Jewel-Osco President Doug Cygan, a native of Mundelein, died Thursday morning at the age of 55.
A spokeswoman for the Itasca-based supermarket chain said Cygan suffered from a brief illness before his passing.
"Doug was a popular president, a strong leader within the company and in the community," Jewel-Osco spokeswoman Mary Frances Trucco said in a statement Thursday. "Everyone at Jewel-Osco is devastated by his passing."
Cygan is a prime example of how a local boy rose through the ranks, from shagging grocery carts to leading one of the country's largest grocery chains in a fiercely competitive industry. The company leader, who rarely wore ties because they were too "stuffy" and sent the wrong message, began as a part-time clerk with Jewel-Osco more than 30 years ago, eventually working his way up to president in 2017.
Before the Wadsworth resident was named president, he was vice president of marketing and merchandising for all of the 187 Jewel-Osco stores in the Chicago area.
Cygan grew up in Mundelein and graduated from Mundelein High School in 1981. He started as a part-time clerk and eagerly retrieved carts from the parking lot. But in a 2017 Daily Herald interview, he admitted he was too eager with the carts.
"During my first week on the job, I almost got fired," Cygan said. "I thought I was just supposed to grab the carts and bring them back, but the boss took me aside and said my priority was to help the customers and then bring back the carts. I learned an important lesson that day about customer service. It taught me right away what I should be doing -- take care of the customers first. And I still do that today. If I'm in a parking lot and see someone needs help, I help them, even if I'm there shopping myself."
Cygan worked at Jewel during the summers and every break while earning a bachelor's degree in business and food distribution from Western Michigan University.
After college, he said he stayed with Jewel because he enjoyed the job and meeting people.
That's when he went into the company's management training program. He continued to climb the ladder at the company that began in 1899 as a group of door-to-door salesmen selling tea and coffee from the back of horse-drawn wagons.
Cygan was married to Shonna Cygan for 11 years. They had one child together and were raising a combined five children from their previous marriages.
"When I told the kids that I became president, they asked me, 'What do you want to do next?' And I said that you should always be looking for that next job. I've been very fortunate. You never really know that when you put yourself in a position if you'll get the next one, because ultimately it's all up to the company."
His family could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Cygan told the Daily Herald that he's the same kid from Mundelein who likes an occasional Coors Light and enjoys talking with people, living a modest lifestyle and taking family vacations at Walt Disney World in Florida.
He did a great deal of traveling as an executive, often to various markets to check out the competition and to see how stores were doing.
He had said that longevity with the company seems to run in his family. Brother Rich Cygan, a store director in Bartlett, has been with Jewel for more than four decades. Scott Cygan, a store director in Highland Park, has been with the grocery chain for 40 years.
Doug Cygan also served on the boards of the Northern Illinois Food Bank and NorthPointe Resources, a not-for-profit that provides health services for people with behavioral and developmental disabilities.
In the 1990s, Jewel-Osco supplied food to Peapod, the grocery delivery service. About 17 years ago, Peapod opted to start sourcing from wholesalers.
Between Peapod's leaving and the influx of retail options and meal-kit delivery services, Cygan made a point to offer customers the option of purchasing groceries on the internet.