Friday, November 14, 2008

Industry Achievement Memo: Former Safeway Stores, Inc. CEO and San Francisco Giants' Chief Peter Magowan Receives CEO Lifetime Achievement Honor

Former Safeway Stores, Inc. CEO Peter Magowan, pictured above during a game of his beloved San Francusci Giants, never dreamed of being, or planned to be, a grocer. Not even the CEO of one of North America's largest supermarket companies. Instead as a young man his dreams were of a career in baseball and then later a diplomat.

As an academically inclined and talent university student with a keen interest in politics, economics and world affairs, Peter Magowan went off to Britain's Oxford University after he completed his undergraduate studies at Stanford University in the San Francisco Bay Area. He earned a graduate degree at Oxford.

As a teeanger, Magowan worked at Safeway supermarkets in San Francisco, where he was raised after his father moved the family from New York, do in large part to a family connection. But Peter Magowan's thoughts while at Oxford were more along the lines of working perhaps as a diplomat or in some similar capacity in global affairs or business. And before that, right before he graduated from Stanford he tried to get a job working for the San Francisco Giant's baseball team since baseball was his true love.

However, married and returning to the Bay Area, Magowan went back to work for Safeway as a fast-track executive trainee. Safeway's executive trainee program back in those days required all future corporate executives to spend a considerable amount of time working at store level, first as an assistant manager and then as a store manager, before coming to corporate headquarters to work. In those days Safeway Stores, Inc. was headquartered in Oakland. Today it's based about 30 miles east in the Bay Area city of Pleasanton.

So Peter Magowan packed up his things, his wife and a child and moved to the Washington DC suburbs to take an assistant manager job at a Washington DC Safeway supermarket and then a store manager position in the area.

From there he returned to Safeway's corporate headquarters in Oakland, and not so many years later became the grocery chain's CEO at the ripe young age of 37, adding the chairman's title a bit later. Those were eventful years for Magowan, Safeway Stores, Inc. and the U.S. supermarket industry.

And of course the family connections helped Magowan's fast track climb to the CEO's position. But he was bright, innovative and brought a fresh perspective to Safeway and the supermarket business in general, earning the CEO's position in his own right.

Peter Magowan's love (international affairs is more of an intense interest and the supermarket did become business became a love for him) was always from childhood and remains today baseball, as we mentioned earlier.

And he got to fulfill that love in his second career after leaving Safeway.

Magowan was the driving force behind a group of San Francisco Bay Area investors who saved the San Francisco Giants baseball team, buying in at a time when its then owner was ready to sell the team to interests that would have moved it out of the city.

Magowan became the managing general partner for the new owners group, of which he still is an investor/owner, of the San Francisco Giants, built a management team that positioned the club as winners often, and spearheaded the construction of what today is one of the finest baseball stadiums in America, the San Francisco Giants downtown baseball park, where home runs that drop in the bay are fished out by Portuguese Water Dogs, where gourmet garlic french fries, craft beers and organic hamburgers are sold alongside hot dogs in the food court, and where San Francisco Giants fans enjoy America's favorite pastime at a stadium Peter Magowan loved spending as much time at as possible -- a place he called his best corporate office yet.

Magowan retired from his position as head of the Giants organization just a few months ago. He is 66 years old.

The San Francisco Business Times, a major business publication in the city and Bay Area, each year awards its CEO Lifetime Achievement Award to a Bay Area CEO who has achieved successes running one or more companies in the region. This year the publication is honoring Peter Magowan with the award for his work as CEO of Safeway and CEO of the San Francisco Giants. It's an award and recognition Magowan earned and deserves.

Magowan not only has been the head of two Bay Area institutions -- Safeway Stores, Inc., which is among the largest and best paying employers in the region, and the Giants -- he's also personally given millions, and while at Safeway and with the Giants led in the raising of tens of millions (maybe hundreds of millions) of dollars over the years for more charitable organizations and good causes than we can mention here.

For example, While running Safeway he got the corporation involved in donating to and raising money for cancer research and numerous other health, medical and related causes. This year Safeway raised and donated about $13 million dollars alone to cancer research and treatment programs in the U.S., an amount just a bit higher than it raised last year. The chain does this every year.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, both professionally and personally.

We salute Peter Magowan for his long career at Safeway -- through the good times and not so good times he had running the company.

We also tip our San Francisco Giants cap to him for having such a great second act; living his dream of running the Giants, something he thought about doing as a kid. He didn't think about owning part of it then though -- running it and hanging out with the players was enough of a dream then.

In fact, knowing Magowan, we suspect he will have a third act. After all he is a mere 66. Perhaps that third act might involve something in the international affairs area?

That would allow Peter Magowan to sort of return to that first interest, the one that took him to Oxford. That interest is involvement in the intersection of politics, economics and public and international affairs. It would also give him a childhood and teenage trifecta -- being able to do as an adult the three main career dreams he had as a young man.

Peter Magowan is a lifelong Republican -- but a San Francisco Bay Area Republican, which is the most moderate of all the species in the Republican party, except perhaps the New England Republicans. It's a toss up.

Therefore, we have a thought: Democratic Party President-Elect Barack Obama is reaching across the aisle to Republicans, especially moderates. As we write this he is meeting with the man he defeated, Senator John McCain, doing just that -- reaching across the aisle.

Peter Magowan is a moderate Republican. A lifelong one. So, perhaps there could be a foreign ambassador position -- which mixes plenty of business, economics, politics, foreign affairs and public service, as well as requiring a good knowledge of food (baseball knowledge can come in handy as well) -- down the road for Peter Magowan if he wants to go after it in the same way he's gone after everything else in his career -- with focus, determination and gusto.

Whatever Peter Magowan decides to do, and that includes enjoying retirement if that's what he desires, we wish he all the best.

The San Francisco Business Times published a feature profile of former Safeway Stores, Inc. CEO Peter Magowan today as part of awarding and honoring him with their CEO Lifetime Achievement Award.

Here's a quote from Magowan from the profile in today's edition of the publication:

“I have spent the past 29 years as the head of two incredible organizations,” Magowan said when he announced his retirement (from the San Francisco Giants) earlier this year. “I put everything I had in terms of time, energy and commitment into my work.”

You can read the profile, "Peter Magowan: the Bay Area’s most valuable corporate player," written by Eric Young, here.

And we do suggest you read the article. Not only does it offer a nice profile of Peter Magowan, it also offers a nice overview of the history of the supermarket business from about 1958 to today, particularly in the Bay Area. And that history is timely.

We mentioned earlier in this piece that Magowan worked at a Safeway store or two in San Francisco when he was a teenager because of a family connection. Well, two family connections actually: Peter Magowan's father, Robert, was once the CEO of Safeway, and his grandfather, Charles Merill, was an early, major investor in Safeway Stores, Inc. as the co-founder of the Investment Bank Merrill Lynch, which just recently lost its corporate independence after being acquired as a casualty of the current financial crisis.

See, it's a good read.

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