January 18, 2009 in City

Doug Clark: Rosauers CEO proves he cares for employees

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Let me warm your hearts today with a story about a corporation.

No, really.

I know the economic climate is cold as a tomb. All the business news is about layoffs, failures, bailouts and corporate greed.

CEO is often just another way of saying SOB.

Then there’s Jeff Philipps.

Philipps is the 53-year-old CEO of Rosauers Supermarkets, a Spokane-based chain with 21 outlets spread across the four states of the Inland Northwest.

Two Saturdays ago, Philipps and his management team gathered at a North Side pizza joint, along with employees whose lives had been in turmoil since Dec. 29. That’s when a massive buildup of snow collapsed the roof of the Rosauers at Five Mile.

None of the 40 customers or 40 workers who were inside when the sky fell that early evening was hurt seriously. One employee suffered a few minor injuries when the avalanche force of descending snow and ceiling literally blew her out the front door.

That was the good news.

The bad news was that this was no cleanup on Aisle 12.

The roof was burnt toast. Building a new one will take four to six months.

And so the 120 employees affected had steeled themselves for unemployment checks and less-than-certain futures.

Then Philipps dropped the bombshell.

No lost jobs. No unemployment checks. The decision had been made to keep every worker.

They would be rotated to other Rosauers locations as needed and paid 90 percent of their base pay.

That, said Philipps, would maintain all their employee benefits.

“We talk a lot about being different from the big guys, that we’re a family,” Philipps said. At the meeting “we got to prove we are what we say.”

Interviewing Philipps over the telephone wasn’t easy. Each time I would ask him about his employees, he would barely get through the next sentence without getting choked up.

You could populate an army with the numbers of people I’ve interviewed over the years. I know true emotion when I hear it.

“We had a good cry,” said Philipps of the Saturday meeting.

Connie Schlosser said amen to that.

Schlosser began working at the Five Mile store as a courtesy clerk right after high school. That was 26 years ago.

She said her co-workers were clueless about what the announcement would be at that pizza joint gathering.

“We were just shocked,” said Schlosser, who works as a checker.

“I couldn’t believe a company would take care of its employees like that. Everybody was so excited.”

I met Schlosser on Friday afternoon at the newly remodeled Rosauers at the Y in North Spokane. That’s where Schlosser has been working this week.

There’s no threat of roof collapse at this place. This store is a massive state-of-the-art facility.

Philipps was at the Y supermarket to meet me face-to-face. This is a guy who wears his passion for his profession on his sleeve.

The love for what he does dates back 36 years. That’s when, Philipps said, he started in the grocery biz as a box boy in Great Falls.

Philipps told me he knows 70 or 80 percent of the chain’s 2,100 employees by name.

You know what? I believe him.

“I think he deserves a pat on the back,” said Greg Donaldson, a Spokane food broker who tipped me to this tale.

What Rosauers has done for the Five Mile employees, he said, “goes against the grain compared to what’s happening in the business and corporate world.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at dougc@spokesman.com.


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