Putting the idea of family at the heart of corporate culture
By Marty Parker
When I sat down to talk with Anthony Longo, President & CEO of Longo Brothers Fruit Markets Inc., a few weeks ago, it was to chat about his role in his family’s business, and some of the culture challenges and opportunities facing legacy businesses today. Because we were (and still are) in the midst of the evolving COVID-19 crisis, our conversation naturally turned to how their grocery chain was dealing with the many changes happening in workplaces across the globe.
We ended up having an inspiring conversation about family, building a culture centred around treating your team and your customers like family, and the need to double down on culture during challenging times.
The interview has been edited for length, but you can listen to the full conversation here.
Anthony, treating you like family is really at the cornerstone of your culture. Maybe you can describe the culture at Longo’s with that framing it, and how the culture has changed over time and perhaps what’s remained the same.
So for us, the DNA is really about treating you like family and that encompasses a few things. So one is, you think about making decisions with your heart and with your head. So as you step back, you say, well, what’s the right thing for our team members, what’s the right things for our guests, what’s the right thing for our community? And living that every day.
So my dad had a saying, he said, always do the right thing, especially when no one is looking. And that really embodies how we make decisions.
So as a leader, how do you see your role or how have you seen it, in building and maintaining or changing the Longo’s culture?
I think as leaders, we have a responsibility to live it every day in terms of how we want people to behave in our business, and just who we are from an authentic standpoint. So I think if we don’t lead by example, how the heck can we ever expect our teams to do the things that we’d like them to be doing in keeping with our culture.
I’ll just go back to COVID because it’s been such an incredible learning experience for all of us. Our whole team was all hands on deck when everything hit, and we were out filling shelves in the stores, we had people in our call center taking orders for Grocery Gateway online business. People hadn’t done it before, but you quickly jumped in and you learn.
And that’s leading by example, it’s doing what needs to be done every day, and letting the team know that you’re there with them and supporting them in any way that you possibly can. And that they’re the number one thing on our mind… is their safety and continuing to just appreciate the incredible work that they do, whether it’s in COVID times, or most importantly, in non-COVID times too. Because fortunately, we’re not in these kinds of crisis situations every day lately. At least, I don’t want to go through this very often. But it’s leading by example every day.
And as I said to many people over time, your culture will either shape you or you’ll shape your culture. And you shape your culture by making the decisions and the actions, and all the things you do that support who you are as an organization and as people.
How do you continue to maintain and build on this cohesive, treat you like family culture when you have multiple shifts, multiple locations, part-time, full-time employees, a direct business, retail business, students, retirees. It’s about as complex as you can get. So how do you find the links to this cultural thread that pulls them all together?
I think it comes back to leadership and being consistent with your messaging. So for us, it starts with orientation… well actually, it starts before that. It starts when you hire the person. So you want to make sure you’ve got people who are personable and want to be in our industry, looking after guests. So that’s where it really starts. And then through orientation, and all the way through to performance appraisals.
So in our case, our key values are part of the performance reviews that we do and ensuring that people live those behaviors every day. So it’s all of that, and modeling it is so critical. You can’t say one thing and do another and expect people to actually follow you. They’ll just say you’re hypocritical, and that destroys cultures faster than anything. So being consistent for sure is really critical across the entire business, every channel of the business.
What are some of the challenges family founded businesses are facing today. And really, what does legacy mean at Longo’s?
So for us, we have a family purpose statement and what it relates to is, it says, for our love of family and passion for food. Our role that we believe is to provide hope and inspiration unto others, so we could leave the world a better place. That’s in essence, what we’re trying to do, whether it’s part of our business or part of the foundation or anything that we invest in.
So that’s the driver for us: how do we help people have some hope and have inspiration and how do we help leave the world a better place. We set that out about 12 years ago, I guess it is, 11 or 12 years ago. And we debated, is that too lofty, to go help make the world a better place. But if we can help a few hundred people in our communities that helps make the world a better place. If it’s a few thousand, if it’s tens of thousands, if it’s hundreds of thousands, I think every action that we all take as human beings can help provide for someone else’s life to be just a little bit better. How do we leave it a little bit better? So I think everyone can definitely play that role.
Looking back, is there anything specifically you’d do different?
I’d say I’d probably lean harder on making change in our industry. I’d probably lean a little bit harder… lean in more on that. And the other thing I’d say is, we’ve done, I believe, a lot in our industry in terms of the things we’ve worked in our community on, or the way we’ve worked with different partners, or how we’ve dealt with our team members in terms of training, et cetera.
I think if I had to do it again, I’d probably be more overt about it, be more public about it, as opposed to… because we’ve been a pretty humble and quiet company to some extent. But I do think that my philosophy’s changed over the years in that, I think if you share some of the things you’re doing for your team, some of the things you’re doing for your community, it may inspire other entrepreneurs or other family businesses to do something different. I’m not suggesting by any stretch at all that we’re perfect because we’re not. We have a lot of awards, there’s no question. But I think that if we could share the things that we’re proud of, and the things that we’ve done in the community and with our team members more readily and more often, it may inspire others to do similar, so that we have the power of more people working on the good of the community and the good of people.