Season 1, Ep. 4: An Interview with Rick Keyes

Learn the secret sauce of Meijer stores—how a clear and simple vision can enhance the culture of an organization and positively impact the customer. Rick Keyes, President and CEO of Meijer, Inc., joins Daniel to share a few of his leadership disciplines, his experience leading Meijer in a pandemic and his perspective and practices around valuing his team.

View Transcript >>

(We use an audio transcription service so please disregard any errors below.)

Daniel Harkavy (00:02):

I’m Daniel Harkavy and welcome to the Questioning Leadership podcast produced by Building Champions. For the past 25 plus years, I and my team here at Building Champions have been helping top business leaders to improve the way they live and lead. The purpose of this podcast is to be curious and really unpack what it means to be a great leader in today’s times. And in this podcast, we get to learn from some of the best—top leaders in diverse industries all over America. And today, one of those leaders that we get to learn from is my good friend, Rick Keyes from Meijer stores. I hope you enjoy this conversation. I absolutely did. And every time I get to spend time with Rick, I learn. So, listen in and take some notes as we get to question leadership.

Daniel Harkavy (01:00):

Rick, it is so good to have you with me.

Rick Keyes (01:24):

It’s great to be with you Daniel, as always. Looking forward to our discussion.

Daniel Harkavy (01:28):

As am I, I’m confident that all of our listeners, whether they are CEOs of organizations that are similar in size to yours, or whether they’re younger, aspiring leaders who are listening and just wanting to further develop themselves so they can continue to make an even greater difference in the years ahead. Whomever you are listening, I’m sure we’re going to have some gems for you that will help you along the way. So I always like to start these Questioning Leadership episodes off the same way. And at Building Champions, we say that a better humans make for better leaders. And we have an absolute conviction around that, and that’s made it a lot of fun for us over the last 25 years, we get to work with leaders who believe that better humans make for better leaders. They care about the whole person. And what I’ve seen about you Rick, over the past couple of years is that is absolutely who you are. You care about the whole person. So why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about you as a human, maybe three to five things about you that will really help all of us to understand who you are as a man?

Rick Keyes (02:29):

Yeah well, I think it’s a, it’s a great question first. You know, oftentimes I think people confuse what you do versus who you are. And while I certainly am a president and CEO, I’m first and foremost a human being, I’m a person. I grew up, I have a family and have interests that include being a leader and a CEO. But I think oftentimes what leads to success is where they intersect and your passions intersect. And so for me, you know, I would start with family. I’m passionate about my family and the loyalty and the caring of my family and my friends and those that I interact with, I think is just incredibly important. And I think that you just don’t get to where you are without the support and mentorship and caring of those that love you and around you, I’m married. I have two children, a newly empty nester, which has been neat to experience.

Rick Keyes (03:27):

And so, at any time or any chance I get to be an enjoy time with my family is very important. My faith is important to me, and I think that was kind of grounded in me throughout my childhood all the way through my life has been a big part of kind of building my values and what I value and what’s important. So I think that comes through in my leadership style, just in how I feel about people and the value of people and that I would say I really love being a leader and having the opportunity to impact others and to create and help to co-create with people a future that we might not have seen possible, but together we can, we can accomplish. And so that’s kind of how I think about myself.

Daniel Harkavy (04:13):

That’s awesome. The things that you share about who you are as a human, those are common through all of my Questioning Leadership guests and, and it really feeds well into a premise that we have at Building Champions, which is we believe better humans make for better leaders, as I shared. And then the next one being, self-leadership always precedes team leadership. And I hope that younger listeners in particular here that those that are going to be our guests, they’re going to always share that common theme of their areas of my life that go beyond just my role in business that are really important to me. And I’m actually quite intentional with how I tend to those and pour into those and don’t sacrifice those. And that is just a common truth with all of our clients and all of our friends. So you’re a guest on this podcast because of yes, that is who you are. And then also what it is that you do. So as the president and CEO of this incredible company of yours that you get to serve, I believe $18 billion, 87-year-old grocery store business culture and leadership, I know is huge for you. I want to unpack some of your thoughts on culture leadership, especially in today’s times, but maybe you could first give us a little window into your professional career. How did you get to where you are and maybe tell us about a couple of the lows and the highs along the way?

Rick Keyes (05:36):

Yeah, well, I had a little bit of an untraditional path I started and actually went to school, studied to be a pharmacist, and I wanted to be a doctor and realized that that really, that wasn’t a path that ultimately being a doctor was, was going to be what was going to be fulfilling for me. So I had, was working for Meyer and like a lot of people, I had no intentions of someday becoming the CEO, but just really enjoyed the job, enjoyed working with patients. And I had a couple people that saw something in me early on and said, Hey, I think you can do more. I, you know, we’d love to get you outside the pharmacy. Maybe you could run the store when, when I’m not here or do something different. And it got me to think about different opportunities in the future. And so I kind of came out of the pharmacy.

