A Conversation With Dan Bane

By Timothy O. Knight

Trader Joe’s chairman and CEO Dan Bane ’69 is the 2012 Asa V. Call Alumni Achievement Award recipient.

Photo by Jon Edwards
Photo by Jon Edwards

Dan Bane ’69, chairman and CEO of Trader Joe’s, is the 2012 recipient of the USC Alumni Association Asa V. Call Alumni Achievement Award. The former accountant joined the specialty grocery retailer in 1998 as president of western operations. Three years later, he was promoted to chairman and CEO. Under his leadership, Trader Joe’s has become one of the country’s most successful privately held companies. He spoke with the USC Alumni Association’s Timothy O. Knight.

What inspired you to attend USC? My older brother, Richard, was at USC, and I sneaked into the student section as a high schooler for the ’SC vs. Notre Dame game in 1964. The Trojans beat the top-ranked Irish 20-17 on a Fertig-to-Sherman pass over the middle with only 1:35 remaining! Where else was I going to go to school? Oh yeah, they also offered me an academic scholarship.

You played on USC’s 1968 College World Series championship team and have said that you modeled your leadership style on that of legendary USC baseball coach Rod Dedeaux. Could you elaborate on that? Coach Dedeaux was a tremendous leader who taught me (and many others) that you kept working for perfection, had fun and played your part on the team. Since he also was a good judge of talent, I had the fortune of being able to study him from the bench a lot because I did not play much. It was like getting an MBA in managing people. Coach was a great guy who became a good friend in later life.

How did your USC education help prepare you to take the helm of a company with estimated annual sales of $8.5 billion? After three weeks as a math major, I switched to accounting. It was a smart move because accounting really is the language of business. I have used my understanding of accounting to help me in every position I’ve held over the years.

Why do you call working at Trader Joe’s “the best job in America?” What’s not to like? We taste food every day. I bag groceries for customers and work with some of the best people in America!

Do you have a favorite Trader Joe’s product? My favorite product is Charles Shaw wine. Even after all these years, “Two-Buck Chuck” is our best-selling item. You may not find too many bottles in my wine alcove, but it is my favorite because it is our customers’ favorite.

Why are you so passionate about giving back to USC? USC has been an important part of my life. The opportunity to maintain a connection with the university as it grows and as we grow is very special.

What does receiving the USC Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Asa V. Call Alumni Achievement Award, mean to you? As a freshman in 1966, I recall John Wayne giving me $10 to watch his car (a big cardinal Cadillac with longhorns adorning the grille) while he attended an awards luncheon at Town & Gown. This is even better! Seriously, this is a great honor, but one that would not be possible without the support of my wife, Sandra, my entire family and my fellow Trader Joe’s crew members.

One of your children is a USC graduate. What advice did you give her about attending your alma mater? I don’t really recall any of my kids needing or wanting my advice. My daughter, Samantha, went to the football games since she was an infant and has been a Trojan since birth. Each of my other children went to schools that were perfect for them.