Inaugural Mike Roach Leadership Award goes to Merchants Foodservice’s Cheatham

ON October 17 James “Woody” Cheatham, regional president at Merchants Foodservice, was presented the inaugural Mike Roach Leadership Award during the IFDA Distribution Solutions Conference.

Cheatham received the award based on a survey of participants in the “2016 IFDA Executive Development Program for Foodservice Distributors” who identified the top student contributors in the 2016 program. Professors from the Darden School of Business who led sessions during the program also participated in the survey.

“The genesis of the award was due to two events,” said Mike Sweet, president of Ben E Keith Foods. “The first was the 2015 launch of the IFDA Executive Development Program, which provides a unique opportunity for leaders to grow as strategic thinkers, as decisionmakers, and in other key leadership skills. Also in 2015, Mike Roach retired from Ben E Keith Foods after 19 years as president of our company.”

Sweet said that establishing the award was a way to recognize the leadership principles embodied by Roach and reinforces the ideals behind the IFDA Executive Development Program.

The criteria classmates and professors considered included, in brief, being an exceptional communicator, being a strong critical thinker, showing a passion for people, having vision as a leader and showing respect to his or her peers.

In presenting the award, Mike Roach said it was an honor to recognize a member of the 2016 class, and that the concepts participants discuss in the program are important to the future of foodservice distribution.

“While the enjoyment of dining out remains the same as it has for many years, we know that today this is a much more complex industry than it was 20 or 30 years ago,” said Roach. “More than ever, we need exceptional leaders at our companies to help lead us into the future. The IFDA Executive Development Program at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business is a timely program that helps foodservice distributor leaders in our industry take their skills to the next level.”

Roach said that in the survey responses, one faculty member said Cheatham “inspired others in the program and had the ability to rally others to his point of view. When he wasn’t able to convince others, he thoughtfully listened, and was never afraid to change his own mind about something.”

Another described Cheatham as “an inspiring industry leader who demonstrates a great deal of humility and authenticity.”

In receiving the award, Cheatham said it was a unique and rewarding experience to participate in the program, and that while he was honored, he also felt that there were many talented classmates deserving of the recognition.

“In addition to the skills in critical thinking, strategic thinking, ethics, and so many other areas we discussed as a group — one of the most valuable takeaways for me are the relationships I had the opportunity to develop with peers during this program,” he said.

Cheatham also said he would encourage all IFDA distributor members to participate in the program.  ♦

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