New Kroger CEO is University of Kentucky Graduate
This article originally appeared at KY Forward via the UK Alumni Association
University of Kentucky alum W. Rodney McMullen has been picked to head Kroger beginning in January.
McMullen, a long-time employee of the Cincinnati-based grocery chain, becomes CEO on Jan. 1. He started working at the grocery giant in 1978 as a part-time stock clerk while attending UK.
He is currently the company’s president and chief operating officer. Kroger is one of the world’s largest grocery retailers, with 3,700 supermarket, convenience and jewelry stores operating under two dozen names across the United States.
After growing up on a farm in Williamstown, McMullen earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting from UK. While attending college and beginning in 1978, he gradually learned a little of everything about Kroger, from putting price labels on products and bagging groceries to running a register and receiving product.
“I learned a lot. Of course I learned a little of everything about our business, which was invaluable,” he says. “But more importantly, I learned about hard work and that being a good co-worker means helping each other accomplish what they need to accomplish. It was an experience I wouldn’t give up for anything.”
His experiences at UK served as a firm foundation for his subsequent career path and he is particularly appreciative for the help of the late Richard Furst. “I am grateful for longtime Dean Richard Furst’s guidance, both while at Kentucky and after I left. I had a job when I had to present for my master’s degree, and I remember being surprised by his flexibility at the time,” says McMullen. “As I got to know him later, it was not at all surprising because for Dean Furst, his focus was always on what the student needed to succeed.”
After graduating in 1982, he worked in a Kroger retail division office in Charlotte, N.C. In 1986, McMullen was appointed financial analyst at Kroger’s corporate headquarters in Cincinnati. He played a pivotal role in implementing Kroger’s leveraged restructuring in 1988, which kept the company public and rewarded shareholders.
McMullen was elected Kroger’s chief financial officer in 1995. His leadership quickly expanded beyond traditional finance roles to include strategy and operations. He led the integration of Kroger’s $13 billion merger with Fred Meyer Inc. in 1999 and was subsequently elected executive vice president of strategy, planning and Finance in 2000.
Three years later, McMullen was elected vice chairman of the Kroger Board of Directors in 2003 and elected to his current position as president and COO in 2009. He is responsible for all of Kroger’s supermarket divisions, advertising, customer insight and strategy, customer relationship marketing, manufacturing, merchandising and procurement, pharmacy, retail operations, supply chain and The Little Clinic.
McMullen is a member of the board of directors of Cincinnati Financial Corp., dunnhumby Ltd., and dunnhumbyUSA. He also serves on the board of trustees of Xavier University, and on the Business Partnership Foundation and UK Gatton College of Business & Economics.
He has chaired Cincinnati’s Catholic Inner-city Schools Education fund campaign and is active in several retail industry organizations, including as chairman of the GS1 US Board of Governors and chairman of 1WorldSync.
In his spare time, he enjoys collecting books and owns a first edition copy of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, which is one of his favorite books for many reasons, including its message about how to treat people and work together.
“I believe you are a reflection of all the people you have come into contact with during your life. Of course my parents were a huge influence, and so was the entire UK community — professors, students and my wife (Kathryn King McMullen) whom I met there. They are a lot of who I am today,” McMullen said.
From UK Alumni Association