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Content Guy's Note: "The MNB Interview" is designed to engage with business thought leaders who I like and respect, and who have something to say. It will run each workday from August 23 - 30 while I am traveling cross-country on a road trip with my son, and has a simple format. I posed to each of the interviewees the same 13 questions and requested that they answer at least 10 of them; I told them that their answers could be as short or long as they wished, and as serious or irreverent as they liked. What I was looking for was a window into how they think and feel.

Today's MNB Interview features Larree Renda, chair, The Safeway Foundation, & Executive Vice President, Safeway Inc.

I had my first opportunity to chat with Larree Renda several years ago when I had the privilege of sitting next to her at an awards dinner hosted by Portland State University's Center for Retail Leadership. Sure, we talked about business a bit. But mostly, we talked about her kids, and about baseball. And I remember thinking to myself that there is a enormous value in having that kind of time with someone like Larree, because it affords the opportunity to get a far greater sense of the person than "official" meetings often permit. It may be that it was on that evening at Portland State that the idea of doing the MNB Interview series was born ... and quite natural that I'd want Larree to be part of it.

The MNB Interview

What's the most important thing you've learned in your career?

Larree Renda:
In the beginning of my career, I was focused on doing individual tasks well. That worked to a point, and probably got me noticed and demonstrated I could get a job done.  Later I figured out you can’t simply rely on a task-oriented approach. You need to get things done through people…by surrounding yourself with the best people, and being the best boss. I have had success surrounding myself with exceptional people, and it makes everything else easy.

What's the biggest - and in retrospect, the most important - mistake that you've ever made, and how did you grow from it?

Larree Renda:
I’m a perfectionist, and that certainly has its pros and cons. However, I’ve found it imperative to adjust my thinking and not to confuse perfection with excellence.  I’ve learned to recognize that people might get where we need to go using a different, less perfect route than mine. Over the years, I’ve learned you need to allow for that, and give individuals the freedom to achieve the goal and ultimately demonstrate “excellence” in their own way.

What is the most significant thing you do each week, and why?

Larree Renda:
I have learned how to step back and look at the big picture.  It is often too easy to get stuck in the rut of being task driven and episodic rather than strategic.  I try to stay out of that rut.  Also, I have learned valuable life lessons as a result of adversity that has helped me put things in their proper perspective.

What is the most irreplaceable or essential piece of technology you own, and why?

Larree Renda:
My iPhone. The ability to stay connected is not only important, but it is expected. When I’m traveling or in meetings it allows me to respond rapidly to matters that in the past would require me to be at my desk. It gives me immediate access to news, and allows me to search information quickly. Given the diverse and eclectic business functions I manage, that is critical. There is an added benefit to the device. I use my iTunes to relax and also motivate me during a workout.  The device is just an incredible piece of technology.

What is your favorite movie (and is there a business lesson in it)?

Larree Renda:
Forrest Gump. The best business lesson comes from Forrest’s mother and the high expectation she sets for him. We sometimes live in a world of diminished expectations, and her lesson is just the opposite…that we should avoid underestimating people and their abilities simply because they are different.

Kirk or Picard?  And why do you prefer one's management/leadership style over the others?

Larree Renda:
Both have admirable qualities that can be applied in a business setting. I like Kirk’s bias for action, but also like Picard’s more thoughtful and collaborative approach to decision making.  If I absolutely had to choose…it would be Picard.

Who has been the most influential person in your business life, and why?

Larree Renda:
I’d say my father. He died when I was 16, so his influence pre-dates my business career, but he planted the seeds for the executive I’ve become. It was some basic lessons he taught through example. He was a car mechanic and auto-body guy, and he worked many nights well into the he taught me all about the value of hard work, a strong work ethic, and meeting deadlines or completing things on time.  However, he always had time for my brother and me.  He had that ability to balance his work and family life, and keep things in their proper perspective.

Keenest insight (so far) from your life and/or career?

Larree Renda:
I lost my husband to cancer in 2010, and that experience has permanently transformed the way I view and live life. Some of the clichés about life have become words to live by.  Such as, I really don’t sweat the small stuff. I always try to keep my priorities in the proper order.  And, I am working hard to make each day count and live life to the fullest.

When it comes to food, what is your greatest pleasure and your greatest weakness?

Larree Renda:
Both are pizza! My favorite food and my greatest weakness…eating too much of it.

Most memorable meal?  Where & what & why?

Larree Renda:
It was a dinner my daughter prepared at her new apartment with her boyfriend and his family. She didn’t make anything fancy.  However, it was her first meal as an independent woman. I was so proud of her attention to detail, the care she put into serving the right items in just the right way. It was the simple joy in knowing she was all grown up that gave me great satisfaction and an even greater memory.

Favorite place to go to eat/drink, not your home?

Larree Renda:
It isn’t a single restaurant. I live just a few miles from San Francisco, so I get to experience foods at a pretty broad range of remarkable places in the city.  San Francisco has so many amazing choices and I love to experiment with food.  I’d also have to say, that having dinner anywhere with my three kids is special…just being with them.

What is the thing that you haven't yet done that you would most like to do?

Larree Renda:
I’d like to sit in the stands and see my son Tony’s debut as a major league player. He was a 2012 Second Round/80th overall draft pick by the Washington Nationals. He is now in their minor league farm system working his tail off and trying to make it to “The Show.”

If you had to define the most important aspect of leadership, what would it be and why?(And, if you are so inclined, could you give an example of this quality in practice?)

Larree Renda:
I’d identify a trait that is often missing in the leadership equation.  At Safeway, we teach leaders through something we call the ACT model…attitude, courage, communication and thinking critically.  It is courage that is frequently missing, and holds people back from being effective.  I’m talking about courage on many levels such as the ability to make tough decisions, to do the right thing and to embrace change.  People have a hard time with that, but those who have the ability and willingness to demonstrate real courage can become very effective leaders.

Tomorrow, Tom Furphy, CEO/Managing Director, Consumer Equity Partners
KC's View: