Rick Shrum

Column Rick Shrum

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a business reporter in 2012. Prior to that, he was a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he won a Golden Quill and three other writing awards. He has worked for daily newspapers for 30-plus years, splitting time between news and sports operations. A lifelong Pittsburgher, he is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh.

Heinz still a hometown favorite

March 19, 2013

It wasn’t just the pickle pin you got upon entering, or the days-of-yore tour when you actually could watch people making relish and soup. Or the diminutive samples you took home, or the sweet aromas emanating from ubiquitous city smokestacks of the time. Or the charming tale of its genesis: a 19th century teen selling horseradish door to door.

Those experiences ingratiated me to Heinz, a fondness that grew with each devoured burger, frank, kielbasa and wurst that was pleasantly adorned by the firm’s ketchup, mustand and/or relish.

No single memory or culinary pleasure, however, is the overriding reason I was gratified by H.J. Heinz Co.’s decision to stay put following its recent sale. As part of the agreement, William R. Johnson, chairman, president and chief executive officer, stipulated that the headquarters of the global food manufacturer remain on the North Shore, at the foot of Troy Hill.

That’s the way it should be. Pittsburgh and Heinz is a perfect marriage, even better than its ketchup and fries. It’s been 144 years of wedded bliss, and they’re still making each other better.

Now Johnson, 64, stands to benefit greatly from the $28 billion sale to Berkshire Hathaway Inc., owned by the fabled Warren Buffett, and 3G Capital. Bloomberg.com has reported that Heinz’s top exec could receive more than $200 million if he exits after the sale goes through. Not even baseball players get that much.

This, of course, is if the sale goes through. Allegations of insider trading are being investigated, and the outcome could imperil the transaction. But that isn’t likely.

That figure is astounding, but do not begrudge the man his money. Johnson has been at Heinz for three decades, the past 15 years as CEO, and the company is more than viable. Acccording to its website, www.heinz.com, Heinz is an $11.6 billion global company whose products have a No. 1 or 2 market share in more than 50 countries, and which employs about 32,000 worldwide.

A big huzzah to the man for keeping it here.

Some may question whether Heinz’s continued presence is vital to Pittsburgh. I don’t. The company is profitable, provides jobs and enhances the city. Being a fabric of the region, and remaining so, is a public relations boon for a place that needs that.

A long time ago, in the late 1970s, the city business community was rocking. Pittsburgh was No. 3 nationally in number of corporate headquarters. Steel and other industries proliferated here, as did related industries, banks and other financial services.

Industry plummeted starting in the early 1980s, and it was accompanied by wholesale departures of corporate headquarters. That abated in recent years, and companies again are locating their U.S. HQs here, some in Southpointe and Southpointe II.

Losing Heinz would have been an uppercut to the region’s solar plexus, even if it no longer makes ketchup, soup, relish or any of its other fabled 57 varieties above the shores of the Allegheny.

Hooray for Heinz. And, again, hooray for Bill Johnson.

Rick Shrum is a business writer for the Observer-Reporter.



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