This is a Thanksgiving column dedicated to Izzy Cohen and Ralph Cantwell.
But it's a tribute to tens of thousands of Washington area men and women who have risen through the ranks of their companies to become branch managers. These persons seldom receive recognition in the mass media, dominated as it is by bigger news event and so-called Very Important People - board chairmen, presidents, executtive vice presidents, directors.
First, a little background.
Cohen is Israel Cohen, major stock-holder and new president-chief executive officer of Giant Food, Inc., a Landover firm that is one of the area's two principal food retailers.
Cantwell joined Giant in 1956 as a part-time messenger and next Monday will become general manager of the food chain's newest store, a 40,000-square-foot food and pharmacy combination at 46 Bureau Drive in Gaithersburg.
In this town, where more new retail outlets are opened every week than many communities open in a year, a new branch store for Giant and a new general manager normally don't warrant much attention on the evening broadcasts or in your morning newspaper.
To Cohen, that adds up to injustice, In a recent, three-page letter to this newspaper, the Giant officer took the news media to task for ignoring "a human side to our growth story, one which we feel to be as important as being able to report annual increaes in sales and earnings."
As Giant grows, Cohen continued - a letter that some subordinates suggested not be sent - more opportunities arise for people to advance and earn new responsibilities. And one of the most important positions is that of store general manager, he said, adding:
"For many of our people, attaining that rank is the pinnacle of their career . . . We have been disappointed for some time that all too often, the store manager's name does not receive any mention . . . For the over-whelming majoirty of people, getting one's name and picture in the newspaper is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
The Cohen letter was dated Nov.2 and sure enough, in the mailthis week arrived a Giant Food announcement about its newest store-a five page press release, just for one branch.
So Cantwell is lucky; he'll be getting his name and picture in this newspaper today, sort of a proxy for the men and woman before and after who have or will get similarpositions without much public recognition.
But the episode also shows something about Cohen, normally a very secretive man to the press, one who manages to avoid media interviews and who doesn't want photographs taken of him.
Shortly after Cohen took over, a Washington Post reporter begged, pleaded and even pulled strings to get an appointment to talk about Giant's expansion plans and its computer checkouts, which are the most sophisticated in the food business. For three hours, teams of vice presidents laid out the company's plans in elaborate detail, but there was no sign of the boss. "Izzy says there's nothing he could add," explained an apologetic public relations man.
It's a far dufferent top mmanagement image than that provided previously at Giant by the always ebullient Joseph B. Danzansky, who now has the title of chairman. Danzansky, who now has the title of chairman. Danzansky relished the role of representing Giant before its public-the media, consumers, local business groups, staste legislatures.
But the man who "ran" Giant, in terms of management of day-to-day problems at a large food chain, was Izzy Cohen, according to his associates and competitors. Cohen is the man who "knows" the food business, it is said.
Having spent so many years out of the limelight himself before deciding he would like to be president of his company, it is only natural that Cohen seeks publicity for other people who toil behind the scenes.
In addition, onesupects that Cohen's unhappiness with the inattention given by the press to the routine developments in his company is representative of the unexpressed thoughts of many other businessmen and women, whose publice relations people tell them not to write such letters as Cohen wrote.
But perhaps the most interesting part of Cohen's letter is the data he provided on each individual Giant suspermarket's business.
Giant invests $1.37 million in a new store, not counting land costs and legal fees ($1 million for construction alone at $26.50 a square foot); $1.2 millionfor equipment and fixtures in a food-pharmacy combination; and $360,000 for an opening day's merchandise inventory($25,000 of cosmetics, $20,000 of produce, $20,000 of meat, $135,000 of grocery-bakery-frozen goods; $7,000 of tobacco).
To manage this initial investment of more than $3million per store, Giant pays its manager $22,672 to $30,524 a year, depending on annual store volume. The new, big stores take in up to $12 million a year for consumers and employ 100 workers.
Training for the general manager's position takes a minimum of 2 1/2 years of intensive preparation and 2 1/2 years on the job.
As for Ralph Cantwell, the beneficiary of all this, he became a full time store checker in 1958, an assistant manager in 1959, "assistant manager of the year" in 1968, a graduate of Giant store at 1850 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, the same year.
He lives in Gaithersburg, near the new Montgomery Village store that opens on Monday. His wife is a florist at one of the Silver Spring Giant stores. And one of the Cantwell's seven children is a part-time checker in Bethesda.
Oh! We almost forgot the assistant manager for the new store. He's John Harich, former assistant manager of a Silver Spring Giant.