Interview and Introduction: Anthony Santorelli, the BFC’s new GM

February 14, 2024
Shareholder Services
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For a little context: this is written from the perspective of a BFC staff member who has worked at the Co-op for about thirteen years in various departments: first in the Kitchen, then Shareholder Services, and now as the Content & Community Relations Coordinator. (My name is Ruth and a lot of you reading this probably know me. Hi!)

Meet Anthony Santorelli, our new General Manager. Anthony has been the Chief Finance Officer at the Co-op for less than a year, but in that time he has applied himself with great skill to the job of making stuff happen—lots of good stuff. He was hired by our previous GM, Lee; they worked together in their pre-BFC careers. When Lee was given the opportunity last summer to serve out his purpose in this life on a bigger scale, he was impelled to take it, leaving a Lee-shaped hole to fill by we did not know who. Happily, Anthony applied for the position, and after months of interviewing candidates from all over the country, the Board of Directors offered him the job. 

With Anthony’s partnership, Lee’s dreams were given solidity and room to grow. Playfulness and creativity poured into our co-op, and Anthony was an integral part of bringing all that fun to fruition. He was able to confidently show us the boundaries of our sandbox, so to speak, and found a surprising amount of room and dependability and opportunity there. Now he is continuing that work in his new role—seeing ways we can use all that space and fortify it and maybe get some new toys in here, too. 

Anthony grew up in a small town in rural Pennsylvania. As a young man he set his sights on becoming a banker. It wasn’t until college that he grew his hair long and developed a serious long-term condition called The Grateful Dead. He still got a degree in business and, indeed, became a banker soon after graduating. But he was a banker with a ponytail. 

One of the hallmarks of his career has been a combination of restraint, self-knowledge, and integrity. In being interviewed for this piece, he gave a number of examples of when he turned down or delayed promotions because he felt he needed more on-the-ground experience. Even early on, at that first job at the bank, he requested to be put to work as a teller before going into his role in operations. Only after he’d learned those ropes did he feel he was able to do the job well. 

His early adulthood brought him here, to southern Vermont, for a job at the School for International Training (SIT) in the early 90s. He managed sub grants: dispersing money awarded to SIT and monitoring its spending. He wanted more on-the-ground experience there, too, and could have traveled to Cambodia to witness what was being done with the allocated money. But his then-wife became pregnant, and with children on the horizon, she didn’t want to move to Asia. They needed stability, and thus began his corporate career in grocery distribution, at C&S Wholesale Grocers. 

Over time, he got his MBA, and eventually started working as part of a team that bought and sold grocery businesses, and fused them together. It sounds like it was a thrillride of big numbers, great successes, and challenges overcome with creativity and camaraderie. Now he says he was brainwashed by the “e suite” (executive suite) lifestyle. But it is apparent there had to be something besides money, too, to keep his fire burning. Anthony is clearly good at his job, whatever that job happens to be; he seems to be fueled by a desire to do excellent work, and by the thrill of accomplishing big goals as part of a collaborative team. He found all of these satisfactions during that time, and has found them here, too. 

If I may speak in the first person for a moment: from my standpoint, it seems like having the experience of working with all those giant corporate sums and high-level, big-business decisions have given Anthony (and perhaps all of our co-op’s corporate escapees) an ability to play and imagine and conceive of things on an exponentially larger scale than what I am used to. I imagine it like this: whereas I’m comfortable playing with normal-sized Legos—I can have fun making some really cool towers and stuff, but the pieces are pretty small—Anthony’s blocks are, like, the size of a car. Lee’s were, too. And that comfort and confidence with that level of impact and risk gives him the capacity to incorporate creativity and imagination into places that, to me, seem scary and intimidating. Plus, I think coming from the outside of the established food cooperative world lends a fresh perspective. He’s wearing a different pair of glasses than I am. His may allow for more long-distance vision.  

Thankfully for us, Anthony grew out of the executive suite and into this collective enterprise we call the Brattleboro Food Co-op. His ambitions have shifted; he wants to achieve goals that contribute to the betterment of the lives of our staff, our owners, and our members of the broader community. We are super grateful that he has decided to apply his great skill and experience to that end as part of our cooperative! 

And now, the interview:

What do you see as the biggest challenges we will face in the next 5 years?

This is a very broad question that I may or may not take down the appropriate path but I will address it by looking at both external and internal challenges. Externally we need to be cognizant of environmental, social, and economic concerns that are affecting our country, state, and local communities, and how we can best position ourselves to be a voice in those areas—keeping our focus on environmental sustainability, and being a strong voice, and, hopefully, a leader of our community. Internally (meaning within the four walls of our operations) the world of grocery is still consolidating, putting pressure on the smaller retail operators such as ourselves.  The supply chain is getting tighter and automation is finding its way into all aspects of it. In the short term, I believe this will drive up pricing, before the real benefits are realized. So we need to continue to be creative: searching for additional revenue streams to help weather this storm; focusing on how to keep our employees and customers happy, healthy, and engaged.

And why I put all of this in the “challenging” bucket is because the world is ever-changing, and we need to change with it while still staying true to ourselves, our shareholders, and our community.  

What solutions do you see to those problems?

I am hoping the above helps answer this one a bit, but for example:

  • Community partnerships
  • Vendor partnerships
  • Member engagement
  • Employee engagement

How does your experience in the wholesale grocery business affect your job here at the co-op?

Coming from the other side of the business does allow me to see the bigger picture of things.  I have an understanding of how wholesale-to-retail Supply Agreements work, I understand the workings of the supply chain itself. This big picture view, I believe, will allow me to ask more pointed questions when both good and bad things may occur.

What values and/or ideas from your previous corporate career do you think are most helpful in this new context at the BFC?

One thing we have to keep in mind is that, whether we like it or not, the Co-op is a business.  So while we still have principles, values, and ends that drive our collective, we also need to be fundamentally sound in our process in order to succeed in those ventures.  

What is your guiding light these days? What inspires you about working here? What inspired you to apply for this position?

I took the CFO position with the mindset that I am joining an organization that aligns with what I want to accomplish, or has a hand in accomplishing things that are meaningful to me. My desire is to give back to the community I am a part of. While working in that role I was introduced to the team itself and various Co-op members who further confirmed my decision. The General Manager position just felt like the next logical step to further that overall mission.

How do you think the Grateful Dead has affected your personal worldview and/or your perspective on the business world? You could answer from the perspective of the actual band and the music itself and/or your experiences at the shows. (serious question)

Love this question. I will start off by saying that my personal Grateful Dead experience has been one of enlightenment in terms of who I am, what I can aspire to be and how I can utilize my place in this world to be a better person for myself, the planet and all its inhabitants.

When it comes to music, I am a big fan of the lyrics, and the message, and I have personally found many verses in their songs that have stuck with me over time.  And I like to think that I live my life in this context.  So, in no particular order (I think, anyway), here are a few lyrics that helped shape my path in life, make me smile, make me cry, make me want to be a better person.

“Mamma Mamma many worlds I’ve come since I first left home”

“Picture a bright blue ball just spinning, spinning free It’s dizzying, the possibilities”

“One man gathers what another man spills”

There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night”

“Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world”

“Someday everything is going to be different, when I paint my masterpiece”

“The grass ain’t greener, the wine ain’t sweeter, either side of the hill”

“Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right”

“Twist their arms around you, slap you till you cry / Wrap you in their sweet perfume and love you till you die”

“You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t want to know”

“When you get confused listen to the music play”

“Now, I don’t know but I been told / It’s hard to run with the weight of gold / Other hand I’ve heard it said / It’s just as hard with the weight of lead”

“I had a job trading bits for pieces We’d make wrinkles, advertise them as creases”

“Without love in the dream, it will never come true”

“There were days I know / When all we ever wanted / Was to learn and love and grow / Once we grew into our shoes / We told them where to go / Walked halfway around the world / On promise of the glow”

“Stood upon a mountain top / Walked barefoot in the snow / Gave the best we had to give / How much we’ll never know”

“Nothing left to do but Smile, Smile, Smile”

“What a long strange trip it’s been”