by Steve Adubato, PhD

For over 60 years, Tom Infusino has had a connection with the supermarket business. Today he is the Chairman and CEO of Wakefern Food Corporation (ShopRite) and his pride and joy, ShopRite in Nutley, has been thriving for decades. (ShopRite has underwritten a variety of public television programs I have produced.)

Infusino is a soft-spoken, mild-mannered corporate leader whose style of communicating has served him well over the years. Former GE boss Jack Welch's book is called "Straight From the Gut." If Tom Infusino were to write a book it would be called, "Walking the Floors." That's what Tom does. He goes out on the floor of his supermarket and keeps in touch with his employees and customers. Says Tom, "I walk the floor to make sure what we plan to do is what we are actually doing."

While some leaders like to be hands-off in their management style, Infusino is very much engaged-very hands-on. He calls it "oversight." While some might see it as micromanaging or getting too involved in the details, Infusino walks the floors in order to keep in touch. That style communicates a powerful message to all of his people and sets a standard for what is expected. "My department heads know right away that I mean business when I walk over to them and talk about a particular product on the shelf that doesn't look exactly right. They know I am disappointed and they know something has to be done about it."

Infusino says even as the top person you have to "sweat the small stuff." That's why he is communicating constantly with people at all levels of the organization about the need to continually provide quality products to customers. He says his actions and those of his people must back up the aggressive advertising and promotional campaigns about the quality of ShopRite's products. Says Tom, "If I don't believe in what I tell our customers, how can we expect our people to believe it? They know how sensitive I am about this stuff."

The other key to Infusino's management style is that he takes it all very personally; "I'm constantly communicating the following question to our people, 'Would you take that home to your mother or wife?' If the answer is no, something has to be done about it to improve the situation."

You would think that after 51 years in the business, a corporate boss might be able to coast just a bit and let things run on their own. But that approach doesn't work for Infusino. "That will never happen. Things never run smoothly on a continuous basis. We need to tweak things. There is no substitute for employees knowing that when you walk the store you will communicate your concerns. My life and blood is in this store and I want to make sure our people and our customer's know that. If they don't know you care, why should they care?"

Infusino's other communication and leadership approach is to remain very open to constructive feedback from both his people and his customers. He encourages his employees to be proactive, for example, taking products off the shelf and fixing things before he points it out to them. It is all about letting your team know what you expect from them.

Regardless of a leader's communication style, one element that must always be there is passion. It's something you just can't fake. Says Infusino, "I love this business. I love the people. I'd much rather be on the floor than in the office." All of us can learn a lot from Tom Infusino.