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While completing his PhD, Pichler worked as an assistant professor at the University of Kansas School of Business. Following graduation, he spent two years with the U.S. Department of Labor. Pichler then continued his work at the University of Kansas, where he later served a dean until 1981. Prior to his departure, he joined Dillon Companies, Inc. as director in 1978.

At the time of Dillon's merger with the Kroger Company in 1983, Pichler was president. He was instrumental in saving Kroger from a hostile buyout in 1989. As a result of his efforts, the company was able to retain its shareholders and keep all of its employees in place. This marked one of the few successful defenses of a buyout. He retired as chairman and CEO of Kroger in 2004.

Pichler served on the National Board of Director for Boys Hope and the advisory boards of Tougaloo College, the University of Kansas School of Business, and the University of Kansas Schools Fine Arts. He also was co-chairman of the Greater Cincinnati Scholarship Association, a trustee of United Appeal, a board member for the Cincinnati Opera, and a member of the Commercial Club.