It’s hard to believe it’s been 37 years and nine kids later since I was introduced to this great organization. And yes, that is not a typo; nine kids (six girls and three boys) plus a loyal dog! I am fortunate to have a beautiful wife who is a great companion, mother and support, and the love of my life.

In 1986, I was a student at the University of Utah, graduating in Finance while also pursuing a real estate career, married with no children, and doing what I loved most; pursuing my education and coaching football and rugby at the High School level.

One evening, in 1985, as I was in my apartment cooking dinner (I love to cook) and received a phone call from one of my football player’s parents. It was our beloved Gil Warner, Associated Food Stores’ second president and CEO. I knew Gil through coaching his son in football at Highland High School over the previous three seasons. We chatted briefly and he invited me to his home because he had something important to talk to me about. We set up a time to meet the following evening after work.

I tried to anticipate what Gil wanted to talk about. The head coach at Highland High had elected to leave the school at the end of the past season and transfer to Skyline High. It seemed like an appropriate time for me to also leave as I was in my last two semesters at the U. I assumed Gil was going to try to convince me to continue coaching for one more year at the high school because I had coached this senior group of boys for the past three years to an impressive and respectable win record.  The upcoming 1985-86 senior class was sure to be an amazing team, notwithstanding their head coach had just announced his departure.

I will forever remember that evening with Gil. He shared with me his four squares of living a balanced life. He shared with me what a great experience it had been for him personally working at Associated, serving its members and working with a great team of people. Gil shared his personal passion for Associated and its member retailers. He articulated the unique and special environment that working within a cooperative structure entailed, outlining how the cooperative was owned by all its member retailers and that the voting board was comprised of 100 percent member retailers. He explained there were no outside shareholders reaping the rewards of the profits of the company and that all but a small retainage of its profits went back to its member retailers to help them operate and grow their business. In summary, he was sharing with me the “ONE-ASSOCIATED” Enterprise System, namely, the Member Retailers, AFS and the TEAM, united in ONE cause. There were no corporate stores (ARO) at that time. At the conclusion of my visit with Gil, he admonished me to apply and interview to work at AFS under Rich Parkinson, developing the Real Estate and Store Development Program.

Gil Warner promised me that working for Associated would be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and that I would never regret making such a career decision. He promised me a career of dividends in the form of meaningful friendships. He also cited that during tough economic times, while working in the food industry, there would always be a job opportunity. Gil was right. I often reflect on Gil’s words and his passion for this great company and for the free-enterprise system that we and our member retailers all are a part of as citizens of this great country.

So now is my opportunity to express gratitude to those who prepared the way for where we are at today.

Assisting our Member Retailers in building their dream grocery store has always been one of the greatest joys of this job.  I am frequently asked, “what exactly do you do?” My answer is, “I assist our member retailers is helping make their dreams come true!” We literally help make dreams come true, develop and grow family-owned businesses, provide food to consumers who live in metropolitan and rural areas, create local jobs and give-back to the communities and schools that our members serve.

I, along with a great Store Development Team, help “level” the playing field for our Member Retailers, competing against the behemoth, publicly traded grocery store chains. The AFS Market Development Inc. (MDI) Team is the “hired gun” that comes in and helps our Member Retailers navigate through a very complicated and complex Store Development process.

As a concluding note to my message, and as part of my agreement with Gil, I stayed on to coach one last season, as the defensive coordinator, those amazing group of kids, coaches and student-body. Highland Football went on that year to a 11-1 record and won the Utah 4A State Championship Title. As Gil so simply coined the phrase that year, “some kind of miracle happens when you get the right folks together” and “You gotta believe.” Today, you and our member retailers ARE those “right folks.”

Thank you, Gil, for building the foundation for us to continue to build upon today.  And thank you for allowing me the privilege of serving you and this great organization over the past 37 years, and more to come. I wholeheartedly support and endorse our newly appointed CEO, David Rice and the entire executive team and senior leadership. I love this team. I love our Member Retailers and I love this great organization we serve. Our future is brighter than it’s ever been!

Steve Miner is the president of Market Development Inc. (MDI), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Associated Food Stores that helps AFM members with their store development efforts.