Deceased HHGregg executive prospered in tough industry

December 17, 2011

Jerry Throgmartin ran a company in one of the most competitive fields in retailing—consumer electronics—but he didn’t spend his time obsessing about rivals.

Jerry Throgmartin Throgmartin

“It is my own belief that competition doesn’t put you out of business,” he said in a 1997 interview. “You put yourself out of business, because you stop delivering what the customer wants.”

That mantra helped HHGregg Inc., the company he led during a period of explosive growth, thrive while myriad competitors faltered and went out of business, from Fretter and Highland Superstores to Circuit City.

Throgmartin, 57, died Jan. 22 at the age of 57. He was visiting his Colorado ranch when he fell ill. His family said he died from complications of meningitis—an infection that leads to inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

Throgmartin served as chairman and CEO of HHGregg from 2003 to 2009, when he became executive chairman. Throgmartin’s grandfather founded the company in 1955.

The former CEO played a “critical role” in HHGregg’s growth during a career that spanned 36 years, current CEO Dennis L. May said in a prepared statement.

Throgmartin joined the company in 1975 as a salesman and served as store manager, district manager, advertising director and store operations vice president. Before becoming CEO, he also served as president and chief operating officer.

He led the company through its 2007 initial public stock offering, which accelerated its growth. It now operates 208 stores in 16 states and has annual revenue topping $2 billion.

Junior Achievement of Central Indiana Inc. announced Jan. 9 that it had inducted Throgmartin into its Central Indiana Business Hall of Fame. He was scheduled to be honored at a Feb. 16 event along with three other inductees.

Throgmartin was heavily involved in civic and corporate circles away from HHGregg, including serving as chairman of the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center development board and the University of Indianapolis board of trustees.

Last year, he was named to the board of Hulman & Co., the Terre Haute-based company that controls the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Indianapolis bank executive Steve Stitle, who knew Throgmartin for more than two decades, called him a business visionary.

“I think Jerry had a knack for sort of going against the trend of what was happening in the electronics industry, and he understood the importance of customer service and really having outstanding people work in his business,” said Stitle, regional chairman for PNC Bank in Indiana.

Throgmartin didn’t always see himself at the helm of HHGregg, despite having been immersed in the family business from an early age.

As a teenager, sports held a bigger fascination than TVs and refrigerators. A wide receiver at Franklin Central High School, then Ball State University and the University of Indianapolis, Throgmartin dreamed of a professional football career even while peddling appliances as a part-time salesman for the growing chain.

”Everybody who comes out of high school playing football thinks they’re going to play in the pros, and I wasn’t any different than that,” he said in 2002.

Gradually, the realization set in that he wouldn’t be catching touchdown passes in the NFL. The void left by that disappointment almost immediately was filled by the prospect of a future in the family business.

He started full-time sales in 1978, when there were five HHGregg stores in Indianapolis, Kokomo and Anderson. A year later, the company’s first superstore opened near East 96th Street and Keystone Avenue, and Throgmartin became its manager.

He had barely gotten his feet wet when a devastating blow struck. At just 24, Throgmartin was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer whose treatment called for a bone marrow transplant.

In those days, such procedures were rare, and weren’t being performed here. After treatment at the Indiana University Medical Center, Throgmartin went to Houston several times, ultimately receiving the transplant in 1981.

The disease gave Throgmartin a new perspective.

“I take our business pretty seriously and I’m pretty competitive. But at the end of the day, no matter how bad it gets, it’s still just a job,” he said in 2002.

Throgmartin is survived by Peggy, his wife of 35 years, twin daughters, a son and two granddaughters.•


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