Thursday, June 24, 2004

Pichler legacy goes beyond Kroger


The Pichler era at Kroger ends today with chairman Joseph Pichler retiring at the annual shareholder meeting. It's our community's good fortune that he remains fully engaged here as a civic leader.

He heads Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation's (3CDC) working group that rolled out an ambitious new strategy to redevelop the Washington Park area. 3CDC has targeted three districts for a makeover, and it's just like Pichler, with unflinching, straight-ahead aim, to take on the toughest - Over-the-Rhine. He and his wife, Susan, for years have contributed as volunteers and donors in that historic district just north of Kroger headquarters. Schools, arts and other organizations there are the better for it.

Pichler, with good reason, believes in the power of education. His parents died when he was in high school, yet he went on to Notre Dame, earned a masters and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, taught business 15 years at the University of Kansas and served as business school dean for six. In 1980 he left to help manage Dillon Companies, which later merged with Kroger. In 1990 he was elected chief executive officer of Kroger, then so debt-laden no other company would buy it. He led Kroger out of a $5 billion hole. Analysts called him "Cash Flow Joe." He built Kroger into the nation's largest grocery chain and planned for orderly succession under threat from Wal-Mart. CEO duties last year were handed off to David Dillon, who now becomes chairman. This year, Pichler closed the garage-condos deal on Central Parkway with the city that will keep Kroger headquarters downtown.

He serves on a variety of corporate, college and civic boards. The Pichlers helped develop the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. In 1998, when Pichler headed the Cincinnati Business Committee, he called a marathon meeting of feuding city and county leaders to save the Bengals stadium deal. He fed them Kroger chocolate-chip cookies and kept them bargaining until the deal was done.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America honored him June 14 for a "lifetime of leadership." We believe there is even more Pichler leadership ahead for this community.

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