Rick Keyes (06:25):

I started running stores for, for the company. And for those that aren’t familiar with Meijer, we originated the super center. They’re big, massive 200,000 square foot stores with at the time we had six, 700 people that were working in the store at any given time. And I just fell in love with leadership and the variety and the ability to engage and work with people. And when you go from being a pharmacist to walking into the meat room where they’re cutting and the butchers are cutting produce, you might have white coats on, but it’s, it’s a different experience. And I knew early on and learned early on that I didn’t need to have all the answers. So I, you know, I was always trying something different. And so stepping out of pharmacy, nothing prepared me to be a store manager at that scale. And I had to learn quickly that I had to rely on the people that were around me.

Rick Keyes (07:14):

I didn’t have to have all the answers. And I think that was a theme that really has served me well throughout my career. So I worked in stores, ran stores, markets, regions, ultimately moved on into senior leadership roles, running supply chain. Having never run a distribution center in my career, took over manufacturing for our company, opened up multiple manufacturing facilities for our organization, having never done that before. And I think the key to that was working with great team members, having great mentors and really being open to listening into learning. And I think that’s allowed me to really progress in many ways throughout my career. The other thing I would say is I’ve been blessed to work for an amazing company and an amazing family. So Meijer is a privately held, family owned business with just a really centered set of values that are really centered around people and the value of people and that we all can make a difference together with a very much a long-term approach and a long-term view of the company and the future. And so, you know, our values aligned really well. I’ve been with Meijer now for 32 years, and it’s just been an incredible journey. And the last five of which I’ve had the honor of being the president and then CEO of the company.

Daniel Harkavy (08:34):

So good. You know, a few hours ago, I was able to record another one of these questioning leader podcasts with another one of our CEO roundtable participants, Tim Tassopoulos, who’s president at Chick-fil-A. And folks, if you’re listening to this episode with Rick and you haven’t listened to the Tim episode, you’re going to want connect the two, because you’re going to just hear some absolute truths with regards to how does a company get to this size and endure for the time such as your company has or a Chick-fil-A has. And you know, what I hear in both of the interviews is it’s just this high core conviction and belief around people and, and how we humans treat one another, how we see one another and what kind of an opportunity can be created for humans when you serve them the way that you serve them, Rick.

Rick Keyes (09:27):

I couldn’t agree more. I think, you know, you think about the genesis of a company. I know we think we have an iconic, our founder, Fred Meijer, and his father Hendrick just, it knew that there was no way they could be successful without their team, and there’s no way to scale the business without their team. And so this belief and genuine belief that if people aren’t a means to an end, they are the key to our success and that entrepreneurial spirit, where you’re just so thankful for every customer that comes through your door and every team member that enables your success. And we saw that it was just such a natural thing with Fred Meijer. And how do you keep that culture going as your company gets bigger and bigger? So that’s something you have to be deliberate about. And we focus on intently. We know that the only way we’re going to win is win with our teams and our customers don’t need us. We need them. And so the only way to take care of them is to take care of your teams. And so it’s very rewarding.

Daniel Harkavy (10:27):

It’s really good. You know, in our conversations, especially in the past year, I know that you are one that not only says what you just said about team and, you know, taking care of people and needing people and understanding that your people are the mechanism for the success of the business. It’s not just lip service. You, you’re doing things as it aligns with better humans make for better leaders. What are some of the initiatives that you’ve seen success with as you’ve led the business that are all around caring for the whole person as, as your employees and your teammates? What are some things you’re doing right now that you’re excited about?

Rick Keyes (11:03):

Well, I think, you know, there was a lot there, you know, I started in this role five years ago and have been with the company for quite some time and was really connected to our culture and our values. And I think that over time, you can, I like to say, we got to, got to clear the brush out of the way and let the culture shine through. And so I think one of the things as a CEO or as a president, that’s absolutely critical is you have to create clarity, clarity of vision and purpose and role and value. And so, you know, right out of the gates, I remember my very first conversations across the company. The first thing I talked about in every one of those meetings is the power of our culture. And that is our secret sauce and we have to cherish it and we have to let it grow and we have to invest in it.

Rick Keyes (11:48):

And so we tried to make it simple. And I think sometimes in organizations, the, and the focus and the purpose gets overused and team members don’t understand it. It’s like that’s something for the ivory tower. And we really wanted to make sure that every single person in our company understood what our strategic lens was, how we thought about the business. And I think that was incredibly powerful because you take 70,000 people now and direct their energies in a positive direction. And they can see where, regardless of whether I’m pushing in a cart or cutting meat or hanging soft lines, or I’m working in the corporate office, I contribute and I make a difference. And so for us, we made it simple. We call it CTC. The C stands for customer focus. We’re going to relentlessly focus on adding value to our customer. The T is a focus on and knowing that the only way we’re going to win is with our team and the last C is we’re going to have a passion to compete.

Rick Keyes (12:42):

And so making that clear and not allowing it to be the flavor of the day, providing consistency. One of the things that I think has really made a difference for our team is that for five years, we’ve been staying on that message. We don’t change it. It is who we are. This is how we think about making decisions. And it has really unleashed people. It’s given people freedom to understand how to make decisions. We took a lot of the rule books, set them off to the side and said, these are the principles, not the rules and said, here’s how to think about it. If you’re doing something that is going to enable our team to win or to take care of the customer, I can’t write a rule for it, but I can clear the playing field and allow you to engage and make a difference there. And so I think that has really uplifted our team. I think it has given them the freedom to really do what and unleash their capabilities, which is really exciting to see. And it’s taken the confusion and the AZT around what is our, what are we really doing here and made it very, very clear. And then I think underneath each one of those you put in tactics, you know, there’s things you can do that say, Hey, this is not just something I’m talking about. This is something we live and breathe. And so, you know, for example, we just went through the pandemic and are still in it. And I cannot imagine not having been on this journey around our team and our customer for the last five years and navigating what we just navigated over the last year during this pandemic, it made it so much clearer and easier for our team to understand how are we going to handle this? So, you know, I think those are the type of things that, you know, end up happening every day. It’s it becomes, I talk a lot in our organization around the language. It becomes part of the language of how we think, how we talk, how we focus our efforts. And there are thousands of decisions made every day that I don’t have to be a part of, but I know that we’re aligned and we’re clear about what matters. And I think that’s allowed us to win.

Daniel Harkavy (14:40):

Yeah. I tell you, it’s there are many books written about exactly what you just shared. And in the last 25 years of, as I had the privilege of journeying, side-by-sides so many different leaders in so many different businesses, not just here in the US but now globally, the common theme again is just this clarity, the way you see your colleagues and your teammates as these smart, really good people and understanding that empowering them, equipping them to make good decisions, empowering them to do it, resourcing them so that they’re best set up to succeed. It’s just how you win. And, you know, your framework, your model, which helps people to think better and to understand what tactics are tied to those principles, you give an operating playbook to your teammates, and now they know this is how to win. And they know that they have the freedom to choose moment by moment, as they interact with the customer or one another. Am I living out the principle or not, but not so many do it.

Rick Keyes (15:46):

Yeah, it was interesting cause I remember when I first started in the role, we used to have this mantra we had gotten in, as we got bigger, we felt the way to handle that as we started to move to scale was to create rigor and rules and control, and it really stifled our ability to win. And so one of the, one of the first things, when I was talking about culture was I was talking about how I felt empowered through my career and the ability to make decisions. And so we had to give permission. One of the things we talked about, we call the eighty five fifteen, which was, we’re going to get to 85% of the way there. We’re going to have ads. We’re going to have things on promotion. We’re going to get the right items on the shelves. We’re going to have the right registers in the software and the systems, but the last 15%, the last 15 yards, you have to carry that we can’t prescribe it. We can’t do it for you. We want you to show us what winning looks like. You have to, you know, when you see something, a local item that you need to carry, we got to give you the ability to do it. You got to tell us, and we’ve got to get you that local item and that just permission and then supporting it—it is amazing what people will do when you give them the freedom to go do it.

Daniel Harkavy (16:58):

So good. Gems. They’re people. I mean, real gems. And I think for many listening, you know, whether you’re the CEO of mid-size or a large, this just isn’t lip service, this is the real deal. I mean, this is how you create an enduring amazing company. And it’s how you see people. You know, you said something early on Rick that I wanted to just kind of again, highlight. And that is that you never felt like you needed to have all the answers. Often times leaders will believe that a leader’s effectiveness is determined by them having all the answers. And that’s never true. There’s no such thing as a great company being led by a superhero leader, you can be a superhero during a time of crisis for a week or two. And that does happen, which will probably be a nice segue for you and I to talk about the last year, but over time, great organizations are led by leaders who understand who they are and who they’re not.

Daniel Harkavy (17:55):

And they understand their job is to surround themselves with the smartest people, with diverse perspectives and immense skill and passion and align all that skill and all that expertise. And then cast that vision. That common vision is the magnet that pulls us forward and causes us to galvanize and to do extraordinary things. And you do a great job of it, Rick. So let’s, let’s talk about last year, you know, here you are, your store seen as essential in the midst of a pandemic. I mean, I can remember some of the early conversations where I think you were just so concerned, rightly so about the overall wellbeing of your teammates who are going into the stores day in and day out. So you’re leading in the midst of that crisis. And then all of a sudden you see a societal shift and you and I have not talked about this, but I want your thoughts on it. You see so many people now actually having groceries delivered either by personal shoppers or, you know, just Amazon or Whole Foods out at where we are. However that may be, and you’re having to lead through potentially a pretty big transition in the business. And you’ve had to lead through the pandemic with essential workers and the risk what’d you learn in the last year and a half. And, and how are you seeing your role maybe even differently today than you did a year ago?

Rick Keyes (19:08):

Well, it has been a year of learning. It’s been unbelievable. And I think, you know, we’ve dealt with crisis, but nothing like this and nothing with the extended timeframe and the amount of curve balls that seem to be thrown at us on a regular basis. But, you know, I would say back to your point about the concern around people, you know, if you go back to what I was just talking about, I mean, for us, it was very concerning. I mean, you think about the fear back in April, when we were seeing in New York hospitals filled with people, you didn’t understand it. And we knew that we needed to keep the food supply chain going. And we were asking our team members to come in. It’s very difficult to leave in that moment and just the empathy there. And I, and I’m just so proud of our team and all of the essential workers that stepped up.

Rick Keyes (19:55):

I think it was interesting, our turnover and our lates and everything went down when people realized they were needed and that they had a role to play. It was absolutely fascinating. Our call-offs went down, our turnover went down, people responded and, you know, we had just customers and appreciation. It was just, it was really wonderful. And I think, you know, for us early on, we decided in those early days, you know, there’s, there’s two guiding things here. We’re going to go through, we’re going to make sure we keep our team members and our customers safe. Everything else is secondary. How do we handle this in that way? And I think that along with our values allowed us to move very quickly, making decisions, people will say, well, I had to be very, very difficult. And I would say there were difficult complex decisions, but the answers ultimately were not difficult to come to because we were really clear about who we were and we were going to focus on, I think it taught me as a leader to really double down on communication and trust that things were moving so fast, that there was no way that I could answer every opportunity or every curve ball, or be involved in every decision and that the desire and the need for communication was exponential during that timeframe.

Rick Keyes (21:11):

And so I had a responsibility again, to provide clarity, to communicate to the team, honestly, transparently what we were going through, not only what the decision was, but why we were making those decisions and to be comfortable with not being comfortable. I’ll give you an example. I remember when early on someone brought up, Hey, we need to put in these, which is now commonplace barriers at every check lane, sneeze guards. We’re going to put these barriers up and you know, we’re gonna put them in you know, every, every check line and a retailer had done it. And I remember that first came through. I was like, that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard? You know, we’re going to put barriers between us and the customers. Are we going too far? And I remember stepping back and thinking, you know, let’s, let’s really think about that.

Rick Keyes (22:00):

And were initially my initial reaction was, well let’s, we shouldn’t do that. That’s not the kind of customer experience we want. We moved pretty quickly and said, you know, we’re going to do this because it really, in the end, it’s about keeping our customers and our team members safe. And so there were probably a lot of things where my initial reaction was one thing, listen to your team, understand and then support was really the avenue that we went down. And I think that it really taught me a lot. That one, I didn’t have all the answers and my answers weren’t always the right answers, but I had the right team and collectively together guided by our values, our purpose, and how we thought about the business. We were able to move quickly. And so I think in many ways, if I go back and think about the decisions we made, we moved more quickly.

Rick Keyes (22:45):

As we made decisions than what I saw in the competitive space, I think we were able to create certainty with our team, our actual scores from our team. We call them M culture scores. So we survey our team. We we’ve done three surveys through the pandemic. Each one has gone up each one being a record high and job satisfaction, feeling, cared for recognized, et cetera, in the middle of a pandemic. And I remember early on thinking, Ooh, this could go in the wrong direction. And it actually went in the opposite direction because we really lived our values and our purpose.

Daniel Harkavy (23:20):

It’s so good. You know, you think about what you experienced. And I’ve seen this in my own organization at Building Champions. When our teams go through difficult times, you see something that our military experiences, you know, when, when a troop goes off to battle together, they become a true band of brothers. And a few years ago, I I lost a young friend who I had the privilege of officiating, his Memorial age, 29 served in our special forces. And I’d never been in that capacity where I actually got to serve and, and oversee the Memorial for a soldier. And I spent a lot of time with those that he went and did his work with and to listen to them, they said, you know, they would say often they would say my jackets, your jacket, meaning I’ve got your back. Yeah. And when teams go through real difficult challenges like that, like what your team has gone through in the retail space in the past year, you see them no longer thinking, good people.

Daniel Harkavy (24:21):

You see them no longer thinking about just their wellbeing. They start to think about one another. And I’m not surprised that your scores improved. I’m not surprised that your tardiness and absentee improved because when you attract the type of people that you’re going to attract and you lead them through a crisis, they just become selfless. And they, they, you know, my jackets, your jacket, we’ll get through this together. So well done. It’s been really neat to get to watch you lead and listen to you think, as you’ve had to navigate your way through these challenges, you know, you’ve got 70,000 folks showing up on a weekly basis to do what you all do, which is that’s an army in itself. So, you know, some of the folks listening to us, Rick, they’re leading businesses that may not be of the same size and they’re in that retail space. And as you look at, like I mentioned, some unplanned for maybe societal shifts in how consumers shop, what are your thoughts with, you know, the growing trend of people that are leading retail businesses? What are your thoughts for them as you see this growing trend of people shopping, and maybe getting groceries and things that are in your stores, and, and they’re not coming to the stores anymore, they’re getting them delivered. How do you lead through that?

Rick Keyes (25:35):

It starts with understanding and knowing your customer. And so we spend a lot of time and a lot of focus on understanding our customer and meeting our customer where they are, and, you know, trying to get the customer to do what you want versus how do we serve the customer in this? I talked earlier about this relentless focus from a customer standpoint. And I think that’s where the magic happens and you start to get creative. And I remember three years ago when Amazon bought Whole Foods. And prior to that, everybody was saying, everything’s going online and you can see now it’s really, it’s a combination. You know, a customers isn’t going to just choose one channel. And so we really see it as we need to serve the customer where they are both in store, have a great in-store experience, have a great online experience and then get that product to them, whichever way they choose.

Rick Keyes (26:28):

They could come in, they can pick it up or they can order it online. And I think having that customer lens, Fred Meijer always used to say, customers don’t need us, we need them. And so we always think about that that way. And how do we always become this endless of value and one way that you can serve your customers, not just the physical I have the products for you, it’s knowing them better than anybody else. You know, one of the things that’s incredibly important going forward in the future is data. How do we serve use, utilize that data with the permission of our customers to create value for them to serve up products that they might be interested in to create value from a shopping experience standpoint. And so we’re investing in all of those tools, but also investing in our brick and mortar space. So we’ve not abandoned brick and mortar. We see that as a key foundational component of the shopping experience, we believe that that sense of community getting out, being present, the theater that comes in the excitement of going and shopping and making it an enjoyable experience is something that’s not going to go away. It’s just going to be a different mix.

Daniel Harkavy (27:34):

Yeah, that’s really good. You know, you I don’t want to be self-promoting or sell books. That’s not the purpose of the podcast, but you’re talking about the perspective of the customer. And in my book, The 7 Perspectives, the perspective of the customer, it is just a key area of focus and having that humility to want to know what it is that they need right after talking about the perspective of the team, knowing that they’re the ones with the answers. I know this resonates with you, and we’re talking about elements of a framework that I have published and I brought to folks who might be more interested, interested in learning more. I’m going to ask you a question with regards to the perspective of the customer at your level in the organization, the size that it is. Do you find yourself face-to-face with customers asking questions anymore these days?

Rick Keyes (28:25):

Well, I guess I would start by saying I’m an operator at heart. So my beginning part of my journey in leadership was in operations for 15 years. And so I am most comfortable in the store and I believe that that is absolutely critical at my level to never lose sight of that. And so I spend a good bit of time visiting my stores. I would tell you, I go unannounced and it’s not to catch someone, it’s to get the real experience as well as I think we all know what that, what that means. If you have an announced visit, everyone in the store is running around, trying to prepare and put those rose-colored glasses on you. I really want to see what my customer sees and talk to my customers and also talk to my team members and get to see them and get to know them.

