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CEO sees ‘giving back’ as part of his obligation in life and at work: 

By Sr. Sue Orlowski, SP

Jeff Philipps applies faith in corporate grocery business.

Over the years, Jeff Philipps, president and chief executive officer of Spokane-based Rosauers Supermarket, Inc., has not been an average independent grocery industry CEO.

His servant leadership style is defined by personal relationships with vendors, customers, managers and employees. 

Growing up in Great Falls, Mont., where he was the second of five children, he attended Catholic schools where students were expected to participate in local service projects.  He learned that “giving back” was just part of his obligation and serving others was part of what was asked of him as a Christian.

“I have been strongly rooted in my faith since childhood,” said Jeff, whose mother was a role model as a volunteer at school and in her concern about others.

“She taught me how to listen by modeling good listening skills,” Jeff said.

Two days after he turned 16, he went to work for Buttrey Food and Drug as a “bag boy,” bagging and carrying out groceries. It was his introduction to the food industry.

“I loved my job,” said Jeff, who was promoted to bottle boy.  That was when soda came in glass bottles and the empties had to be sorted by the company. “My goal was to be the fastest when it came to sorting bottles.”

After high school, he attended Carroll College in Helena, Mont., earning degrees in business, accounting and economics with the thought of entering the banking industry.  At Carroll he continued to work at Buttrey to earn money to help with college expenses.

At age 20, he gave up thoughts of banking when he was promoted to become the youngest assistant store manager at Buttrey.  Over the years, the company provided him with experiences in every aspect of the grocery business including store and district management, merchandising, operations, advertising and accounting.

After 22 years, Jeff left Buttrey to explore additional industry opportunities in Utah, Alaska and Minnesota. He worked his way up the administrative ladder in several companies until in 2000 he was recruited by Rosauers to become its CEO.

Rosauers began as a Spokane-based business when J. Merton Rosauer purchased his first little grocery store in 1934.  Rosauers was Spokane’s first supermarket in 1949.  From 1989 to 2000, it was worker-owned.

Over the years, it has grown to include Rosauers Food & Drug stores, Super 1 Foods and Huckleberry’s Natural Markets with a total of 22 stores located throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.  Today Jeff is responsible for 2,100 employees who work at those stores. 

With the growth of natural and organic foods, 16 of the traditional stores now have a store-within-a-store representation of Huckleberry’s.

Jeff’s 15 years of leadership at Rosauers has resulted in a grocery chain that values its employees and customers, and embraces its responsibilities in the community. 

“If one is given much, much is expected from that person, and I have been given much,” he said.  “I want to do the right thing for the well-being of my employees, customers and community.” 

Jeff has a passion for what he does and a work ethic that values people for who they are, so he knows his employees and they know him well.

“We rally around those who are in need of support.  We are like family here,” he said.

Jeff, who belongs to Sacred Heart Parish in Spokane, said that “without good employees we really don’t have a business.”

Since its founding, Rosauers has developed a culture of care and sense of family, not only from management to employee, but employees caring for each other.

“If employees are supportive of one another, that will extend to customers. I like to know employees by name because each of them contributes to our success.  I like to know what is going on in their lives and what motivates them,” he said.

Jeff tries to provide inspiration. 

“Nobody is just a bag boy here.  That is where I started, and look at where I am today.  It just takes a focus and hard work,” he said. 

He tells employees that their jobs are not ends, but are journeys, and by working together they can all succeed.

Jeff tries to model listening.

“I listen to the trials and tribulations that employees have to let them know that they are not alone,” he said.  “I encourage my staff to listen well so we can get through tough things together.”

In December 2008, a roof on one of the Rosauers stores in Spokane collapsed from the weight of the snow. Some 120 employees were affected and they had begun to prepare themselves for unemployment checks and less-than-certain futures. To their surprise, Jeff did something they did not expect. 

He told his employees there would be no lost jobs and no unemployment checks. Jeff and his management team decided to keep every worker employed, rotating them to other Rosauers locations, while paying them 90 percent of their base pay and maintaining their employee benefits.

“I wanted them to know that they are our family. I wanted to prove how we care for them in times of crisis,” he said.

With Jeff at the helm, Rosauers has taken its role of being a good corporate citizen seriously by being involved in supporting numerous activities, events, clubs, civic organizations and licensed nonprofit groups that help to improve the quality of life in the cities and towns where their stores are located.

They have developed strategic partnerships with food banks and other organizations, working to address basic needs of people.

Jeff models community involvement for his employees.

He has led the United Way Campaign for Spokane County, served on the Providence Health Care Foundation Board, was board chair for the Washington Food Industry Association and for Greater Spokane Incorporated. 

He is also president for the Inland Northwest Council of the Boy Scouts and on the Providence Community Ministry Board. 

For information, call 326-8900 ext. 165 or email

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