He revolutionized the grocery shopping experience, but would prefer his United Supermarkets' employees get the credit for their hard work and dedication.
His philanthropic efforts, both business and personal, have touched much of Lubbock. But instead of personal recognition he is more concerned donations be well managed to maximize the benefit to those in need.
Robert Snell is - reluctantly, if you were to ask him - one of Lubbock's most influential businessmen. He shuns publicity and recognition to the degree that even his family and closest friends are reluctant, for fear of offending him, to offer observations on Snell's significant place in Lubbock's history.
Privately, though, they describe Snell as a man "who loves a good relationship, his family and sharing." He is said to feel "a deep level of need for giving while still maintaining a life that is private."
On the business side of Snell's career, he changed grocery shopping from the grab-a-can and pay for it at the cashier model to a "shopping experience" with heavy emphasis on customer service. His personal philosophy is evident when he refers to customers as "guests" and employees as "our people."
Philanthropically, Snell's and United's most visible mark is the United Spirit Arena on the Texas Tech campus. Snell planted the seed for the facility with a $10 million donation on behalf of United for the $40 million arena, which was named after the company.
At the opening game in the new arena, Snell observed the crowd and told a reporter, "The people seem happy. That's what is important. ... We're grateful to be a part of this. Lubbock deserves it."
Snell was the third member of his family to stand at the helm of United's operations. He steered the family business through its most dramatic growth period.
United's roots go back to 1916, when H.D. Snell opened his first United Cash Store in Sayre, Okla. Today, his legacy is more than 40 stores in 28 Texas cities and more than 9,500 employees.
Robert Snell graduated from Duke in 1969 and returned to the family business.
He was named president of the company in 1976. He expanded into new markets and changed the mold for United stores with the construction of a spacious Lubbock store in Kingsgate Mall.
His innovative Market Street concept, first seen in Lubbock at the 50th Street and Indiana Avenue location, drew both customers and praise from national supermarket publications. The blend of on-site dining, specialty items, bakery, fresh fish and meat market service was so successful that it led to two other similar "concept stores," including entries into the Metroplex markets.
True to his grandfather's commitment to "build up" the community, Snell and the company responded to frustrations of minority communities in north and east Lubbock at having to drive across town to shop. United built new stores to serve those areas.
Snell is credited with the decision to build the company's own distribution center, which opened in Lubbock in 2000.
The restaurant at United's 50th Street and Avenue Q location is named Henry D's in honor of Snell's father and grandfather.
Several endowments and scholarships at Texas Tech bear the name of the Snell family or United, and the company contributes to the community in numerous other ways.
Snell stepped down as president of the company in 1999 but is chairman of the board. Two nephews, Gant and Matt Bumstead, now serve as co-presidents.
"If you ask people inside our organization about Robert, they'll first say he's generous, and generous with his time ... secondly, very humble. He looks at business through lens of everyday people. From time to time, executive teams get focused on big issues ... Robert wants to know what it means to the sacker, checker and homemaker who comes to the store," said Dan Sanders, United's chief executive officer.
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