Treating employees well was also fundamental, in Wegman’s view. The result has been the company’s inclusion on FORTUNE magazine’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” for ten consecutive years starting in 1998. In 2005, Wegmans was ranked #1 on the list. Upon hearing of the #1 ranking, Robert Wegman said, “This is the culmination of my life’s work.”
One of the first actions Robert took when he became president was to raise all salaries. Within a couple of years, he implemented a broad program of health care. Later, the company added a defined contribution retirement plan, a 401K plan and a scholarship program, which has given nearly $56 million in tuition assistance to 18,000 employees since it began in 1984.
In 1987, the company created the Work-Scholarship Connection, a program that has been very successful in reducing the drop-out rate among at-risk students in the Rochester City School District. More than 1,000 middle and high school students participate in the program, and each is provided a youth advocate, part-time job, and workplace mentor at Wegmans and other companies that now participate. President George Bush presented the Work-Scholarship Connection with the Grand Prize American Business Press Points of Light Award in 1991.
Robert Wegman is also a lifelong philanthropist, especially in support of Catholic education. He and his wife, Peggy, grew up attending Rochester Catholic schools. By the mid-1980s, the demographics of the city had shifted; there were more low-income families with children to educate. In 1995, the Wegmans announced a ten-year, $25 million gift that has enabled hundreds of families from the city of Rochester to choose a Catholic education for their children, regardless of their faith. The gift, at the time, was believed to be the largest ever made to Catholic elementary education in this country. Wegman has also been a strong supporter of his high school alma mater, Aquinas Institute, and in 2004 announced a $10 million gift to the school for a new fine arts center and improved athletic facilities. He contributed $5 million to St. John Fisher College in January, 2005 which the college will use for the creation of the Wegmans School of Pharmacy, and in 2006, he donated an additional $8 million which the college will use for the creation of the Wegmans School of Nursing.
In 1997, Wegmans Food Markets became the title sponsor of the Wegmans Rochester LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) tournament that had been held in Rochester for several years. Proceeds from the tournament support two summer Rotary camps for disabled children, the impetus for Robert Wegman’s decision to help bolster the faltering tournament.