By Jess Hoogendoorn
It is not a place where people linger, but a place people love.
This was how Howard Stoeckel, president and CEO of Wawa, described his stores during the “My Choice, My Wawa” presentation on March 13 in Sweigart Auditorium. Stoeckel, a 1967 Rider graduate, has worked his way through the ranks to become the first non-family member to inherit the title of president of the corporation, which has roots dating back 200 years. He accomplished this by planning for the future, taking chances and putting passion into his work.
“If you don’t dream about the future, there is no future,” Stoeckel said. “If you don’t have a vision, you don’t know where you’re going. It’s like getting into a car without a road map.”
Wawa lays claim to 569 stores across five states. However, Stoeckel does not believe that each store works for him; he believes it is his job to serve his employees.
“At Wawa, the most important people are our store people,” he said. “In reality, I work for them. My job is to support the 16,000 people that deliver the Wawa brand experience.”
Embracing change is a key component for success, according to Stoeckel. Wawa has changed numerous times throughout its 200-year existence. It has gone from a dairy company to retail to gasoline. At one point in its long history, Wawa even manufactured cannon balls and fire hydrants.
The stores continue to change as they try to be more convenient for customers. One such change was going from verbally ordering hoagies to using touch-screen computer monitors. Stoeckel said that the next innovation coming down the pike may be giving customers the option of ordering hoagies via text message, so that the order will be waiting for them when they arrive at the store.
The CEO attributes much of his success with Wawa to the core values that he “uses as a filter” when making decisions. These include valuing people, delighting the customer, embracing change, doing the right thing and having a passion for winning.
Stoeckel discussed his past and explained that although he has succeeded in his current endeavors, he wasn’t always successful. He was not a good student, but believes that it is important to keep learning.
“I’m learning more today, at age 62, than ever before,” Stoeckel said. “When you stop learning, that’s when you start to die.”
Students attending the presentation were able to take away some pointers from the convenience store president.
“[Stoeckel] provided a good strategy,” freshman Rob Olsen said. “It shows you, you don’t have to be the best student to have success in life.”
The CEO considers himself fortunate to hold his position at Wawa and still “pinches” himself everyday because he cannot believe he has such a great job. Stoeckel attributed his success to learning, planning and dreaming in preparation for the future, and encouraged students to do the same.
“If you don’t plan for the future, if you don’t embrace change, the future isn’t that bright,” he said.