A Few Minutes with the Founder of Fresh Fields

I caught up with Mark Ordan on the telephone Friday. We talked on the phone instead of lunching.

Mark is one of the primary movers and the founders behind the Fresh Fields grocery store chain, which he sold to Whole Foods in 1996 for $150 million and remains one of its shareholders. (The Carlyle Group and one of its alumni, David Dupree, now of the Halifax Group, also had a hand in the success of Fresh Fields as one of its investors.) He also had a successful run with Balducci's and put the Mills Corp., the shopping mall developer in Chevy Chase, back in shape for a resale earlier this year.

We can't let it go without saying Ordan had a nice payday during his brief term as chief executive of Mills Corp., receiving a $5 million departure package, a salary of $695,000 and a bonus of $400,000 over the past year.

Ordan was recruited by the Mills board early last year to save a company that struggled with heavy debt and an accounting scandal that has led to a probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Mark, 48, lives in Bethesda and likes to go boating on the Chesapeake.

Ordan has an interesting background. He grew up in Brooklyn, where one of his favorite hobbies was repairing and selling stereo systems. He majored in philosophy at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he is now a trustee and on which he spends much of his time. He worked at Goldman Sachs before inventing Fresh Fields. He is the former chairman of Federal Realty Investment Trust, another REIT that owns most of Rockville Pike.

I asked Mark, who owns a bunch of shares of Whole Foods, what he thought about the company's co-founder and chief executive John Mackey, who on Tuesday apologized following the recent revelation that he used an alias for nearly eight years to post messages on Yahoo Finance message boards, bashing competitors and praising himself and his company. The Whole Foods board of directors announced it will launch an internal investigation, and the Securities and Exchange Commission is examining the chief executive's posts to see if they violated the law.

"What's happened is unfortunate, but he is a very talented leader and has done an amazing job of running Whole Foods," Ordan said of Mackey. "John's an unusual guy but a very talented guy. He did what many people don't do. He immediately apologized and said I made a mistake and it was bad judgment. I think that's impressive about him."

So what's Ordan up to, other than boating on the Chesapeake and hanging out in Bethesda?

"I'm looking at different things. One of the things that I loved was that the Mills biggest shareholders were some major hedge funds and I enjoy working with hedge funds and running companies with hedge fund investors because they are smart, understand value and can make quick decisions."

Mark left open the idea of getting back into retailing. He brought up Giant Foods, the Washington grocery giant that was founded by the local Cohen Family and sold to Dutch supermarket operator Royal Ahold in 1998.

"I certainly think Giant has a fabulous franchise and it's a business I know," said Ordan. "I would love to see Giant become a better and better company. I don't think it's anything like it was when Izzy Cohen and Peter Manos ran the company. I'm a customer. I go there. There are thousands of employees at Giant and I think it's a great team.

"In general, I like to look at companies that go in a different direction. I love working with people," he said.

Mark said he gave up his season tickets to the Washington Wizards because he kept missing games and the Mills Corp. had seats. But he left the door open on getting back in at the Verizon Center. Expect a call from former Wizards President Susan O'Malley, who is vacationing in Nantucket and still a consultant to the team.

-- Thomas Heath

By Mike Shepard  |  July 20, 2007; 3:07 PM ET
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Where, oh, where is Craig Weller when we need him most?

Posted by: Not Important | July 21, 2007 8:23 AM

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