Rick Keyes (29:15):

I want them to feel comfortable that, oh, Rick’s here. That’s great. And the best visits are the ones where they want to show you. They’re not afraid that you’re there or are concerned. They’re excited because they want to show you all the things that they’re working on. And so I try to get out at least two days a week, traveling out into the markets and take people with me and learn and talk about the business and, and see it firsthand. And, and sometimes it’s not, you know, we get on these podcasts and we talk about leadership, et cetera, but sometimes it’s not rosy. I mean, sometimes you go to a store where we really are letting our customers down or our team down, and it’s important to handle that properly, but what a great teacher is to see it firsthand, and then to be able to take it back and figure out how we get better and how we improve.

Daniel Harkavy (30:00):

You know, it’s fascinating is, you know, The 7 Perspectives of Effective Leaders. I don’t know if I shared this with you in years past in any of our previous conversations. But Rick, when I first rolled that model out into corporations, it was five perspectives. Did I ever share that with you? It was a five and then it grew to seven. Okay. And it was a funny debate between my wife, Sherry, and I, she would say like, what makes you think there’s only five, pretty soon you’ll have six. And I’m like, no, there’s only five. And then all of a sudden I was like, oh shoot, there’s a six then, then, and then, oh, no, there’s now a seventh. Well, I share that because the perspective of the customer, I used to wrap into the first perspective, current reality. And then what I learned is I really watched so many of my clients, you know, when I watched and listened to the Frank, Blake’s share about his experience as the CEO of Home Depot and how much time he devoted to being in the store.

Daniel Harkavy (30:54):

You know, when Martin Daum talked about and I watched their team do their ride and drives and actually drive the trucks and talk to those that drove them, or, you know, the entire Chick-fil-A leadership team and how much time they are absolutely required to be in the restaurants, talking to the customer and talking to the team. What I realized was, this is so big, and I know so many CEOs that don’t do it and it needs to stand on its own. The perspective the customer cannot be just the results of surveys, you actually need to get out there and talk to them and listen to them and ask them what their experience is like, what do they like? What don’t they like? What do they think they’ll need in the future? The best CEOs are just rolling up their sleeves and journeying with their customers and with their teammates. And I didn’t know how many days you spent in stores, but I knew I just knew. And it’s like, yeah, you’re going to tell me you you’re out there and you love it.

Rick Keyes (31:55):

But you know, it’s, it’s interesting. I think one of the responsibilities that I have is to connect the dots and you can’t really connect those dots through a spreadsheet. I mean, you, you never know where the inspiration is going to come from or where there’s the idea or et cetera. And I think I can honestly say, I’ve never gone into a store or gone on a store visit where I haven’t learned something or seen something. And you never know when you’re going to pull that thread out or when you’re going to use it. But it’s just so valuable. I think you just miss the richness of your business without it. And so I think connecting those dots, being a good connector of the dots requires you to be present.

Daniel Harkavy (32:35):

So, you know, right there, another gym that I want to unearth, and it’s a constant theme in our conversation. We’ve talked about this humility and this intentional curiosity that the most effective leaders possess. When you walk into a store, you said it, I’m not looking to catch people doing something wrong. I’m curious, I’m looking to learn, I’m listening to learn because then what I learn, I have no idea what it will be and when I’ll use it, but there will come a time and it might be 92 days later. Or I think, ah, I saw that and I heard that when I was in that store and then I saw it again here, I think we’re onto something. And you have to bring that posture of, you’re not warden going in to look, to find people doing something wrong. You’re actually going in as student looking to learn and then steward looking to then resource your teammates to help your customers. So it needs to be called out people. It really does. Yeah. That’s great. All right. So daily disciplines, what are some of your daily disciplines? And I don’t know if you have any that would fall into this category, but there are daily disciplines for you in your professional life or in your personal life that you would consider to be non-negotiable anything you’re comfortable sharing.

Rick Keyes (33:53):

Yeah. You know, I think part of being a good leader is being self-aware and understanding how you are presenting yourself. Because I, you know, you really are on a pedestal. Everybody is looking at you. They need to see engagement and energy and enthusiasm, et cetera. And I think that I’m always seeking balance. I’m always trying to be aware of how am I coming to the table and I’m a human being. And I think, you know, if I don’t take care of myself from a rest exercise, personal time, the ability to have a balanced life, I’m not at my best. And so I would say non-negotiables for me, are I’m an avid fitness workout. I was up this morning, 5:30 doing my workout. And it’s not that I’m obsessive about this schedule, but it’s just something that I know I can’t compromise. Sleep is something that’s important for me.

