Game changers — and more

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Game changers — and more

By Lawrence Aylward - 03/22/2017

The four men who will be honored Saturday for their induction into the Private Label Hall of Fame were regarded for their vision, passion, motivation, determination … I could go on and on with the superlatives.

But Peter Brennan, Tom Chaffee, Bob Mariano and Gary Smith, whose induction will be celebrated Saturday at a breakfast during the Private Label Manufacturers Association's 2017 annual Meeting and Leadership Conference in Tucson, Ariz., are also highly noted for being humble and caring.

I have to think there is a succinct connection between their successful careers and how they have lived their lives. Some say that nice guys finish last. Not these guys.

Brennan, sadly, died shortly after he was inducted into the hall of last month. Brennan was the president of Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon Worldwide from 1994 to 2006. He is described as being “a key evangelist” for private label. Brennan also treated others like he wanted to be treated.

After Brennan died, a woman who worked for Daymon posted on Facebook her “favorite story” about Brennan, which happened 10 years after she left the company.

She said she saw Brennan on a plane sitting six rows behind her as she took her seat with her young son. The woman recognized Brennan but didn’t think that he — the president of Daymon — would ever remember her. After all, it had been many years since she worked at Daymon, and she figured Brennan had more important things to deal with than remembering former employees’ names. But when the woman made eye contact with Brennan on the plane, he said hello to her — calling her by name.

When the plane was airborne, Brennan got out of his seat and approached where she was sitting. He briefly chatted with her and told her, “If there’s anything you ever need, my door is always open.”

“I think he wanted me to really know that he in fact recognized me,” the woman wrote in her post. “I was so humbled.”

And then there’s Thomas Chaffee, who spent his entire career of 43 years in private label, 36 years of it with Presto Products. Chaffee’s customers say he was the best salesperson they could ever ask for. But Chaffee got into private label to help people.

When Chaffee interviewed with Presto as a young man in his 20s, he was told he would be selling private label products, which would help budget-minded consumers save money. Chaffee thought about the many people who live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to pay the rent. If he could help those people through private label, then that was the field for him.

There’s also Gary Smith, who is being inducted after an illustrious career at Safeway, where he spurred the development of the retailer’s Safeway Select premium line of products. The first words out of Smith’s mouth after I told him congratulations on his induction had nothing to do with his achievement. Smith said he would have never been able to do what he did without the people he worked with. “This is congratulations for the team,” Smith said.

Finally, there is the fourth inductee, Bob Mariano, who recently retired as CEO of Roundy’s Supermarkets after 14 years. Like Smith, Mariano, who preached that private label food products should always exceed the national brands, didn’t use the word “I” when talking about his career highlights. He used the word “we.” He was also gracious and modest when discussing his induction.

There are people in leading positions at many businesses in this world — too many of them, unfortunately — who believe that arrogance and aloofness are required for them to succeed. They are also more than willing to wax endlessly about the wonders of their accomplishments.

But the inductees of the 2017 Private Label Hall of Fame will have none of that.