With the recent passing of Louis Kertesz Sr., I dedicate this article to him as a former company colleague and friend.
Louis Kertesz Sr. was the vice president of produce operations at The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company Inc. in Montvale, NJ, during the 1980s. He was a first-class expert who changed the produce format into a giant aggressive selling machine. Not only did it change at A&P, but it also permeated throughout the industry.
It wasn't long before even the competition heard of his massive merchandising principles that were awe-inspiring. It often forced others to try to keep up with his tireless stamina in merchandising.Mr. Kertesz had an ambitious desire to develop us into super-salespeople with the same passion that he himself always demonstrated.
If ever there was a time in my supermarket career that inspired me the most, it took place during the "Lou Kertesz era." He not only helped change my vision in produce, but also inspired me in the way he did it - with his dynamic passion for selling. There were three words he always expressed, "Make something happen." I treasure those words to this very day.
Mr. Kertesz was especially known for his high demanding standards in operating retail produce departments. His enthusiasm for selling tremendous amounts of produce was overwhelming at times and almost intimidating. He spoke in pallet, truckload, and carload amounts. Soon after learning his style of selling, we were on the truckload level.
Lou Kertesz also had a passion for being out in the trenches with the people. We spent a lot of time together since he was headquartered in Montvale, NJ, and me in New York City. One day, he was riding with me to visit stores. A particular produce department was not in good shape. He pulled the store manager over and asked how often he checked produce. The reply of "once in a while" was not exactly pleasing to his ears. From that day on, the store manager swiftly learned all about selling produce and the disciplines that accompanied it.
Many former associates also remembered Lou Kertesz with their own personal experiences.
Ken Green, former A&P vice president of produce operations after Mr. Kertesz, said, "Lou had an unbelievable passion for work, and expected the very best from everyone. He loved his family and was very proud of them and their accomplishments. He was, without a doubt, the best-dressed person.
He truly was one of a kind that gave his best every day. I learned a lot from Lou. My prayers are with his family."
Keith Horder worked with Mr. Kertesz at Kohl's Supermarkets in Wisconsin 40 years ago and added, "He was my supervisor and promoted me to my first produce manager position. Lou was demanding, but took care of you if you worked hard for him. He used to tell us in meetings that we were like an orchestra, each playing specific instruments complementing the others. He also had no problem confronting anybody on any issue. While a produce manager, I had just returned from my National Guard basic training and my unit was scheduled for summer camp duty. Lou called the adjutant general in charge of Wisconsin and talked him into allowing me to miss that summer camp. That was unheard of, but Lou did it."
Darrell Guenthner expressed, "While just being promoted to a produce field merchandiser in Chicago at the time, Lou Kertesz gathered all of us in a store to show us his vision for the new improved department. He gave his input section by section. It was a long and exhausting day, but filled with accomplishment. Lou had laid down the foundation that would build A&P's produce departments to best class in the marketplace. More important, Lou instilled in us the new principles and disciplines that helped achieve his goals."
Jim Diodati, former vice president of A&P produce in Canada, said, "Lou was a mentor to me and I will always remember him as a fighter who brought passion, discipline and aggressiveness that put A&P on the map in the produce industry. Thanks for all the memories, Lou."
Keith Wilson, former western field purchasing director, noted, "Lou liked a new packaging idea in the '80s. The material was vexar and Lou felt vexar bags were superior to any poly products available at the time. He wanted apples and grapes packed in vexar bags, which he felt would allow more shelf life at retail level. He was passionate about offering the customers a better product."
Frieda and Karen Caplan of Frieda's Specialty Produce remember Lou Kertesz by saying, "Lou was an incredible promoter and loved to empower his produce managers to do their best. He was the first national retailer who gave Frieda's a platform to sell and promote specialties. He really put us on the map."
Lou Kertesz loved his job and his produce, but loved his family even more. He often personally told me of how proud he was of them and their many achievements.
As we move on with our daily lives and involvement in the produce industry, I'm sure Lou Kertesz' famous words can still be heard somewhere in the background, "Make something happen."
Thanks, Lou, for all you taught us and for inspiring the aggressiveness in the produce industry.
Ron Pelger writes a regular column for The Produce News, IN THE TRENCHES