Each November, the Food Industry Association of Canada recognizes lifetime contributions in grocery with the Golden Pencil award.
The two recipients for 2013 are: Dino Bianco executive vice-president and president of beverages and Canada at Kraft Foods Group, based in Chicago and Toronto; and Eric La Flèche, president and CEO of Metro Inc., based in Montreal.
How did they come to the biz and what happened next? Here, Canadian Grocer’s George Condon (Golden Pencil winner in 2000) speaks with Bianco.
Where did you grow up?
I was born, raised, educated and married in Toronto. A Toronto boy through and through. I was the eldest son of working-class Italian immigrants. I worked my way through the University of Toronto, graduating with a bachelor of commerce degree.
How did you start your career?
I worked many odd jobs at night and during the summers. I was working for the government, counselling young people for job placements, when a job for Christie Brown came up that I felt I was qualified for. I applied and became a summer sales rep. I absolutely loved the grocery-store world, the people, the products, the role in the community. But I was determined to get my chartered accountant designation, which I did. That led to a job with PriceWaterhouseCoopers and then, in 1990, at Kraft as a finance manager. It was déjà vu because Kraft had bought Christie Brown, in 1989.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
As a proud Canadian, becoming the president of Kraft, a multinational company. I worked across different functions in virtually every part of the company, starting in finance, and then through strategy, sales and then marketing. I was named president, in 2006, 16 years after joining the company. Proud? You bet. And I’m still grounded in my Canadian roots, with lifelong friends with whom I’m just “one of the guys.” I’m currently based in Chicago, but fly to Toronto on week- ends to be with my wife and family.
What was the biggest challenge of your career?
There was no single, big challenge, just the everyday challenges that need to be met. From my parents, especially my father, I learned three important rules that guide me every day: work hard, treat people with respect, and always do the right thing. I see challenges as opportunities; as learning experiences.
How do you give back?
Giving back is particularly important in the grocery business because it’s so entrenched in people’s daily lives and in their communities. I have been very involved in the United Way and The Grocery Foundation for the social and charitable aspect.
But there’s also good work being done by Food and Consumer Products of Canada and by the Grocers and Manufacturers Collaborative in areas of healthy eating and environmental and sustainability issues that I am actively involved in.
What advice do you have for people starting out in the grocery business?
It is an extremely exciting business that touches people’s lives every day. You can make a big impact in the future that will require strong leadership. It’s a great opportunity. And to the three pieces of advice my father gave me, I would add: Have fun!