The president of Itasca-based Jewel-Osco Doug Cygan doesn't like ties. He won't wear them. Too stuffy.
"They don't send the right message," the Wadsworth resident said.
Jewel-Osco FactsJewel-Osco facts
Business: Grocery store chain
Locations: 186 stores in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa
Leadership: President Doug Cygan
Owner: Albertsons Companies
Cygan, 54, believes in the message of keeping his company a grocery chain for everyone.
He's a prime example of how a local boy rose through the ranks, from shagging grocery carts to leading one of the country's largest grocery chains.
In late April, Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Companies, which owns Jewel-Osco, promoted Cygan from vice president of marketing and merchandising to division president. He replaced Mike Withers, who was promoted to executive vice president of retail operations in the East region.
As president, Cygan oversees about 31,000 employees at 186 stores in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. The chain is expected to continue to grow if a proposed deal is approved so Jewel can acquire 19 Strack & Van Til stores in Indiana from its bankrupt parent, Central Grocers Inc.
"Doug will be a strong leader, and we can expect Jewel will continue to be an aggressive competitor under his leadership," said Bill Bishop, grocery industry analyst and principal at Barrington-based Brick Meets Click.
Growing the Jewel chain and bringing innovation to the table is important in the competitive industry. Aldi, Mariano's and others have been nibbling away at the marketplace. Also included in the mix are Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, or just about any place else that sells food products.
Jewel continues adjusting its product offerings, especially in Hispanic and other ethnic neighborhoods, remodeling many of its stores and adding three new stores every year, he said.
"The trend now is more organic and natural foods, so we'll be adding even more and integrating those over time," Cygan said.
This summer, Jewel will introduce its own branded online home delivery service. It will fill its virtual cart against such competitors as Skokie-based Peapod, Wal-Mart in Batavia and AmazonFresh in Wood Dale. In fact, Jewel was a provider for about 10 years for Peapod, but then the online service gained a financial infusion from Ahold Delhaize and that grocery company became the provider.
Jewel has selected 10 stores that would be hubs for the online delivery service. The company also is in the midst of hiring "a couple of hundred" people to staff that initiative.
"We are a 118-year-old store, so we've been doing fresh a lot longer than anyone else," Cygan said. "We're going to bring a whole new dynamic to online delivery."
In 2013, AB Acquisition LLC acquired Jewel-Osco from SuperValu, a transaction that brought all Albertsons and added Acme Markets, Shaw's and Star Markets. It also added a new investor, Cerberus Capital Management, in 2014. Then by 2015, the parent company doubled its store base when it completed a merger with Safeway. The entire Albertson's company now has about 2,200 stores and 265,000 employees nationwide, according to the company website.
Industry leaders say it's about knowing the consumer.
"Doug knows Chicago customers and Jewel-Osco better than anyone in the business," Wayne Denningham, president and chief operating officer for Albertsons, said in a statement. "Jewel-Osco's secret to success has always been knowing what Chicago customers want -- from local products to specialty items to offering the best in fresh. Doug's 37 years with Jewel-Osco uniquely positions him to lead this fantastic team, and we're excited to have someone of his caliber directing our operations there."
The reason Cygan knows the grocery business so well is because he started at Jewel at a young age while attending Mundelein High School in 1980.
Cygan, who grew up in Mundelein, started as a part-time clerk and eagerly retrieved carts from the parking lot. But he admits he was too eager with the carts.
"During my first week on the job, I almost got fired," Cygan said. "I thought I was just supposed to grab the carts and bring them back, but the boss took me aside and said my priority was to help the customers and then bring back the carts. I learned an important lesson that day about customer service. It taught me right away what I should be doing -- take care of the customers first. And I still do that today. If I'm in a parking lot and see someone needs help, I help them, even if I'm there shopping myself."
Cygan continued to work at Jewel during the summers and every break while earning a bachelor's degree in business and food distribution from Western Michigan University.
After college, he decided to stay with Jewel because he enjoyed the job and meeting people.
That's when he went into the company's management training program. He continued to climb the ladder from store director to marketing director and many other positions over the years.
Longevity with the company seems to run in the family as he has two brothers who work for Jewel. Brother Rich Cygan, a store director in Bartlett, has been with the Jewel for 42 years. And Scott Cygan, a store director in Highland Park, who has been with grocery chain for 39 years.
Cygan has been married to Shonna Cygan for 10 years and have one child together and are raising a combined five children from their previous marriages.
"When I told the kids that I became president, they asked me 'What do you want to do next?' And I said that you should always be looking for that next job. I've been very fortunate. You never really know that when you put yourself in a position if you'll get the next one, because ultimately it's all up to the company."
But Cygan said he's the same kid from Mundelein who likes an occasional Coors Light, enjoys talking with people, living a modest lifestyle and taking family vacations at Disney World in Florida.
He does a great deal of traveling as an executive, often to various markets to check out the competition and to see how stores are doing.
"Every two to three weeks, I'm traveling," he said. "It keeps things fresh and the ideas flowing."
Also, he is on the advisory boards of Western Michigan University and NorthPointe Resources, a private, nonprofit provider of developmental disability and behavioral health services in the Zion area.
He also serves on the board of directors for both the Greater Chicago Area Food Bank and the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
"I'm very much a people person," he said.