Giant Eagle, Marathon Petroleum leaders: To get better, learn from the best

The two speakers for the Center for Operational Excellence’s Feb. 14 seminars couldn’t have been from two more different companies, but both emphasized a crucial truth about the journey of process improvement: You’re never too good to learn – or borrow – from others.

John Lucot
John Lucot

Take Pittsburgh-based grocery chain and COE member Giant Eagle Inc., whose President and COO, John Lucot, spoke to our crowd of more than 100 members and guests. The company has been in existence for more than three-quarters of a century, but Lucot said recent years have marked “the most exciting time in the history of our company.”

Emerging from an economic downturn in which consumers tightened the purse strings, Giant Eagle has developed new formats and transformed the customer experience. For proof, look no further than its Market District location a few miles from Ohio State University, which has become the unofficial epicenter of its neighborhood in a few short years. This has happened all while the company has aggressively maintained focus on health and safety and implemented lean principles throughout the supply chain. Lucot told the crowd that Giant Eagle has drawn inspiration from organizations ranging from the Cleveland Clinic – a gold standard in patient experience – to Alcoa, a fellow Pittsburgh company whose safety centric turnaround under former CEO Paul O’Neill is the stuff of legend.

And while Giant Eagle started down its road to operational excellence with an eye on removing cost and boosting efficiency, the balance sheet doesn’t rule the day, Lucot said.

“We never, ever talk about the financial impact of the things we do,” he said. “We are unwavering in our commitment to health and safety, and no one in our organization has the right to put money or anything else above those efforts.”

It’s that same focus on Giant Eagle’s employees and its customers that underlies a comment Lucot made that’s destined for the whiteboard: “We have no right to ask people to do things that don’t add value.”

George McAfee
George McAfee

Speaking later in the day, George McAfee, marine logistics manager at Findlay, Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum, shared the challenges posed to knowledge management and transfer in a work force with a widening generation gap and a growing share of over-55 workers.

With those dynamics, McAfee said, it’s even more crucial to develop standard procedures to capture and communicate processes so a company’s mission, vision and values don’t get muddled over time.

And echoing Lucot, McAfee said benchmarking – even outside one’s industry – is key to finding the right path.

“You must be willing to admit someone else might be better at what you’re doing,” he said.

This article appears in the March 2014 edition of COE’s Current State e-newsletter. Have a colleague who should be receiving this e-newsletter? Contact Matt at

Airport, vehicle test track tours added as summit’s ‘early bird’ window comes to an end

With the Center for Operational Excellence’s Leading Through Excellence summit less than two months away, we’re thrilled to have added the final two site tours we’ll be offering on Wednesday, April 9 – and just in time, as our 10% early bird discount ends today!

In addition to audiovisual production company Mills James, lawn and garden giant Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., and steel processor Worthington Industries, we’ll be taking groups to:

  • Port Columbus International Airport, for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the control tower and baggage handling areas, among others; and
  • Columbus-area automotive proving ground Transportation Research Center, which runs programs to test vehicles for safety, fuel economy, crash performance, and other factors.

trcThe airport tour is back for its second consecutive year after proving so popular during Leading Through Excellence 2013 that it sold out (you can get a glimpse at the experience by checking out our recap video). That’s expected to happen again this year as only a dozen spots are available.

The TRC tour is a new addition this year, with 20 slots available. The nonprofit center, which sits next to Honda of America in western central Ohio, has agreed to take attendees on an exclusive driving tour of the proving grounds, which are used by vehicle OEMs and public-sector entities for testing.

And Wednesday, April 9, is only the beginning of our three-day summit, which includes new research from top Fisher College of Business faculty, insights from industry experts (including those from Harvard University’s medical center, GE Aviation, and Goodyear), and a featured keynote address from Chip Heath, the bestselling author of Decisive, Made to Stick, and Switch.

Even for non-members of our center, you can get the full three-day summit experience for less than $700 while the early bird window lasts. So what are you waiting for?