When Ron Pearson graduated from college he had a multitude of job offers, many from large retail corporations who offered generous starting salaries, management training programs, and payment of tuition for a graduate degree. But Pearson turned them all down, choosing instead to take a position with HyVee earning a mere $100 per week because he thought the company had lots of room to grow. And grow it has. Pearson became CEO of the company in 1989 and under his leadership HyVee became Iowa’s largest private employer.
Born in 1940 Ron Pearson was the middle child in a family of nine. His parents ran a small grocery store, first on the east side of Des Moines and then in Altoona. Pearson has said he got his start in the grocery business at age 5 or 6 putting cookies into bag. He fell in love with the business, a love he would maintain throughout his life.
Pearson joined Hy-Vee as a part-time employee in 1960 after the grocery chain purchased his parent’s store in Altoona. When he graduated from Drake University in 1962 with a degree in marketing, he took the full-time job with HyVee. He started working at a store in Burlington; within two years he was managing a new store in Cedar Falls. In 1974 he became district manager, then moved to the company’s headquarters in Chariton and rising up the ranks until he was named chairman and CEO in 1989.
Pearson recognized the changing needs of his customers. Hy-Vee services expanded from groceries to include banking, pharmacy, bill-paying, laundry pick-up, video rentals and film processing. In the mid 90s the company headquarters were moved from Chariton to West Des Moines. By 2003 the employee-owned company had sales of $4.2 billion from 219 retail stores, 191 supermarkets and 28 drug stores in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota.