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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 Mark Batenic, chairman/president/CEO, IGA Inc.

Having known Mark Batenic for a long time, I've been trying to come up with the best adjective to describe him. And here's the word that I think does it best: "Solid."

I don't think that Mark has an easy job. In his role at IGA, he is following a highly charismatic leader, Dr. Tom Haggai ... and that's never easy. And, he's leading a sector that has more than its share of challenges, with the tectonic shifts in how consumers shop inevitably having an impact on how retailers go to market. But my sense of Mark is that as he leads IGA and supports retail banners all over the world, the one thing he doesn't appreciate is drama. He is a solid leader, with long experience in both retailing and wholesaling, and he's been leading IGA's US operations since 2006. And that was more than enough reason to include him in this series of MNB Interviews...

The MNB Interview...

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

Mark Batenic:
I have learned that Integrity is of the utmost importance. You have to have integrity in order to gain and earn the respect of  all you come in contact with. If you ever lose it, the game is over. Integrity extends to all words and actions that represent you. It's priceless!

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

Mark Batenic:
I made a mistake with a vendor in 1978 in Topeka, Kansas. I accused him of not treating us fairly in a promotion. I did not give him a chance to explain what the circumstances were. I was rude and un-professional to him.

What was the learning? First, when the facts were explained, I apologized for jumping on him…Second, learn to listen, probe for the facts, then act.

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

Mark Batenic:
I treat everyone I meet as I would want to be treated and I greet people, smile at them and engage them. It's catching and rewarding.

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

Mark Batenic:
My cell phone…I feel lost without it.

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

Mark Batenic:
Rudy is my favorite movie…and the lesson is never give up, follow your instincts and work like hell!

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

Mark Batenic:
I was not a "Star Trek" nerd, but Kirk is my man. He was not afraid to make a decision.

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

Mark Batenic:
I have three..Dean Werries, Jerry Austin (both former Fleming Cos. executives) and Tom Haggai…they all have / had integrity and conviction of decisions.

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

Mark Batenic:
My shorts go on one leg at a time and just remember that!

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

Mark Batenic:
I love Steak..coming from the Mid-west, you have to…and my weakness is Ice Cream…I love it and its making me heavy!

Most memorable meal?  Where & what & why?

Mark Batenic:
Topeka, Kansas, May 22, 1971, our wedding night, and 42 years later we are going strong…seems like yesterday!

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

Mark Batenic:
Ocean Blvd. Restaurant…Kitty Hawk, NC…it’s on the water and it’s our favorite place.

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

Mark Batenic:
Drive an Amtrak train or drive a BNSF freight train across the Rockies….I am a Railroad Buff… would be awesome to be at the throttle.

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?)

Mark Batenic:
Be yourself, listen and act. It seems easy but it’s not. To be a leader you have to have integrity and fortitude to make the tough decisions. Once you make the decision, move quickly.

And if it’s a mistake, admit it. We are in a people business ... Treat others as you would want to be treated.

I have had the privilege of managing a lot of people. But, I always felt like I was working for them….it was my job to get the best from each colleague and then be sure they got the recognition. I always wanted to surround myself with the best people, ones who would challenge me and who wanted my job. It made my job easier. It’s like leading an orchestra…you want the best players in each section.

Tomorrow: Lisa Sedlar, president/CEO, Green Zebra.
KC's View: