After 42 years with one of the Midwest's most well-known retailers, Michael O'Brien is planning to retire from Schnuck Markets Inc. at the end of October, but he is planning to pursue other opportunities within the produce sector.
The 61-year-old vice president of produce and floral told The Produce News Aug. 4 that the plan for retirement from this phase in his career has been in the works for a while.
"The timing was right" to take his career to another level and hopefully help another company achieve their goals, he said.
O'Brien started with Schnuck Markets as a bagger when he was in college in 1972. He worked his way up through the ranks and had been a division manager for quite a few years when given the opportunity to switch to his present position in produce in 2000.
Like many others in the baby boom generation, O'Brien said when he initially started at Schnuck's he had no intention of making it a career.
"I thought I was going to be a classic rock DJ," he said. "I was going to get a journalism degree."
But his part-time bagger job led to more opportunities for him at the St. Louis-area chain. O'Brien got his degree in business administration and continued to move up the ranks at Schnuck's.
"I was able to buy a house and raise a family and I just stayed with the company," he said. "Music became my hobby."
He said moving to produce in 2000 "changed my life. I love the industry and I love the people in it. Produce is now in my blood."
He is currently an advisor to the Produce Marketing Association Foundation for Industry Talent's Pack Family Career Pathways Program and very much enjoys working with the foundation's Emerging Leaders Program.
In fact, O'Brien said he was served well by several mentors when his career was moving through its formative stages and he enjoys playing the mentor role today. He said he will be at PMA's Fresh Summit 2014 involved in both of those programs during his final days with Schnuck's.
"Hopefully after that I'll still be in the industry working for someone else," he said. "Right now I am considering my options."
Looking back on his career, O'Brien said one of the highlights was being honored with the Donald O. Schnuck Award several years ago. That annual award, named after the founder of the company he served for more than four decades, recognizes outstanding customer service by an employee.
"That definitely was one of the highlights of my career," he said.
O'Brien has been an active industry participant, serving as chairman of the board of directors of PMA in 2010-11. He was also chairman of the Produce for Better Health Foundation in 2007.