Sunday, October 4, 2015

Putting trust where others don't dare

Jeff Brown (center), CEO of Brown’s Super Stores Inc., with  (from left) Tammy Wilson, Lashawna Reddy, Tyrone Page and William Banks,  associates at his Parkside store on North 52d Street in Philadelphia.
Jeff Brown (center), CEO of Brown’s Super Stores Inc., with (from left) Tammy Wilson, Lashawna Reddy, Tyrone Page and William Banks, associates at his Parkside store on North 52d Street in Philadelphia. Sarah J. Glover / Staff Photographer
Jeff Brown (center), CEO of Brown’s Super Stores Inc., with  (from left) Tammy Wilson, Lashawna Reddy, Tyrone Page and William Banks,  associates at his Parkside store on North 52d Street in Philadelphia. Gallery: Putting trust where others don't dare

They don't run many big supermarkets the way Jeff Brown runs his 10 ShopRites in Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey.

And employees couldn't be happier about it.

Cashiers, clerks, and stock people, among the several thousand who keep things humming at the family-owned chain, have crowned Brown's Super Stores Inc. the top-rated large employer in the region this year.

A hands-off management style, along with the company's nationally acclaimed commitment to open stores in communities long-ago abandoned by the industry, are among the big reasons the Northeast Philadelphia native has earned high praise from workers.

More coverage
Project home page
  • Top Workplaces 2010
  • See all the company profiles
  • Map and list
  • Special awards
  • Ethics
  • Quality
  • Career growth
  • Clued-in senior management
  • Work-life balance
  • Training
  • Collegiality
  • Large companies
  • Putting trust where others don't dare
  • 'My coworkers are phenomenal'
  • Medium-size companies
  • Graham Co.: ‘It’s not for everybody’
  • 'I feel empowered to make a difference'
  • Small companies
  • Chariot Solutions focuses on teamwork
  • 'I come to work with a smile on my face'
  • Leadership
  • On what it takes to be a great boss
  • A ‘Golden Rule’ for leadership
  • Leading by sharing the wealth
  • The focus is on thinking big
  • Lessons from the recession
  • Making a commitment to their workers
  • How they handled the economic downturn
  • Maintaining diversity in a tough economy
  • That extra something
  • Companies that put workers first win
  • How companies perk up extras
  • Image gallery
  • And more
  • How the Top Workplaces 2010 was compiled
  • Producing the Top Workplaces 2010 section
  • Here is a sampling of praise from the survey commissioned by The Inquirer:

    Employees are treated "with dignity and respect," wrote one worker.

    "I am given autonomy to get the work done in the style that I prefer," wrote another.

    "I have the freedom to run my store like I own it," said another.

    "It gives associates the ability to think and create rather than just follow directions," another said.

    "Management treats people with respect." And, this worker added, there are "always opportunities to advance."

    The kudos come just weeks after Brown (who learned the ropes as a youngster in his father's supermarket at 40th and Girard) sat with first lady Michelle Obama at the State of the Union Address in January.

    Brown, 46, and his company have become entrepreneurial poster children for opening supermarkets in neighborhoods that many chains dismiss as too poor to sustain full-service grocery stores with fresh food.

    Why the worker worship?

    In a word: Trust.

    In an industry where megamergers have concentrated supermarket decision-making into the hands of corporate chieftains in faraway headquarters, Brown's still runs things more like a small business.

    The company trusts employees to make big decisions, allows them to make and learn from mistakes without retribution, and believes that - brace yourselves, Wharton gurus - too many managers can often muss things up.

    "He really challenges the people within the departments and the department heads, our union members, to come up with ideas - to try things," said Wendell Young IV, who represents about 2,000 of Brown's workers at nine Pennsylvania stores as president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1776.

    "In all the years we've been dealing with him, we've never had one case go to arbitration," said Young, who has known Brown since he opened his first store in 1989.

    "I'll explain to you the economic model of my mind," Brown said as he explained that too many managers were costly and counterproductive at companies.

    "They've made the ultimate mistake of permanently adding costs to a system that doesn't need it," he said. "They pay supervisors to supervise the department managers."

    Another way his chain is different from much of the competition is how most of its new stores are in urban neighborhoods such as West Philadelphia and Southwest Philadelphia. Others shun those zip codes, saying the risks outweigh revenue potential.

    He has made it work by collaborating with state officials through the Fresh Food Financing Initiative.

    Even though profit margins in the supermarket business are extremely low, he said, even his urban stores were making money.

    "With the city stores, I really seem to have a big impact on people's lives," he said, "on someone that doesn't often find people care about them."

    Contact staff writer Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2431 or

    We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue.
    Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines.

    Comment policy: comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

    Please note that comments are monitored by staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

    Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

    Read 0 comments
    comments powered by Disqus
    Also on
    letter icon Newsletter