Rick Keyes (34:50):

You know, some people can get a little bit of sleep. I need at least seven hours of sleep. And I am religious about making sure that I get it. I talk to young leaders often about vacation and personal time. I take pride in talking to my team. I have never missed a vacation. Yep. Never miss a vacation. Always make sure that I have time to spend with my family. There’s you should never take pride in, I skipped my vacation because the company needed it. To me, I think that’s hogwash. I mean, I think you are, long-term doing a disservice to your family and to yourself and to the company. And so I always take pride in, I take my vacations, I enjoy it. And oh, by the way, I got a team back at home that I trust it’s going to be fine. And you know, one of the things that’s been interesting, I was just having this conversation with my, one of my leaders today.

Rick Keyes (35:38):

If you look at me, I’m in kind of a hallway in my basement because I don’t have a home office. And for me, that’s intentional. And I started that about 10 years ago. I try not to bring home work. I get my work done. I trust my team. I don’t go home, eat dinner, and then go into my office. I spend time with my family and for me, I just need that to be able to recharge and be present the next day. And so for me, those are non-negotiables, I don’t always get it right. But when I do, I feel I have so much more energy. My enthusiasm and passion for the business could really come out.

Daniel Harkavy (36:15):

That’s excellent. Yeah. You’re here reading off of a, the same sheet of music that I play off of, and that all falls right into line with my belief that better humans make for better leaders and how we lead ourselves impacts how we lead our teams, which impacts how we lead our organizations. And so I love the fact that you, you, you have that area of your own wellbeing and self-care because you know that your energy source impacts how you lead. And yeah, I think it’s a good segue into the next question, which is, you know, as a CEO who so much is required of you in an organization of your size I think a lot of times people want to know, especially younger leaders. They want to know that, you know, how did you get to where you are and what did it cost you? So I’ll ask you, how has your career impacted your personal life? Both good and bad. Yeah.

Rick Keyes (37:16):

Well, you know, yeah. I think you go through stages in your journey. And I would say early on, I was trying new things and it was just this ambition and voracious curiosity, and just feeling like you’re drinking from a fire hose and you can never get enough. So I loved working and new experiences and reading and all of those things. And I think at times I lost sight of that balance early on. And so that, you know, that certainly is something early on in my career, you kind of look back and go, well, back then times were different. And maybe that’s what I needed to do to make my mark, I think today is different, but I really do think that you don’t necessarily have to overwork and do those things, but I think I would have done it anyways, just because that’s who I was.

Rick Keyes (38:01):

And I was just so excited and passionate about learning and growing, but I, you know, as far as sacrifice, I think I caught on early on. I remember say this as quickly as I can. I remember working for a leader that was a couple levels ahead of me. I was a store to manager, he was a regional VP and he worked and work never stopped working. And I saw that as early on as a model. And, you know, in the end it didn’t work out. He ended up leaving the company, his marriage ended. He ended up passing away in his late 40’s in a hotel room, working. And I remember saying to myself, like, you know, be careful, we have to own our journey. You certainly want to give yourself to your work, but you can’t give your entire self that you’ve got to save that time for you personally.

Rick Keyes (38:53):

And so I started thinking differently about decisions that I made and things that I wanted to do that because that’s what I wanted to do. And then the other thing I would say is every time I went from one position to the next position, I often got promoted into my supervisor or my, the next role up, I would always look back down and think, why did I worry about these things? Cause I’m not at that person that, that leader thinking about the job I was just in those, aren’t the things I’m concerned about. Yeah. And, you know, kind of releasing myself from some of those things. And just trying to be clear about what I’m trying to accomplish instead of worrying about an overworking or doing things where you really are sacrificing.

Daniel Harkavy (39:33):

Well, you and I are both fortunate to have had very real role models who showed us what too much focus on just work can do. And seeing that at a young age helps you to make decisions such as you’ve made, which is I won’t be that person. And I feel bad for those folks. You know, folks, if you’re listening to Questioning Leadership and you’re not familiar with any of the rest of my work, I wrote a book about this called Living Forward. And it’s another framework that will help you to understand each of the accounts in your life and the areas of your life that truly will bring you meaning, fulfillment, joy, and happiness, and how you can tend to each of those accounts, your health, your marriage, your family, your friends, your partnership, community, fun, sanity, whatever it may be and how you can build a plan to, to accumulate net worth in all of those areas of your life, which in the end make you a better leader. So, you know, there there’s a framework out there should you want that. All right, Rick final question: If you had the opportunity to give advice to a younger you, what would it be?

Rick Keyes (40:51):

Well, you know, we talked about it earlier around people and the value of your team. And, and I guess I would just say never underestimate that, that, that it is really about the people that you surround yourself with and that there’s really no limit to what you can accomplish. If you can help other people accomplish their goals. I think there’s a pretty famous saying around that. And I remember early on in my career, I was a new kind of upstart young, hot-shot store director. And they took me to the hardest store to run in the entire company and said, see what you can do with this. And I was running around fighting fires. I jumped right in, I’m going to solve everything because I’ve got the answers—and I’ll never forget—one of my lines leaders pulled me aside and said, what are you doing?

