Sunday, March 4, 2007

Rita Gibney

Rita Gibney:
A Family Affair

By: Joseph W. Norman

For more from Bigger Impact co-founder, Joseph Norman, visit
Enjoy the read about...Rita Gibney...below! Thanks for your readership!

Rita Gibney may come across as shy at first, interviews may make her a little nervous, but when it comes to managing her Wegmans store in Geneseo, New York, she is right at home. As a motivated woman with a passion for retail and a gift for working with people, she has had the opportunity to spread her wings as part of the Wegmans Corporation. Over her twenty-one year career with the company she has worked in fourteen different stores and has learned a tremendous amount about herself in the process. She has been to Vermont, California, New Jersey, Maryland, and many other places for leadership training. Reflecting on the company she states, “They send you on field trips and they give you time to learn.” What seems to be most impressive about Rita’s career with Wegmans is the influence it has had on her family; they all work there. After her husband got out of his family business in Perry, New York, he began working for Wegmans. In addition, their three children currently work for the company. No wonder Rita feels right at home.

It did not all start at Wegmans for Rita though. She had a good childhood living out in the country, more specifically Alden, New York. At first, she thought she wanted to be a correctional officer. This led her to earning an Associates Degree in Correctional Administration. In this capacity, she enjoyed working with the people, but she was “very money driven.” In turn, she ended up in retail working for Montgomery Ward. With a passion for hard work, she moved up the ranks at Montgomery Ward and moved with them from Utica, New York down to New York City. In fact, when she was only eighteen her office was in the Empire State Building. After spending some time in management at Montgomery Ward, she began part time work with a company Tak Enterprises. It was here that she got her first exposure to the Wegmans culture. Selling product to Wegmans and a number other retailers, she expresses her first impression of the former; she was “so impressed with Wegmans at the time. I know it is cliché, but everyone seemed so happy.”

Inside Geneseo's Wegmans

After receiving a degree in Business Management from Utica College and meeting her husband, she moved to Perry, New York where her husband’s family had a business. At this time she began working part time for Wegmans, while co-owning Gibney Monument Works in Perry. Deciding to pursue her Wegmans career full time, she moved up the ranks quickly, but not quick enough. It was at this point that her drive put her on the fast track. She said to her manager one day, “I need you to understand where I want to go with this,” he responded, “Okay, let’s put you on an accelerated program.” From this point on she has had the opportunity to spread her wings with Wegmans. When one is motivated, things have a tendency to fall into place. Her husband helped take care of their children and she put her career into overdrive.

Now, she has been managing the Geneseo store for eight years and has created a unique environment. She oversees twenty-one managers and over three hundred employees. When answering the question about her job duties, she quipped, “putting out fires all the time.” She is responsible for each manager, and each manager is accountable for a specific unit. “I shouldn’t have to help them run their business. I am here to bring the big perspective together.” According to her employees, she does that with ease. During a corporate leadership workshop, Rita was told to send out an e-mail to her employees asking them what her best qualities were. The most frequent response was her compassion for her employees and customers.

In fact, Lydia Curtis, who has worked for Wegmans in Geneseo for over thirteen years says of Rita, “She has consideration for her employees. When I hurt my back they went out of their way to get me this chair.” In addition, Lydia reflected on when her son came down from Louisiana to surprise her, “I go ‘Johnnie!!’. Rita came over and asked if I would like to go home. My son said ‘that’s a family oriented manager.’” This positive attitude and genuine consideration for her staff has created an enjoyable store to work for and shop at.

Ben, Lydia Curtis, Joe

The family oriented ideals come both from the Wegmans tradition of keeping stores locally run, and Rita’s own personal principles. In regards to the former, Rita is autonomous with what she does at the Geneseo store. She explains, “Anything you see change here is because I want it to change.” This type of freedom makes each of the currently seventy-two Wegmans stores unique. In fact, one of her personal mantras, for better or for worse she quips, has become, “If you don’t ask, they can’t say ‘no.’” Aside from her own personal ambitions, Bob Wegman, founder of the stores, had a big influence on Rita. They developed a strong relationship over the years because he would visit the Geneseo store six to seven times a year. Since his death a few years ago, she reflected that nothing about the company has changed because everything is so localized. Bob’s family oriented influence is the kind that lasts through the ages.

Easter Setup

Now, back to Rita’s other passion, her family. Every second she is not at the store, she spends with her husband and children. She reflects that her two passions are her work and her family. The latter, unfortunately, stresses her out a little bit more because one of her pet peeves is procrastination. “I don’t get stressed at work. I get stressed at home. I have a hard time separating these things.” She says, “I don’t like procrastinators.” Children, of course, are often not the best listeners and have an uncanny ability for procrastination. Those same children are the source of some of her fondest memories though. When her children were born, she states, “To look up at my husband face and see the pride. It was huge.”

Besides her family and her work, many little things make Rita who she is. She has one dog, a Boxer / German shepherd mix, and her favorite candy bar is Hershey’s with Almonds. She loves comedies, including many classics by Will Farrell, and the recent film “Man of the Year” with Robin Williams. Action films, such as the Bourne Identity, are a must as well because one of her primary needs is speed. She has jet skis, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, and she just bought her dream car, a Pontiac Solstice Convertible. In fact, she has a model of the latter on her desk. All of these hobbies give her a chance to be out in the open air, which she loves.

Check-out lines

When she is not fulfilling her more up-tempo desires, she enjoys relaxing in front of the television and reading business books. Some of her favorites are various titles by Ken Blanchard, Who Moved My Cheese? By Spencer Johnson, How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life, by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, and the F.I.S.H Story. Most of these books can be found on the book shelf in her office. Inspired by some of these books, another personal mantra of hers is, “Good people working towards a common goal can accomplish anything.” She has truly modeled this in her store.

Sub shop inside Wegmans
A few people Rita would like to meet are Joseph Segel, founder of QVC, not because she shops from the channel, but rather because she wonders, “How in the heck they can sell 10,000 skillet knives?” Another person of interest is Donald Trump, because of his tenacity and business smarts. Her final pick is the historical local woman, Susan B. Anthony. Rita served on the board of the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, New York, and she finds the woman’s story awe-inspiring. One of the most difficult things Rita has found in business is overcoming being a woman. This has influenced her awe of Susan B. Anthony because “It is amazing to [her] that she was able to do what she did in that time period.”

When it comes to running her store in Geneseo, New York, Rita Gibney has the motivation, passion, and skills to do it well. Her love of people is best reflected by a principle she wishes everyone thought about a little bit more; “It would be nice if everyone treated others the way they want to be treated.” She said, “If the whole world looked at it that way we would not have some of the things we have going on in the world.” This mentality has given her a happy marriage, three loving children, and a fun, well run work place. She reflects, “I enjoy my job and family immensely,” and “I would do the same thing for the people of this store as I would my family.” It seems that for Rita Gibney, home and work have both become a family affair.

A motley crew: Joe, Rita, Ben

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Rita Gibney
Wegmans Food Markets, Inc.
Store Manager, Geneseo
4276 Lakeville Road
Geneseo, NY 14454