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In Connecticut, the Norwalk Hour has a good piece about how a third generation is preparing to take the leadership reins at Stew Leonard's, the iconic fresh food retailer that has grown from a single store operation to one that today operates five food stores and nine liquor stores.

"Founded in 1969 as a Norwalk dairy store by Stew Leonard Sr. and then expanding under Stew Leonard Jr.’s stewardship," the story says, "Stew Leonard’s is now years into a process in which it is prepping a third generation to run the company in an industry being turned on its end by any number of trends, including formidable competition from big warehouse clubs and smaller specialty stores touting their roots in regional food production."

The Hour writes that earlier this year, "Blake Leonard became a Stew Leonard’s wine marketing manager, becoming the second full-time member of the family business’ third generation to take a managerial role after her cousin Jake Tavello, who is a store director in Danbury."

But this is not a matter of just having the right relatives. "The company has established a few major criteria for anyone joining the company’s managerial ranks — etched in figurative stone after the fashion of its customer service principles etched into boulders at store entrances. Family members must work three years for another company, obtain a master’s degree and pass muster with an independent panel retained by the family to assess their readiness for the job they are seeking ... Over the years, Stew Leonard’s has readily publicized its efforts to school the third-generation cousins to work in the business should they choose the path, with retreats to Italy, Alaska and Harvard Business School among other destinations for workshops on the challenges for family businesses in passing the torch."

Jake Tavello worked for Wegmans, the story says, and Blake Leonard worked for EJ Gallo before taking on their current roles in the family company.

While the third generation of Leonards is getting deeply involved in the business, "perhaps the biggest challenge for the junior Leonard clan and the cadre of industry professionals running the company" is "approximating the frontman that is Stew Leonard Jr., who projects a larger-than-life wit and zest for life. Jake and Blake are not offering any insight as to who might inherit his role one day, whether inside the family or out. If it is Blake’s voice alongside her father’s on the airwaves, Jake is getting grounded in the company’s bread-and-butter business of running a supermarket."

“We want to remain a family business, but there’s 13 of us,” Blake Leonard tells the Hour. “For any of us to think (about) who will be the CEO or that spokesperson personality — we have no idea. … There’s still so much time.”
KC's View:
I've always been enormously impressed by how seriously Stew Leonard's takes the succession issue ... which is as seriously as the company plans to remain family-owned. These folks don't want to make the same mistake as Fairway, where the family sold the company to an investment group, which promptly squandered much of the equity built up over decades.

Third-generation leadership can be problematic, but I suspect this won't be a problem at Stew Leonard's. I've met some of these folks over the years, and they strike me as serious, committed and on the same page as their older relatives. That said, I suspect that Stew Jr. won't be going anywhere soon ... we're the same age, and therefore way too young to retire. But when he does, I hope he decides to do some teaching ... because there's a lot of wisdom and experience there to share.