Alex Campbell

Alex Campbell

Alex Campbell honoured for a lifetime of leadership

His rags to riches story is well-known among Thrifty Foods staff past and present and community members alike. Young bag boy goes on to create revered independent grocery chain, employs 3,700 and becomes a local legend.

But the story about the co-founder and CEO of Thrifty Foods didn’t end in 2007 when he sold the chain to Nova Scotia grocery giant Sobeys. Alex Campbell has continued his community leadership into his retirement. For this growing body of work, Campbell is being honoured for his life’s work at the 2011 Leadership Victoria Awards.

“Some people may not always be aware of just how much he has done in the background,” said Kate Mansell, chair of the awards steering committee responsible for selecting Campbell as the Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. “He has carried on his philanthropy and leadership well past his time at Thrifty Foods. It was a no-brainer. This guy is amazing.”

Campbell, now 69 years old, retired from the grocery business and as chairman of the B.C. Cancer Agency, looks back on the mentors who set him on his path to business success. He credits his first grocery store managers Murray Turner and Don Lovely, from his days at Shop Easy Foods in the 1960s, with giving him the support and motivation to leave his stable job and take a risk founding 49th Parallel Grocery in Ladysmith in 1973.

“(Lovely) is one of the reasons why I decided to go on my own because he encouraged young managers to take a look at the option of being independent, even though it didn’t help the company much,” Campbell said.

The values that helped guide Campbell’s first business decisions were learned early and remained the same. In 1977 when Campbell co-founded Thrifty Foods with Ernie Skinner, they called on a “back to basics” approach of honesty, straightforwardness in business dealings, and valuing staff, suppliers and customers. This philosophy is paramount to success in the grocery industry, advice fit for any leader, he said.

“Really, it’s a little bit of the golden rule. Treat others the way you expect to be treated.”

Campbell says he feels good about the $260-million sale of his then-19-store chain, built up from a single location in the Fairfield Plaza. Sobeys is following “for the most part,” he said, the grocer’s core philosophies. Sobeys plans to expand and build a new warehouse – a $40-million investment that Campbell wasn’t ready to make so late in his career.

From expansion to charitable giving, risk is not something that Campbell shies from.

“There’s always risk,” he said. “One of the things that separates entrepreneurs from other people is that when an entrepreneur is asked to put down a personal guarantee, he’ll put his house up as collateral, whereas some people can’t do that.”

Campbell now enjoys filling his days with reading, taking in live sports and spending time with his family. The grandfather also recently returned from two months in Mexico.

Reflecting on his “fortunate” career and personal life, he is most proud of the reputation that Thrifty Foods earned on a national scale. Named one of the country’s 50 best-managed companies for four consecutive years with Campbell as CEO, the chain held more than 40 per cent of the Vancouver Island grocery market.

“A pretty good chunk of business for a little guy who started out with one store in Victoria,” he said.

Campbell will be accepting his award at the seventh annual Leadership Victoria Awards ceremony, Feb. 16, 4 p.m. at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Campbell will accept his award alongside new community leaders and youth award recipients – a group that might be able to learn a thing or two from the iconic Victorian’s advice.

“Be prepared to work long hours and probably make some sacrifices along the way – and you might have to make some tough decisions,” he said, soon adding, “There’s no guarantee that it works for everyone.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com

Leadership honoured

1999: Campbell received the Order of B.C.

2000: Royal Roads University awarded him with an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree

2009: University of Victoria awards him with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the faculty of business

2010: Named Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year Award, recognizing an inspirational entrepreneur who has had a significant and positive impact on the global community through business leadership

Just Posted

Four residents and two cats were displaced from their home in James Bay when a fire broke out Sunday afternoon. (Black Press Media file photo)
No injuries in James Bay house fire

Fire broke out at about 2 p.m. Sunday

A single-vehicle incident has closed southbound traffic along the Pat Bay Highway from Sayward Road Monday morning. Emergency crews are on scene. (Black Press Media file photo)
TRAFFIC: Single-vehicle incident closes section of Pat Bay

Highway southbound from Sayward Road closed Monday morning

University of Victoria researchers received more than $9 million from the federal government for projects that aim to advance big ideas, discoveries and innovations. (Photo courtesy of UVic)
University of Victoria research boosted with more than $9 million in federal funding

The research funding will support a wide range of projects and study

LeoVegas's promotional art for their survey of Canada's funniest proviences (LeoJoker)
B.C. second-funniest province in Canada: online survey

Dry humour popular with B.C. residents – we’re also boisterous laughers

Coun. Bob Thompson wants authorities to delay the June 30 deadline for submissions to BC Housing’s request-for-proposal to run the supportive housing project at Prosser Road. (Black Press Media File)
Central Saanich calls for delay in supportive housing project deadline

Municipality wants more say in eventual choice of contractor to run supportive housing project

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

A Lotto 6/49 ticket purchased in Parksville for the June 19, 2021 draw is a $3M winner. (Submitted photo)
Winning Lotto 6/49 ticket worth $3M purchased on Vancouver Island

Lottery prize winners have 52 weeks to claim jackpot

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

Most Read