Jeff Strack, Indiana
The Courage to Fail
Jeff Strack grew up going to work with his dad and loving the grocery business. For as long as he can remember, he had a plan to attend Indiana University and join the family business. He has always held a great deal of pride in carrying on the legacy established by his grandfather, Ernie Strack and Nick Van Til.
Strack & Van Til is a 60-year-old company whose growth and success remains rooted in the philosophy and principles of its founders. Principles like working hard to make sure their customers are completely satisfied, employees are appreciated, and delivering value every day on the finest quality groceries, perishables and freshly prepared foods. From day one, Strack & Van Til has been widely known for its commitment to important causes that enhance the quality of life in the communities they serve.
For Jeff, life had always taken an upward trajectory. He is known as a leader in his community and he strives to make the world a better place for those around him by giving back. He had never faced a major setback until 2017.
Through a series of circumstances in business; an unsuccessful change in leadership in 2014; changes in the competitive environment and the way people shop; and issues within the parent company, Strack & Van Til was in a downward spiral. Jeff was named President and CEO of the company in May 2016 and found himself facing an uphill battle. In February of 2017, he was at Starbucks on a Sunday morning with his wife Shawn facing his most difficult challenge yet… how to save Strack & Van Til.
What would happen to the nearly 5000 people employed by the company if they lost their jobs? Who would he be if didn’t work for Strack & Van Til? Until that point in life, Jeff had always been able to fix things. But this time, he didn’t know what to do. He felt embarrassed and ashamed and struggled to redefine the thought that he had somehow “messed it up.” He was faced with the reality that he might not be able to fix this.
Through a series of business transactions and advice from various people to buy, sell, find a job with a different company, etc., he made the decision to get a group of investors to buy back the company. In the bankruptcy auction, they were able to outbid a large private equity firm in a deal that would allow Strack & Van Til to remain part of the fabric of Northwest Indiana.
Jeff’s journey in business runs parallel to his journey through life. His experience offers insight into those times where we struggle to distinguish whether the light we see is sunlight or train bearing down on us. In telling his personal story, Jeff will share how business is often a metaphor for life. He will share how he learned that his value and success were not tied to the business.
Jeff’s experience has allowed him to approach problems, both personally and in business, in a more relaxed and confident way. He knows that no matter what the problem, he as the tools and support to figure things out. And, in his own words, “I know that what we do… does not define who we are.”
To learn more about Jeff Strack and Strack & Van Til visit https://strackandvantil.com/