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Grady Rosier Thalhimer executive-in-residence

March 30, 2016 - Leila Ugincius

From the very first Walmart Superstore, a tiny structure in middle-of-nowhere Arkansas, to Warren Buffett’s office, Grady Rosier has seen it all during his 30-plus years in the distribution industry.

Rosier, president and CEO of McLane Company Inc., a $48 billion supply chain services company, shared his insights with Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business students last week as the visiting Charles G. Thalhimer Family Executive-in-Residence. A consummate Southern gentleman, Rosier had a lot to say about integrity (“We’re not perfect, but we fix things when they are wrong.”), values (“The value set of a company always looms in people’s minds.”) and loyalty (“If I can’t trust you and you can’t trust me, we don’t need to be doing business together.”).

While average consumers may not be familiar with McLane, they certainly know its clients, which include Target, Walgreens and Walmart. It is one of the few distribution companies in the country that serves every zip code every day.

Under Rosier’s leadership — he’s been with the company for 31 years, 21 of them as CEO — McLane has remained debt free while increasing revenue by 857 percent. Today, the company has 80 distribution centers across the country and a fleet of 2,100 tractors and 3,000 multitemp trailers. Rosier oversaw the sale of the former family-owned business to Walmart, which “really wanted to get into the grocery business,” and played a pivotal role in its later sale to Berkshire Hathaway.

“Warren [Buffett] did no due diligence” on McLane before purchasing it, Rosier said. “He accepted my word on everything about the business. … He’s the best boss I’ve ever had ’cause he leaves me alone.”

You can’t become as successful as Buffett by hiring untrustworthy and dishonest people. Abiding by a code of ethics is critical, Rosier said, adding that his personal code is simple: “If you’re a customer of mine and I owe you $1,000, and you don’t know I owe you $1,000, I expect somebody to get that $1,000 check cut and to hand it to you. … And we have done that time and time again.

“I expect people to always do exactly what they say they are going to do. I always do exactly what I say I’m going to do. If I say I’m going to help you, I’m going to help you. If I say I’m going to hurt you, I’m going to hurt you.”

“I wake up every day trying to deserve this job.”

Rosier said his business philosophies are shaped by his Christian values, which he believes may have contributed to his success more than his business acumen. Indeed, the now-CEO had no business experience when he entered the workforce. Rather, after having delayed college for a stint in the Marine Corps, he chose to study history — a degree that he could complete quickly by doubling up on classes — at the University of Florida. After graduation, while saving for both his pilot’s license and law school, he applied for a job as a truck driver at Sav-a-Stop. Showing up in a suit and tie, Rosier instead was hired as a manager, which put him on the executive path. Not the typical route one takes to work for Buffett, the world’s most renowned investor, whose savvy has made him one of the wealthiest men in the world.

“I wake up every day trying to deserve this job,” Rosier said. “I’m cognizant that every decision I make will affect [McLane’s employees’] lives and their families’ lives.”

The Charles G. Thalhimer Family Executive-in-Residence program, established in 1984, brings nationally and internationally prominent business leaders to the VCU campus for interaction with faculty, students, alumni, community leaders and the public. Among the largest endowments in the School of Business, the Thalhimer Family Endowment Fund also provides scholarship awards to the top graduate and undergraduate business students.

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