DePinto Talks Tough Decisions

7-Eleven leader accepts McLane Leadership in Business Award, details culture change

Joe DePinto

BRYAN-COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- After being handed a Big Gulp of water to make him feel at home on stage at the George Bush Presidential Library before a Q & A session, 7-Eleven CEO Joe DePinto embraced a series of questions scrutinizing his performance as leader of the convenience store chain after accepting the McLane Leadership in Business Award at the Annenberg Presidential Library, reported The Eagle.

The Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics & Public Policy at the Bush School of Government & Public Service gives out the annual award for exceptional achievements by leaders of companies that impact the national economy.

DePinto has been CEO of the Dallas-based chain since 2005; previously, he was president of Game Stop Corp. and had executive roles at PepsiCo and Thornton Oil.

At the time he came to 7-Eleven Inc., DePinto told those in attendance, he "knew 7-Eleven needed to change the culture" and it was a matter of "finding the right approach to get the company energized and the people energized."

The company was about $1.5 billion in debt when he took over, DePinto said. Since then, they--DePinto credits to joint effort by his executive team as well as the franchise owners and employees--have been able to pay it down to about $300 million.

To create positive change, DePinto said, the company has adopted a "servant leadership" approach and anyone not on board with the idea of "putting other people's needs before their own needs" either left on his own or was asked to leave.

In doing so, the company has made tough decisions, said the report, such as raising franchise requirements so that about 40% of potential owners who would have been approved in the past would not today.

Also, about 60% of store employees were lost through attrition or termination, as was 75% of the corporation's executive team, which he reassembled nearly from scratch.

When asked for advice for CEOs and owners in forming a leadership model, DePinto said, "The biggest thing in business is credibility. Don't say anything you can't live up to. … communicate openly and honestly. Overcommunicate."

Based in Dallas, 7-Eleven operates, franchises or licenses approximately 9,400 7-Eleven stores in North America. Globally, there are some 47,600 7-Eleven stores in 16 countries. During 2011, 7-Eleven stores worldwide generated total sales close to $76.6 billion.