Tommy Renda – Safeway
Assistant Sales Manager
Tommy Renda: Career & Life Shaped by Safeway
As Safeway Assistant Sales Manager Tommy Renda tells it, the supermarket chain has been an integral part of his life even before he was born. In fact, in very large part, Safeway determined where he was born and where he grew up.
It was more than 40 years ago that Tommy’s parents, Larree and Frank Renda met in Des Moines, Iowa. Larree was a produce manager in a Safeway market. Franks family owned the neighborhood Dairy Queen across the parking lot. Each day, he would come into the market to buy bananas for banana splits. There, the story goes, they began their courtship.
While Frank left Dairy Queen behind and went into construction and real estate, Larree made Safeway a career. “She started as a bagger and worked her way up to executive vice president during her 40 plus-year career,” Tommy said. One of her early promotions was to Houston in the 1980s, which is where Tommy was born. Shortly after his birth, Larree was promoted again and the family moved to Northern California. “I grew up on the Peninsula in the Burlingame/Hillsborough area,” he said, noting that he still lives in that area in the city of San Mateo.
Tommy went to the academically robust St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco and then on to the University of Portland where he received both his undergraduate degree and his MBA. He was a talented baseball player in both high school and college with fleeting dreams of becoming a professional until shoulder surgery early in his college career derailed that idea. “Before the surgery, I was a pretty good left-handed pitcher,” he says modestly.
Before going to graduate school, Tommy worked for a law firm for a short while as he studied to take the Law School Aptitude Test. His goal was to be a lawyer. “But I absolutely hated it,” he said of the law firm work. So he set his sights on an MBA and a career in the business world.
Upon graduation, Tommy was set up for a “sit down” with one of his mother’s colleagues to talk about his future and give the newly-minted MBA graduate some ideas about pursuing a career. “After we were talking for awhile, he asked me why I wasn’t going to apply for a job at Safeway,” Tommy remembers. “I told him it seemed awkward to be the boss’s kid.”
But the Safeway executive told him that there were many boss’s kids working in the organization and it wasn’t because of nepotism. Safeway, he assured him, hired the best applicant and it wasn’t based on who they were related to. Tommy did apply and was hired as an Analyst in the frozen food department in 2013. He excelled and was promoted to Senior Analyst in just the first six months. Six months later he was promoted once again and became a category manager in dairy. When Safeway merged with Albertsons in 2015, Tommy was named Assistant Sales Manager for Produce, a position he has held for the past five years. “I am responsible for 17 categories within the NorCal and Hawaii Produce Departments, all value-added categories, like packaged salads, refrigerated beverages, salad dressings & dips, bulk foods, and others. “I am in charge of the 4 P’s of Marketing – Product, Placement, Pricing and Promotions.”
He explained that in those categories, he is responsible for selecting the items for sale, constructing the schematics and merchandising direction for stores, negotiating the cost and price, and building the promotional strategy for each item.
Tommy could not be happier with his career choice. “What’s not to like? Safeway is a great company and I am incredibly happy where I am right now. I get to work with the best team in the industry. At this point, I’m still the junior produce guy with a lot to learn. Learning happens on a daily basis and keeps me hungry and excited for what’s next.”
He said Safeway was a great organization for his mother’s entire career (“They were very good to us!”) and it is proving to be equally good for him. He rattles off a list of mentors who have shepherded his career praising each one for their knowledge and eagerness to help him along. And Tommy admits to catching the “produce bug.” He said people in the produce industry have always claimed that this department is different than others…and he agrees. “There is nothing like produce. I’m in it for life,” he quipped.
Since the middle of March, Tommy has been working at home but he misses the office. He is yearning for the office to open back up and is not one who loves working for home. “It definitely makes my job more difficult,” he said. “It strips away many of things I find very exciting about the job. I love collaborating with people in retail and meeting with vendors to talk about their products and plans. Sure, I’ve gotten used to Zoom but it is less exciting. I like the face to face meeting. I want to be back in the office.”
His away-from-work life has taken a turn this year as his younger brother, Tony, retired from professional baseball and moved back to the Bay Area with his wife and son. Tony was a standout player for the University of California at Berkeley and then was drafted in the 2nd round by the Washington Nationals in 2012. “My brother is my best friend and golfing partner,” said Tommy, who plays to a 10 handicap, a tad higher than Tony’s handicap of six. “I may have beaten him a few times but he usually gets the best of me. But we don’t keep track of that. We’re both just trying to improve our game and be the best we can be and enjoy our time together on the course.”
The brothers no doubt inherited their athletic prowess from both their parents. Father Frank, who passed away 10 years ago at the early age of 56, was a standout high school baseball player and Larree was a high school state champion in hurdles. Tommy loves having his brother back home and close by. “Other than maybe our dad, I have always been Tony’s biggest fan,” he said. “He has always played on the East Coast (in the minors and majors) so I would always listen to every one of his games on my way home from work. I would have all the apps for the different clubs so I could stream the games. I hardly ever missed an inning, and even more rarely did I miss an at-bat. My yearly summer vacation was always spent in some small East Coast town watching minor League Baseball; I couldn’t have been happier about that!” This is the first summer in many years that Tony hasn’t been playing baseball and so it is also the first summer that Tommy hasn’t been cheering him on. But they have been playing a fair amount of golf and have enjoyed not having 3,000 miles between them.