When your name is Stew Leonard Jr., it’s hard to imagine you won’t be part of the family business.
But Stew — a Westport native — tells the New York Times that, had it not been for a chance encounter with an airplane seatmate, he might not have taken the path he did.
In an interview in today’s Business section “Frequent Flier” column, the president and CEO of “The Worlds [sic] Largest Dairy Store” says:
I never thought I’d wind up in the business. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college and my dad asked me what I wanted as a graduation gift. I told him I wanted a ticket on Pan Am. I wanted to see the world.
I did, and actually during my see-the-world trip, the course of my life changed.
I was on a flight from Katmandu, Nepal, to New Delhi, and was seated next to a fellow in his 50s who was wearing all white. He even had on a turban. I thought he was very exotic. We started chatting. He told me he was the 16th generation to work in his family’s business. I told him that my father had a grocery store in Connecticut, and my dad wanted me to work with him, but I was set to do some training with a consulting firm and didn’t want to work in the food industry or the family business.
He was very kind, but he started asking me why I would want to take my energy away from my family. I told him I wanted to prove myself. He told me I already did. The gentleman was really nice, but kind of relentless. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation. When I got home, I did talk to my dad about joining the business, and here I am.
The interview centers on Stew’s frequent travels. Once, he says, he borrowed a private plane to fly 10 fish department managers to Prince Edward Island, for negotiations on lobster prices.
The flight saved them money, and a hotel room. But it backfired when the lobstermen couldn’t get over the fact that Stew arrived on a private plane.
“It was not one of my better decisions,” he tells the Times.
“I would have been better off flying commercial. In the long run, it would have been a lot cheaper.”
For the full “Frequent Flier” interview, click here.