The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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A Lasting Legacy of Leadership and Inspiration

A Lasting Legacy of Leadership and Inspiration

Shoppers and Trends

January 24, 2010

On April 11, 1944, Joe and Nell Zaucha became the proud parents of a second son, Thomas Kevin Zaucha. The Zauchas lived in Republic, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Uniontown. Tom's grandmother, who was of first-generation Polish descent, owned and operated Zaucha's Grocery in Warren, Ohio, where Tom and his parents often helped out. Given his heritage, it's not surprising Tom Zaucha entered the food industry and led it with passion for many years.

At this year's upcoming National Grocers Association's (N.G.A.) Annual Convention, February 9-12, the industry will pay tribute to one of its finest leaders. N.G.A.'s president and CEO, Thomas K. Zaucha, is retiring, and this will be his last N.G.A. event. Tom was a pioneer for independent, community-focused retailers and wholesalers in the United States; his 28 years of service with N.G.A. and over 40 years within the food industry will have lasting effects on the industry and ensure his legacy will remain strong and steadfast. From 1973 to 1978, Tom served in a variety of capacities. He started in 1973 as director of public affairs for the National Association of Food Chains, and then moved on to the A&P Tea Company where he was director of government affairs. Shortly thereafter, he became president of the Cooperative Food Distributors of America (CFDA). Then, in 1982, when the National Association of Retail Grocers of the United States (NARGUS) and the Cooperative Food Distributors of America consolidated to form the National Grocers Association, Tom was named its president and CEO.

His dedication, passion, leadership, innovation and foresight to the independent community can be seen in the immeasurable number of business, political and community-enhanced decisions he has initiated on behalf of his beloved independent community. Under Tom's leadership, N.G.A. has fought effectively to compete against supercenters and other "mega retailers,” preserve a level playing field for independent grocery retailers and wholesalers, repeal numerous taxes and fees charged unfairly on retailers and wholesalers, and successfully fight against the repeal of the Robinson-Patman Act. Jay Campbell, who is a former N.G.A. chairman and current president and CEO of Associated Grocers in Baton Rouge, Lousiana, has stated, "When you talk about a level playing field and when you talk about equal opportunity for independent businesses, you think of Tom Zaucha and his advocacy for the independent grocer." 

Tom's legacy continues with N.G.A.'s battle on a number of issues such as fighting to maintain parity on tax and labor policies, the repeal of labor reform, the permanent repeal of the federal estate tax, and a comprehensive fair food safety policy. He has always espoused that voluntary and public policy based on collaboration is preferred to mandatory rules and regulations created in an atmosphere of conflict. 

And yes, behind every great man there is a great woman (and vice versa). In 1967, a year after his graduation from the University of Pittsburgh, Tom married his partner for life, Bernadette Connelly, who became an enormous influence and guiding force in his career. At how many events have we seen Tom and Bernadette together, sharing their passion for the independent sector? Six years after their marriage, life changed for the Zauchas with the birth of their daughter Rachel, who instantly became her father's pride and joy. 

Tom believed strongly in recognizing exceptional performance and investing in our next generation of leaders. He has been instrumental in the development of two scholarship programs for deserving students, through the Women Grocers Association (WGA) and the Asparagus Club. Additionally, Tom developed the Creative Choice Awards Program, which recognizes the achievements of independent retailers in the areas of merchandising and advertising. Over the years, this program has been viewed as one of the industry's most renowned programs. In return for Tom's support and leadership, Kraft Foods has created the Thomas K. Zaucha Entrepreneurial Excellence Award. This award will be given annually to the independent retailer that has demonstrated the most tangible example of persistence, vision and creative entrepreneurship throughout the year.

So, as we approach the N.G.A. Annual Convention, it will undoubtedly be filled with mixed emotions for many of us. We will pay tribute to and celebrate Tom and Bernadette's successful journey in leading and supporting the independent sector. Yet, we also recognize we will be saying goodbye to a friend and mentor. As another former N.G.A. chairman Steve Smith stated, "When you think of Tom Zaucha, one of the first words that come to mind is 'class.' When Tom leaves the association, it will go on and be vibrant because of Tom and his vision, as well as the team he developed. Tom did a lot for me in helping me understand my N.G.A. Executive Committee responsibilities and eventually my role as chairman. He's a true friend, and we are going to miss him."