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Food Lion Co-Founder Ralph Ketner to Speak March 1 at Catawba CEO Lecture

January 26, 2012

Category: Business & Economics, Events, Staff


Ralph W. KetnerHe has been called a visionary for transforming food retailing and has been named among "Tar Heels Who Made a Difference" in the 20th century. Ralph W. Ketner, one of the co-founders of Food Lion and chairman emeritus of the board of Food Lion, Inc., will deliver the keynote address at Catawba College's ninth annual CEO Lecture on Thursday, March 1. The event is free and open to the public.

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The 91-year-old Ketner will offer remarks entitled "Success before Survival? Only in the Dictionary!" at the 11 a.m. event slated in Keppel Auditorium on the Catawba College campus. A reception will follow in Peeler Crystal Lounge. The CEO Lecture Series is sponsored by the Ralph W. Ketner School of Business and is an event much anticipated by the local business community.

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The grocery business is in Ketner's blood. He was born the son of grocer, George Robert "Bob" Ketner of Salisbury. His mother died when he was 5 years old and his father died when he was 11.

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At 16, he attended Tri-State University (now Trine University) in Angola, Indiana, studying accounting for two years, he says, until his money ran out. He then worked as an accountant for Cannon Mills for several years before joining the Army and serving in Italy and Africa during World War II.

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After the war, he worked for a short time as an IRS agent and as a N.C. Revenue agent. From 1950-1956, Ralph Ketner was a buyer and manager of Excel Grocery Co., a company owned by his brother, Glenn, and formed for the purpose of supplying Glenn's many Ketner Stores. In 1956 when Glenn sold his company to Winn Dixie, Ralph became the grocery buyer for the N.C. Division of Winn Dixie. His brother, Brown, was named head of the meat division of Winn Dixie and Wilson Smith became supervisor of the former Ketner stores.

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In 1957, Ketner launched his own grocery venture in Salisbury, Food Town Stores, with his brother, Brown, their friend, Wilson Smith, and 122 others who invested from $50 to $1,000. Every investor, if they held their stock until the end of 1991, would become a millionaire as the stock split 12,960 for 1 and closed at $27.25 on 12-31-1991, making one $10 share worth $353,160.

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The three entrepreneurs struggled in the early years until Ketner came up with a novel approach to lower prices and increase sales. That concept was LFPINC, an acronym that stands for the Lowest Food Prices in North Carolina. Ketner determined that it would be better for the chain to make "five fast pennies rather than one slow nickel," building success on volume sales, rather than on per item profits. Sales increased from $5 million in 1967 to $6.4 billion in 1991.

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Ketner retired from Food Lion in 1992 and is now chairman emeritus of that grocery store chain (now owned by Belgian grocery, Delhaize Group). Although he is officially retired, he keeps daily office hours in his office in the Ketner School of Business on the Catawba College campus and still keeps his hand in business by offering LPCINC (Lowest Paid Consultant in North Carolina).

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He was given an honorary degree from Tri-State University in 1982 and one from Catawba College in 1981. He has made gifts to fund the building of Ketner Schools of Business at both institutions.

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He was named USA Entrepreneur of the Year in 1990, an award Bill Gates of Microsoft received in 1999, and selected in 2002 as one of 50 Top Visionaries of the Supermarket Industry during the past 50 years by Supermarket News. He was inducted in the Supermarket News Hall of Fame in 2011. He was inducted in the Ketner School of Business Hall of Fame at Catawba in 2007 and was one of the original inductees in the Entrepreneurs' Hall of Fame at Queens University in Charlotte in 2011. Mr. Ketner has had national articles published in Forbes Magazine, February 16, 1981, "What is LFPINC? "; Fortune Magazine, August 15, 1988, "Making Them Rich"; Reader's Digest, July, 1996, "You Can Make A Million."

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While Salisbury and Rowan County have benefitted greatly from the success of Food Lion, they have also benefited from Ketner's philanthropy. He is a generous supporter of Rowan Helping Ministries, Salvation Army, Rowan Cabarrus Community College, and many other worthy causes.

Ketner is the father of two adult children, Robert of Greensboro and Linda of Charleston, S.C.

Ketner will join other notable CEOs who have delivered the keynote address at Catawba's Distinguished CEO Lectures. Prior speakers have included Louis DeJoy, chief executive officer of New Breed Logistics, Inc.; Jeffrey Kane, former senior vice president in charge of the Charlotte office of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond; Bob Ingram, vice chairman pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline; Ellen Ruff, then president of Duke Energy – Carolinas; Robert Wagner, Lowe's senior vice president of specialty sales and store operations support, and Kelly King, chairman and chief executive officer of BB&T Corporation; Bryan Jordan, president and chief executive officer of First Horizon National Corporation in Memphis, Tenn.; and James H. Morgan, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc.


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