CEO Hank Meijer visits Cornerstone University
By Kayla Kirkpatrick
From small town to 197 stores in five states, from journalist to CEO, from old-time dry goods store to modern one-stop shopping center. This is the story of Meijer and its current CEO, Hank Meijer.
On Monday, November 15, Meijer visited Cornerstone University. He spent an hour talking to Herald writers about everything from journalism to the history of Meijer and governmental corporation policies.
Bob Becker, CU journalism professor and Hall of Fame sports writer, introduced Meijer to The Herald class. Prior to working in the family business, Meijer worked for Becker as a journalist and editor.
Meijer remembers his days working the newspaper business with fondness. “Seeing your name in the byline, there is nothing like that,” Meijer said with a smile.
Even today, as he manages a rapidly growing company, Meijer draws on his journalistic upbringing.
He said that “advertising is like reporting on prices,” and discussed how advertisers choose what information is important enough to publish to “readers.”
Additionally, he said that we all using the skills of editors in our daily lives. Editing is about making a choice and deciding what is important and what needs to be cut. In the same way, corporations choose what products to offer customers, what things can go and what things need to be added.
“You gotta make choices of what you’re doing sometimes,” Meijer told students.
Meijer’s relaxed speech matched his relaxed presence. He wore business attire but no tie. He interacted on a personal basis with students and professors and laughed with the class as he told humorous stories from his past.
One story involved his first trip to a hockey game.
Meijer was covering the event as a reporter and called his office after the second period to check in. After listing off the current scores and time to his supervisor, Meijer said, “and I’ll check in after the third quarter!” To his horror, he discovered that hockey games have only three periods!
After this story, the topic turned to the more serious matter of certain aspects of journalism. Meijer reminded students that, just like a sports writer needs to know there are only three periods in hockey, business writers need to know the business world.
Meijer concluded his time with students by telling the inspiring story of how Meijer was actually started.
It all started with Meijer’s grandfather, Hendrik Meijer. Hendrick owned a double storefront in Greenville, Mich. From one side he ran a barbershop and the other side he hoped to rent out. The Great Depression ruined that plan.
Originally, Meijer desired to rent the space to other dry goods stores, but through a series of events opened his own store. Eventually, the little side business that was just supposed to pay the mortgage became Hendrik’s life.
The store handled societal changes much better than other businesses, which is why it lasted while many others failed. The Meijer family practiced excellent customer service and made sure to treat all customers the same, something larger stores didn’t do.
When Hank’s father was a teen, Meijer evolved from a dry goods store where the cashier picked items for you to a self-service store. With this change came the expansion of the business. Today, there are 197 Meijer locations in five states in the Midwest.
The Meijer brand has evolved over the last 77 years just as Hank Meijer has evolved in his life. The Meijer stores have retained some of their family-owned hominess, just as Hank has held onto his journalist side.
Hank Meijer’s stories and advice gave students practical things to reflect on as well as showing just how human he and his company are.