice president and general manager of C&S Wholesale Grocers in Keene, New Hampshire.

  1. What impact has the NGA Foundation had on leadership development and diversity, training and industry promotion?

Kirk Clark: The NGA Foundation continues to make a positive impact on leadership development for individuals seeking a career in the grocery industry by providing visibility into many areas of employment and scholarship opportunities. These opportunities are available to the right candidate who has a desire to train and learn in a very thriving, diverse industry. Because of the NGA Foundation, many individuals have received scholarships, attended the Executive Leadership Development Program at Cornell University, or participated in a WGA program or event that helped begin or renew an exciting pathway in this wonderful industry.

Dante Franceschelli: A cornerstone of the NGA Foundation’s mission is to advance the recruitment, retention and training of talent across the grocery industry. Our programs and focus, particularly at the university level, have helped to attract new and diverse talent to the industry, many of whom had never previously considered a career in grocery. In my opinion, however, the most exciting impact of the Foundation is our annual Executive Leadership Development Program held at Cornell in partnership with PepsiCo. The ELDP is designed to develop and prepare current and future industry leaders to better face business challenges and advance their careers for long-term success. It’s also a great opportunity for attendees to meet and network with their colleagues and other future leaders across the industry.

  1. How important are the foundation’s activities to the future of the industry?

KC: The NGA Foundation will continue to be important to support the future of the independent grocer and to promote our industry in the areas of recruitment, retention and continual leadership development opportunities.

DF: While we’re certainly not the only ones contributing, we believe the work we’re doing is vital to the future success of the industry. A healthy pipeline of talent is essential to long-term success of any industry, and sharing the near limitless opportunities across the business creates excitement and engagement. Our industry is so diverse that, regardless of your field of study, interest or background, there is an opportunity to contribute and succeed.

  1. What would you tell NGA members who are thinking about getting involved with the foundation?

KC: I would encourage any NGA member to get involved in the Foundation. Whether through donations of time or money, you will have the opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s life. More than likely, you can remember that someone who helped you along the way as you were getting started in your career. Why not be that person for someone else?

DF: I tell members that they can’t afford not to get involved with the Foundation. The work we’re doing and causes we support help to ensure there is a vibrant future for the independent grocer. The opportunities made available to our members and their associates are designed to create deeper engagement, excitement and career advancement opportunities to prepare the next generation of leaders for long-term success.

  1. Challenges of the past year continue to linger into 2023, and despite a gradual easing of inflation, operators as well as consumers are still feeling the pressure. What are your expectations for the coming months?

KC: The coming months will continue to provide stability in the areas of a healthy supply chain and employment opportunities, as well as fewer inflationary pressures that should lead to higher consumer confidence. The independent grocer is positioned for continued growth simply because they continue to provide the goods and services that others do but are grounded in the communities they serve.

DF: If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that you really can’t ever predict what the future holds. However, the one thing I do know is that independent grocers have always been resilient as they face challenges and are quick to react and nimble in their approach. I would expect to see a return to some of the trends we saw pre-2020, with consumers seeking out enhanced value as they shop. So, I believe it is vitally important that independents continue to focus on their strengths and make investments in people and technology to create enhanced value and a positive experience for their customers. While inflation does appear to be slowing versus last year, the economic pressures are real, and it’s important to recognize the challenges consumers are facing as grocers are making their business decisions.

  1. If you weren’t in the grocery industry, what would you be doing?

KC: I would more than likely be retired, spending time with my family and paying very close attention to my new granddaughter. The grocery industry is all I have ever done. It was all my dad ever did. My dad always said, “Son, we’re not in the grocery business, we’re in the people business.” Maybe a better answer to this question would be that I would be in an industry where you can serve, to make a difference in someone’s life. There have been many that have and continue to make a difference in mine.

DF: I’ve always had an interest in general business management, but it’s hard to imagine a world where I wasn’t in the grocery industry. However, I believe the experiences, relationships, support and knowledge I’ve gained working in our diverse business would prepare me well for a transition to just about any other industry.

Learn more about the NGA Foundation at https://www.nationalgrocers.org/foundation/.

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