Trail native Bill McEwan honoured with lifetime achievement award

Next week Bill McEwan is being awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Retail Council of Canada in Toronto

Being able to coach more than 100 kids at once is a serious commitment.

But coaching those kids as a teenager is an even bigger accomplishment and it was only the start of a series of triumphs for a Trail native.

Next week Bill McEwan is being awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Retail Council of Canada in Toronto for his outstanding work within grocery stores.

Now the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Sobeys Inc., McEwan earned the lifetime distinction for being a serious role model, an icon in the industry, and one who has dedicated his career to retail.

He started working as a bag boy and moved his way up to merchandising, and 40 years after he started he became the president and CEO of Sobeys Inc.

McEwan’s rise and the lifetime award didn’t surprise his father, Tom.

“Bill had leadership qualities as a boy, you could tell,” he said. “When he was about 17 or 18, he was the coach of the Stingrays (swim club) and he had almost 100 kids.

“If you can deal with that when you’re that age, then you’ve gotta have some leadership skills.”

Bill began working in grocery stores while he was still a student at J. L. Crowe, and by the age of 20 he became a manager in a grocery store located in Castlegar.

He learned the fundamentals of business from Ferraro Foods in Greater Trail, later working in Nelson, but Tom credits his son’s most prized characteristic in handling those he works with to being raised in Trail.

“He’s a people person,” said Tom. “I think that being raised in small town is a little easier for youngsters because they get to know everybody at whatever soci-economic level and I think that’s a great thing for young people here.

“We didn’t want (him) to care whether (his) friend’s fathers were janitors or vice presidents or whatever, so Bill is very much a people person.”

McEwan spent 13 years with the company in British Columbia and Alberta.

He held a variety of senior marketing and merchandising roles in the consumer packaged goods industry with Coca-Cola Limited and in grocery retail with A&P both in Canada and the United States.

He served as president of A&P’s Canadian operations before his appointment as president and chief executive officer of the company’s U.S. Atlantic Region, the position he held immediately prior to joining Sobeys Inc. in 2000.

“Over his 40 years in the industry, Bill’s visionary leadership, driven by his passion for the grocery business, has inspired all those who have had the opportunity to work with him,” Diane J. Brisebois, president and CEO, RCC said in a recent press release.

“His business success is only exceeded by the inspiration and influence he has had on the countless individuals he has worked with throughout his career.”

Bill also  played an active leadership role in a number of industry and charitable organizations and was recognized as National Volunteer of the Year by Kids Help Phone in 1999.

Tom concluded that Bill was never somebody who would brag about himself, but that others—often his wife or daughter—would gladly do it for him.

In fact, Bill’s daughter had to send Tom an e-mail to inform him about her father’s latest achievement.

Previously, Bill has also received the Golden Pencil , the Canadian grocery industry’s highest honour, and the Robert Beaudry Award of Excellence for leadership in the grocery industry.

“I wasn’t really surprised,” said Tom. “Bill has very special talents.”

The Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes senior executives with a minimum of 25 years of work.

Tom said that Bill’s got about 40 years of experience and he’s only 55.

Bill will be presented with the award on June 4 in the Toronto Congress Centre.