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Following in father's footsteps

Wendy Pottruff gets dad's job as regional manager for Safeway

Wendy Pottruff knows her promotion to Safeway's Southern Oregon district manager position will be challenging.

She'll be following a man who spent 21 years in the post. And not only will the former district manager be staying in the area, he may well be at her house when she gets home every now and again.

Having Larry Levens hovering from time to time is nothing new for Pottruff. Fathers do that.

In what is believed to be a first for the nationwide grocery chain, Pottruff will succeed her father as district manager Jan. 2.

But both Levens and Pottruff say they won't mix business with family.

She's got the reins, although I'm still very interested in the business, Levens says. She's been on her own for several years now. We have our styles and she's certainly her own person.

He's not going to be in any role larger than father, says Pottruff, a 34-year-old Medford High and Southern Oregon University graduate. I'm going to be able to stand here on my own two feet.

Pottruff got her start in Safeway at 16 as a courtesy clerk at the West Main Street store in Medford, working the bottle return, chasing carts in the lot and cleaning bathrooms.

She got the job without her dad's knowledge. She says making her own way in the company has always been important to her and her brother, Christopher, who's the meat department manager at a Safeway in Cottage Grove.

We haven't ever felt we've wanted to ride his coattails, she says.

Pottruff worked her way up and became a night manager at the Grants Pass store. When she decided to enter the management training program, she went to Eugene -- out of her father's district.

He'd been a great resource as a father but I was looking to branch out and spread my wings, she says. I wanted to go somewhere they didn't know me as his daughter.

Pottruff spent five years as an assistant manager at three Eugene Safeways before becoming store manager in Vancouver, Wash., where she spent two years. A year and a half ago, she moved to the Portland office to work as an assistant district manager.

Pottruff, Levens and Safeway spokeswoman Bridget Flanagan all insist family ties didn't help Pottruff land the job.

Regardless of your name, you have to have results, Pottruff says.

Flanagan admits the father-daughter story is an interesting one but she says it wasn't by design.

We don't do cute, she says.

In fact, they say it's unusual that Pottruff gets to return to her home town -- let alone succeed her father. When someone climbs through the ranks, they don't get to pick where they'll manage.

We could have ended up anywhere, Pottruff says of her husband, Mike, and 2-year-old daughter Emily. It's just amazing.

As for Levens, he's ready for a break after 21 years based in Medford overseeing stores from Florence to Roseburg to Klamath Falls to Ashland.

I try to be in each store every couple of weeks, says Levens, 56, who watched the number of stores he supervises rise to 17 when Medford's third location opened earlier this month.

He's averaged 40,000 miles a year on his cars and got a different one about every year and a half. Days after getting her learner's permit at age 15, Pottruff piloted one of her dad's journeys from Medford to Lakeview.

I've never been the same since, Levens jokes.

His road warrior days may not all be behind him. Levens plans to travel and spoil his grandchildren in his retirement.

The pace will certainly be different, he says, adding that his wife of 35 years, Carolyn, does have plans for him. My wife tells me I'm being promoted to assistant manager of the house.

Wendy Pottruff is succeeding her father, Larry Levens, as Southern Oregon district manager for Safeway Stores Inc. In the background, employees of the new Safeway store on Highway 62 prepare it for opening. - Photo by Jim Craven