Former Wawa CEO talks leadership

By Ryan Connelly 

Howard Stoeckel, ‘67, former chief executive officer of Wawa, spoke to Rider students on Oct. 30 about being a leader.

Howard Stoeckel, ’67, former chief executive officer of Wawa, stood before students and faculty to speak about what it means to be a leader on Oct. 30.

“Two things I had were common sense and a good foundation here at Rider University,” said Stoeckel. “I set on a journey to learn as much about leadership as I could. Never for a moment did I think I’d be a CEO.” 

Stoeckel graduated from Rider with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. In 1987, he joined Wawa as vice president of human resources. After climbing the ladder at Wawa, he was named CEO of the company in 2005. 

Stoeckel said he didn’t do very well in high school. In fact, most of his teachers would often tell him and his parents that college was probably out of the question. He was then accepted into Rider by “the skin of his teeth” and did fairly well. He even made dean’s list twice during his time at Rider. 

In 1967, when Stoeckel started off his career, he knew what he wanted to do but was intimidated at the competition he had around him. 

“I knew I wanted business; I knew I wanted some type of leadership role,” said Stoeckel. “I looked around and said, ‘Look at these people coming from Harvard. Look at these people coming from Yale.’ These are people that had much more of an academic [gift] than I did.”

One of the main points that Stoeckel focused on during his speech was making mistakes. He touched on how he made more mistakes than anybody and that’s why he’s succeeded. He argued that, out of every mistake he has made, success has come out of it.

 “I was willing to take risks, willing to a make a mistake, willing to pay consequences and willing to move on,” said Stoeckel.

Even though Stoeckel was much older than the audience he was presenting to, he made sure to use examples from students’ everyday lives to help them better understand what he was saying. 

“When students hear from a Rider alumni who has made his way to CEO, the lessons about servant leadership definitely sink in,” said senior environmental studies major, Olivia Barone.” I think students can really reflect on their leadership style and apply the servant leadership techniques Howard introduced, and basically swore by, to their own experiences as student leaders on campus, whether through clubs, organizations or even in group projects.”

Stockel talked about why great businesses such as Blockbuster and Toys R Us did not continue to succeed. 

“Great brands simply lost their way. Great institutions, great businesses and great organizations could lose their way because they don’t have good leaders. People in those organizations don’t pull together toward a common cause.” 

He reiterated that things are too complicated for one person to do on their own. There are people to help one another when things get out of hand. 

“I think servant leadership is the best kind of leadership style,” said Barone. “Howard discussed how important it is for a leader to understand you cannot do anything alone and, with recognition and encouragement, great things can happen.” 

 Stoeckel said he never thought he would become a CEO, but never stopped making mistakes and learning from them and, eventually, it’s where he ended up. 

“I bet on a lifelong journey to become a good leader,” said Stoeckel. “To this day, I’m still on that journey to become a good leader. You can never stop learning. Never limit your vision as to what you’re capable of becoming.”

Additional Reporting by Lauren Lavelle 

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