Six Months & Counting

Stoeckel looks back on first half of year as Wawa CEO

WAWA, Pa. It has been six month since Howard Stoeckel took over as CEO of one of the most respected chains in the convenience store industry, Wawa Inc. And if you haven't noticed a huge change in the company since then, that's by design.

I may not be part of the [Wood] family from a blood standpoint, but there is a family here, one that shares the same values and believes in the same culture, Stoeckel told CSP Daily News. Stoeckel is the first non-Wood family leader of the company and has 17 years of experience with the chain in some very influential [image-nocss] roles.

He joined Wawa, a 550-store chain based in Wawa, Pa., as vice president of human resources. Working with the leadership of the family-owned company, he helped cement the culture that has become one of the hallmarks of the chain. One of my roles from the day that I came in here back in August of 1987 has been nurturing, manifesting and celebrating the culture, people being a very important part of that culture, he said. So whether it be recognition, the reward programsa lot of what I've done has all been about preserving, enhancing and nurturing our culture, which is our competitive advantage.

Stoeckel brought that fervor to his position as executive vice president of marketing, as well, helping make Wawa into a household word. My major focus in marketing was building the brand, helping to build the overall brand experience, he said. Whether it be hot beverages, cold beverages, foodservice or other products, what really makes us unique is the experience we deliver and the products we offer. And then we focus on store design and layout. It's giving that total package of people, place and product.

Thus it was natural that Stoeckel was chosen to take over as CEO when Dick Wood retired at the end of last year. It felt very good and very natural [to take over as CEO this year] because we have a lot in common, he said. I feel very good about the values and the people here.

As such, sweeping changes were never part of the plan as Stoeckel considered life as the head honcho. I've always considered myself someone who likes to build things, he said. I like to build businesses and concepts and programs. My management style is to help create a vision and to align people against that vision. Provide resources and then empower people to carryout the vision.

Although Stoeckel is reluctant to expand on what that vision includes for the rest of 2005, he said he is sticking to a strategy that has worked well for him and Wawa over the years: not biting off more than he can chew. We always try to do four or five big things every year that will enhance our business and let people know exactly where we stand, he said. I believe that simple businesses are the businesses that survive and grow. You have to fight complexity. You have to try to keep things simple.