Oral history interview with Herbert Retzlaff
- SR 1311
- 1989-02-15 - 1989-03-01
Part of Fred Meyer Oral History Project
This oral history interview with Herbert Retzlaff was conducted by Clark Hansen at Retzlaff's home in Portland, Oregon, from February 15 to March 1, 1989. The interview was conducted in three sessions.
In the first session, conducted on February 15, 1989, Retzlaff discusses his family background and early life in Germany, including his education, the history of the region where he grew up, and his memories of World War I. He discusses the inflation that post-World War I Germany suffered and how it led to him seeking employment abroad, and talks about his immigration to Portland, Oregon, in 1924. He talks about adjusting to life in the United States, jobs he worked when he first arrived, and studying to become an accountant. He then talks about his career as an accountant for Fred Meyer Inc. beginning in 1939. He discusses working with Fred Meyer, and talks about some of his colleagues and about the organizational structure of the company. He talks about his role as vice president in charge of the controller department of Fred Meyer Inc., from 1955 to 1972. He describes the role of the Executive Council, the organizational structure of the controller department, and the transition to computerization. He speaks about merchandising, economic forecasting, and lessons Fred Meyer Inc. learned from its competitors. He describes the growth of the company during his career, as well as purchasing real estate for new store locations.
In the second session, conducted on February 22, 1989, Retzlaff continues discussing the growth of the company during his career, as well as purchasing real estate for new store locations. He also revisits the topics of merchandising, the organizational structure of Fred Meyer Inc., and his working relationship with Fred Meyer and some of his colleagues. He talks about the formation of the employee union and its relationship with management. He then revisits the topic of his early years as an accountant at Fred Meyer Inc. from 1939 to 1955, and his role as vice president in charge of the controller department from 1955 to 1972. He discusses Fred Meyer Inc.'s acquisitions of other grocery and pharmaceutical chains; talks about legal challenges the company faced; and describes the process of the company going public. He also talks about Eva Meyer's death and its effect on Fred Meyer and the company, as well as Fred Meyer Inc.'s relationship with the Salvation Army.
In the third session, conducted on March 1, 1989, Retzlaff continues discussing Fred Meyer Inc.'s relationship with the Salvation Army, as well as other charities. He speaks at length about Fred Meyer's personality; his relationships with family, friends, and employees; and his management style. He then talks about some of Fred Meyer, Inc.'s business ventures, including the Eve's Restaurant chain of coffee shops, the Willamette Savings and Loan, and some of the company's other acquisitions. He also talks about the sale of Fred Meyer Inc. to the Kravitz, Kohlberg, & Roberts Company. He discusses the company politics that led Fred Meyer to step away from the day-to-day operations of the company. He talks about his retirement in 1972, Fred Meyer's death in 1978, and the management at Fred Meyer Inc., at the time of the interview in 1989. He closes the interview by sharing his thoughts about the future of Fred Meyer Inc.
Retzlaff, Herbert, 1903-1999