Detours along the way: Britt Fossum’s unplanned road to Hy-Vee store director has been a welcome change

Published 5:00 am Thursday, October 31, 2019

Austin Hy-Vee Store Director Britt Fossum had a plan and behind that plan was the drive to get the best for both her and her son during the early days as a Hy-Vee employee.

But that plan was for nursing, not store director in one of the nation’s most popular grocery store chains. Still, it’s a change she’s relishing today.

“At the time I was a single mom. I was highly motivated to really progress as far as I could in whatever position I was in,” Fossum said. “Ultimately, seeking out full-time employment was important to me. I was looking for insurance, things like that.”

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During that time, Fossum was a nursing student at Rochester Technical and Community College. To get through the schooling, Fossum took a job as a part-time cashier at the Hy-Vee Barlow Plaza location in Rochester.

It didn’t take long before she started seeing movement within the company while at the same time questioning whether nursing was right for her.

“My whole life I thought I was going to be a nurse,” Fossum said, who comes from a family with nurses in it. “I always thought that it was the way I wanted to go. Ultimately, I thought nursing was the only way to help people. I’ve always loved people and wanted to help people and then going to school I realized, ‘well I don’t know if this is what I want to do.’”

Fossum jumped all-in to the journey. Six months after starting her time at the store, she was promoted to customer service clerk, and another six months later jumped to assistant manager.

She was assistant manager for a few years before she became Human Resources manager for five years, moved further up the management ladder, and then took the store director training program.

Her first job as store director was in Waseca, where she was for three years before taking the position in Austin.

“Really the biggest driving factor was my son,” Fossum said. “I had an amazing store director there that saw potential in me at that time and kind of pushed me along the way. Really, the positions just kept opening up there, good opportunities, I couldn’t say no and I didn’t want to.”

Fossum quickly realized that this was just another way to help people, even if Hy-Vee wasn’t the next planned stop in her life.

“I just stumbled on Hy-Vee,” she said. “It was a part time job to get me through school. There were other ways I could help customers, help people.”

It’s a contradiction in a way from her early impressions, admitting she didn’t see the room for advancement that is actually there.

“There were a lot of opportunities,” Fossum said. “Hy-Vee really takes care of its employees. There are just a lot of things with how Hy-Vee is trying to take care of its employees and a really amazing team at the Rochester location that was super supportive and I had an amazing store director too that kind of dangled the golden carrot.”

Fossum pointed in particular to the support from her store director at the time as being a big part of where she is now.

“He always had an open door and was willing to take the time to sit down and talk to any employee and any customer to,” Fossum said.

It’s an aspect that Fossum herself tries to bring to her own position as store director. She wants to foster that growth within her own store by doing what she can to make sure her employees have the same opportunities she had.

It’s an open door.

“It’s fun for me and rewarding to spot some talent and some drive in an employee that’s willing to and has the desire to move up in the company,” Fossum said. “It’s inspiring to me to sit with those employees to see what we can do to coach them onto that next place for finding the right seat on the bus for that employee.”

Her position also allows her to do what she loves the most. Working with people, either with those employees under her or the customers that shop her aisles.

It’s helped foster in her the love for a profession that wasn’t initially on the radar at the beginning — working for a company that puts it’s full support behind its employees.

“The appeal for me was definitely helping customers,” she said. “I love working with employees too, but Hy-Vee has a really neat structure that basically you get a lot of the benefits of running your own store, there’s still autonomy. There’s things I can do here. There’s definitely corporate programs that I fully support as well, but we can kind of adjust things on day-to-day basis to take care of what Austin wants and what each location wants without having the full risk of having your own business.”

“It’s a unique structure I haven’t seen before,” she added. “There’s a lot of great mentors along the way.”