Rick Keyes (41:39):

I said, what do you, what do you mean? She said, you know, you’re running around here telling everybody what to do, and you haven’t stopped to get to know anybody. You haven’t stopped to talk to anybody. And I was new in my career and it hit me. It was just one of those profound moments. And I committed from then on that that would never happen again. And to this day, whenever I go to a store, I’d never walked by a person without talking, trying to get to know them. What do they value? What are they doing? But the difference that you’re able to make, and you can only do that through working with others as a leader. If you think it’s about you, you’re missing the point. And the final thing I would say is, as a leader, you can make a difference in so much more than just the business or your team.

Rick Keyes (42:22):

You can make a difference in your community and you can make a difference that very same store. I remember one time walking down our center aisle, and I saw this, what I thought was a customer coming towards me. And I could tell you, you can tell when your retail I’m about to get it. And it was, it wasn’t a customer. It was the wife of my meat team leader. And it was about eight months, nine months after that conversation. And she said to me, I just want to tell you, I want to thank you for the difference that you’ve made in my family’s life. And I was like, kind of blown away. I go, what do you mean? And she goes, my husband is Tom. He works in the meat department and he used to come home and would be grouchy at dinner, wouldn’t say anything, was upset about work.

Rick Keyes (43:03):

And now he comes home and he’s excited about work and the things that we’re doing and that you’re doing and, and taking care of customers. And I just want to thank you for the difference that’s made in my family’s life. And I’ve always kept that story. And I’ve probably shared it a thousand times because it’s not just the people that you’re working directly with when you create an environment where people can succeed and feel valued and appreciated and making a difference, regardless of what job it is, there’s this effect that spreads across so many other touch points and their family and the community, et cetera. And so I’ve always kept that as a way to think about the job that we’re doing. And it’s really not a job. It’s an honor to be a leader and the difference that you can make and how rewarding it can be. So being a leader is an honor. It’s a privilege, but it’s also extremely rewarding.

Daniel Harkavy (43:59):

I tell you every, every talking point, Rick, that you share, it just so aligns with all of our coaching team and why we do what we do. I was just in a conversation in between podcast episodes with a fortune five firm that we’re looking to do some work with. And we were talking about the why behind what we do. And I absolutely believe that everything you just said is so spot on, a leader has the opportunity to create a culture that brings out the goodness in people. And when your team experiences, the goodness that you, as the leader really require out of your belief, your conviction and your behavior, then they have the opportunity to engage and use their gifts, their time, their talent in ways that cause them to go home as better humans. And when they go home as better humans, they’re better spouses that are better parents, they’re better grandparents, they’re better siblings, they’re better neighbors. And now you as a leader are impacting a community. And then depending upon the size of the organization and the scope, you’re actually changing the world. And I, I don’t, I don’t believe enough of us leaders understand the weight of that and the privilege of that. And leaders listening, boy, your teammates, they’re watching you and they’re catching who you are and how you feel to them. And that is playing a bigger role in how they engage in their work than what it is you tell them. It’s how do you engage? It’s, it’s both, it’s decisions and it’s influence, it’s connection and it’s communication. It’s all of it. And I tell you, you and I could spend hours just sharing. I’m sure aligned leadership, thoughts and principles, and you give me energy, Rick. You’re amazing. And I have so enjoyed our conversation as well as the conversations we’ve had over the past several months. So I want to thank you. Thanks for giving of your time, giving of yourself to share your wisdom and your insights with me. And all of those that are joining me here at Questioning Leadership.

Rick Keyes (46:11):

Or great. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks, Daniel.

Daniel Harkavy (46:13):

The pleasure is mine, Rick, take care. A special thanks to my good friend, Rick Keyes, as always, you shared fantastic thoughts and insights on how we can be the best leaders, especially in today’s times. If you’ve enjoyed this episode and you want to learn how you can leverage your influence and increase your own leadership effectiveness, reach out to us. At Building Champions, we’ve coached thousands of leaders over the past two and a half decades, and we’d love to help you to become the best you can be in both business and in life. You can shoot us an email at and our team will be in touch. Your leadership effectiveness impacts so many, but it always starts with you. And we’re here to help. Again, I hope you enjoyed this episode of Questioning Leadership.

In This Episode

Rick Keyes
President & CEO of Meijer, Inc.