WILL WORK FOR FOOD:
Gretchen Minyard Williams
___Gretchen Minyard Williams is co-chairwoman of the board and co-CEO of Minyard Food Stores and its divisions, Sack 'n Save and Carnival Food Stores. She also serves on several boards and is active in the community. A 1978 graduate of Texas Christian University, she and her husband, J.L. "Sonny" Williams, and their daughter, Claire, live in Dallas and are members of Casa View Baptist Church. Williams is active in many civic and charitable endeavors, including support for Texas Baptist causes.
|Gretchen Minyard Williams
___ You are co-chairman with your sister, Liz, of Minyard Food Stores. What does that involve--the day-to-day routine of chairing the largest privately held company headed by women in Dallas?
___Day-to-day varies. There is no set routine. Once a month, we have a stockholders' meeting, because there are only three of us, my sister, myself and our cousin, Bob Minyard. Sonny, of course, has 45 years of service and is president and chief operating officer. A lot of the operations report to him. In these family meetings, the financial people report to us, and we cover any major things that are going on. Basically, we are overseeing the future, where we need to go next, so that all 6,000 of us in Minyard, Sack 'n Save and Carnival stores have a place to go. But routinely, just due to the nature of how many groups and organizations Liz and I are involved in, when I am in the office, it's catch-up. I get a lot of e-mails, particularly junk e-mails and have to clean them up. It's good to have some time in the office to handle things, the occasional customer complaint. Things like that. You still want to be involved, although day-to-day is not my worry.
___ You get involved at the level of customer complaints?
___We can't say we are family-owned and not do that.
___ Are there challenges unique to a woman in such an important role?
___Our industry is male-dominated, so as a woman, you do stand out at a conference. Although there are more women now, but they are in mid-management rather than chairman of the board. There are a few exceptions; some of the really large companies have women in important roles.
___ How did you prepare yourself for such a demanding position?
___You kind of live it. Growing up, it was discussed at the table every night. Every Sunday on the way to church, we would get a lecture--things like "Take care of Minyards, and it will take care of you." All these facts were given to us year after year. My father, who died in 1988, had high expectations, but he was not unrealistic and was very loving. He took turns with us taking us to grocery conventions, but he always said as we were growing up that we had a choice, that the opportunity is there, if we wanted to take it.
___I considered majoring in history when I went to Texas Christian University but asked myself what I could do with it. I thought about teaching it but didn't want to be a teacher. I went to Liz and asked if business was hard. She told me I could do it, so I listed business as my major and then came accounting, statistics, finance. I promised my accounting teacher I wouldn't take any more accounting. I understand it now, but it was totally different when I was 18 or 19. So I guess I just prepared slowly and didn't know it. I worked in the summers and during holidays at the office, so I had on-the-job training, but Dad never referred to it as that. He never put any pressure on us; he always said we had a choice. I worked switchboard, payroll, clipped coupons, stuffed payroll checks. I couldn't work in the warehouse because you had to be 18. So we've been there, done that, but never realized it.
___Why did you attend Texas Christian University?
___At first, Dad said I could go anywhere I wanted to go. When I said we had family in New Orleans, and there was a school there, he said I could go anywhere I wanted to in Texas. So I have a cousin in San Antonio, and Trinity University is there, I said. He said, "You can go to SMU or TCU."
___Of course, I was home almost every week, but he kept me on a tight financial string. He gave me two $5 bills each week. It cost 65 cents for the turnpike and 25 cents for the tollway, so, by the end of the week, I was always out of money. I would call and ask if he wanted me to come home for the weekend, and he would always say, 'Yes.' When I answered that I didn't have any money, there would be silence and then he would tell me to go to our store in Westcliff and get $5 for gas and come home. I would come home, and then on Sunday I would get two $5 bills. After about a year and a half, I thought being poor was no fun. My friends couldn't believe I was living on $40 a month. I would sell my meal tickets, and if I had known then you could sell blood, I would have sold blood. I lived in the sorority house for four years. Once I said I was thinking about getting an apartment with a girl, and he asked, "Who would pay for that?" I told him I thought he might, and he replied that he didn't pay for apartments.
___He was the greatest influence in my life. When I lost my mother at 10, he became both father and mother. And his older sister, Fay, stepped in to help raise us and was there for us through junior high and high school, Monday through Friday, and on Sunday for lunch. She had a strong influence. Those two truly molded us. We attended East Dallas Christian Church, and Sonny and I were married there. He had been a member of Casa View Baptist Church for many years. For awhile, we went to both, but finally I joined Casa View. I've been there 23 years; he's been there about 40 years.
___ Do you feel you are a role model for other women?
___I guess so. I don't think of that, but I see these 20-year-olds and realize I am twice their age. Then they start calling you "Ma'am," and start inviting you to speak various places and tell you they admire what you do, and I say, "Why? What did I do?" But I guess so, being a woman in a male-dominated society.
___ How would you describe yourself apart from your professional identity?
___Up until four years ago, just as me, but now as a mother, and it is so much more fun. It's the toughest but the most rewarding. Claire-- Beverly Clairene--is 4. She is named Claire after my mother and Beverly after Sonny's sister. I said to her not long ago that she was named after my mother who is now in heaven. She said, "What's she doing there?" I said, "Well, probably working, because she relates to work." She replied, "Can we take a plane or car to go see her?" I said, "Jesus comes to get you; you don't get to go there." As a mother is how I would describe myself now.
___ What was your home life like?
___Good. Happy. Structured some. We had dinner at 5 o'clock. We got to travel a little bit. Daddy took us on a few vacations. We went grocery shopping with him on Saturday.
___ When did you become a Christian?
___I was 8 or 9. My mother was alive, and I was 10 when she died. It was a very special time to have both parents there.
___ What role has religious faith played in your personal and professional life?
___Well, it helps you handle adversity. When things are tough, you know there is someone stronger to lean on. And if things are not right, your faith gives you the honesty and integrity to help make it right. For example, recently we were misbilled by $1 million by one of our major vendors. They couldn't pay it back all at once but are doing so in $200,000 payments. Knowing we are honest, they came forward. When you set high standards, others meet high standards with you. Others know we always try to take care of our customers, vendors and employees. My Dad always taught us to treat others as we wanted to be treated, which is the Golden Rule, basically.
___ Is there any conflict in being a Christian and being a competitive business person?
___No. Not for us.
___ You are recognized for your involvement in civic and charitable affairs. What is your motivation for these activities?
___It goes back to your training. Our dad was very active at Scottish Rite Hospital. He was a Mason and on their board. He was very involved. That and the church were his favorites. He was on the bank board and always supported hospitals. One of his pieces of advice was be good to the hospitals in case you get sick and to the bank in case you need money. I am on the board at Baylor University Medical Center and at Chase Bank. Dad was only in politics behind the scenes, where he would make donations to campaigns. He would give $100 to almost anyone. We know not to get involved too much in politics. We are a part of the community, and we give back to the community. Liz is also involved. We do separate things, but some things we do together, like the Leukemia Association of North Central Texas. My mother died of leukemia in 1970, and my dad started that organization.
___ Who are your heroes?
___My dad was a hero. And my husband, Sonny, is a hero. He is so hard-working, devoted and loyal. He probably brought me closer in my walk with the Lord because he is so devoted.
___ How did you two meet?
___He worked for Minyard's. I was working the switchboard. I knew who he was. He would stop and chat and asked me if I liked to go to ballgames. At first I said, "No, not really." But I went a year without a date at TCU, and one day when he came in and asked me if I wanted to go out, I said, "Sure."
___What do you do for fun?
___Travel, spend time with my little girl. I'm having a lot of fun. We are going to Disney World. We like to go to Santa Fe and just relax. We like to go to Hawaii.
___ What books do you read?
___I like fiction. I like romance because it's just fun. I get enough of Frozen Food Age, Supermarket News, etc., here at the office. Before Claire, I used to read all the time. I do enjoy Home Life and Family Life.
___ What is your involvement in your local church?
___I have taught preschool in Sunday School for 23 years.
___ What advice would you give to young women as they consider a career?
___Don't expect too much too soon. Stick with what you are doing. So many times, they try too many things. Have the integrity that is there in your faith.
___Interview by Toby Druin
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