New Blood

Chet Cadieux reflects on five years at the helm of leading chain QuikTrip

Editor's Note: CSP is proud to name QuikTrip Corp. and co-founder Chester Cadieux II as its 2007 Retail Leader of the Year. Today CSP shines the light on current chain leader Chet Cadieux. To learn more about QuikTrip, click the Full Story link below to view a video. Also watch for the December issue of CSP magazine.

TULSA, Okla. -- It's an unenviable role, for sure. Think Michael Bloomberg after Rudy Giuliani left office as the much-lauded mayor of New York. But for Chet Cadieux, assuming leadership of QuikTrip Corp. after his iconic father, Chester, [image-nocss] retired, was not nerve-racking or anxiety-producing. It was a piece of cake.

It was such a successful organization whenever I got here, Chet told CSP Daily News. And it's really more a matter of me not messing it up. How do you match possibly what he's done? And the answer is, you don't. You just try to do what's right, and I'm lucky in that I don't have to, from scratch, build a team. And he had to build a team and make mistakes and correct those mistakes over and over for 44 years.

Now approaching his fifth year at the helm of QuikTrip, Chet is comfortably established in his role as leader of the industry's most admired retailer. His corner office at QuikTrip's Tulsa, Okla., headquarters is comfortable but surprisingly modest in size for the head of a multi-billion-dollar corporation. Indeed, the building itself has the unpretentious, friendly feel of a public library, with brick walls, colorful lobby furniture and an open, lofty layout. Chet wanted a campus atmosphere for the building.

Inheriting his father's sense of humility, Chet somewhat downplays the scope of his challenge today: continue to grow QuikTrip when growth comes off such a massive base, and when the industry is more crowded and cutthroat than those fledgling days in the 1950s. Making mistakes, which was easy and understandable for a local start-up, is now much harder and open to scrutiny for an industry leader.

Mastering foodservice has become Chet's central charge, and with three QuikTrip Kitchen commissaries to be open by March of next year, it's one he has tackled with gusto. (See the December 2007 issue of CSP magazine for more on QuikTrip's foodservice foray.)

I think that Chet has done a remarkable job being able to follow in Chester's footsteps, in the sense that Chester was such an icon for QuikTrip, said Dick Wood, chairman of Wawa Inc., Wawa, Pa., and a close friend of Chester. Chet got in there and cut out his own niche in terms of driving the foodservice end of the business and doing some things Chester would probably be more reluctant to do.

That being said, Chet finds it difficult to point to any particular successes from his first five years, whether it be the opening of the commissaries, sales highlights or other business milestones. We're not very good at celebrating successes, he admitted. We don't ever talk about when we win, because it's a part of this never-being-satisfied thing.

Then, after some thought, he cites employees' anniversaries. I think those are great accomplishments; I celebrate those. I get excited about peoples' promotions. Somebody who started out as entry-level and then becoming a big leader in the companyI get jazzed about that stuff. Indeed, 11 of QuikTrip's 14 senior executives began in entry-level positions at the company.

It's a culture of promotion from within that originated from Chester, and for many of QuikTrip's legacy employees, Chester gave them the cause to fight for. Thus, Chet assuming the leadership of the company had to be handled carefully. But the transition from father to son hardly missed a beat, said QuikTrip board member Stephen Cropper, a former president and CEO with Williams Energy Services.

The way it was orchestrated was really elegant, the manner in which the rope was let out, he said. Chet became COO while Chester remained CEO. Chet then became CEO and Chester moved to chairman. In advance of Chet moving into the CEO role, he spent a year and a half working in all of the departments at QuikTrip in which he did not yet have experience, such as finance and petroleum.

I thought [that] was really elegant, because the people who had not worked with him day to day, there was an opportunity for that to happen, said Cropper. Chester was doing a really exemplary job of letting go in the right amounts. It just gave the organization, I think, a great deal of comfort that this was being done correctly.

Now with almost five years under his belt, Chet has gotten acquainted with the CEO role and its different responsibilities. I think the biggest surpriseis I don't really do anything, he said. There's a certain sense of accomplishment in having something to do, and even if it's something as mundane as budgets, you get your budget done, turn it in and it's approved, and there's this short Woo!' And you don't have any of that in this job.

But just as he sees success in employee achievements, Chet sees progress in it too. There's an enormous amount of pressure, or burden or responsibility, from the standpoint that I'm responsible for the well being of about 8,500-9,000 families, he said, and that can be overwhelming. But at the same time, if you're doing a good job and they're all being successful, it's incredibly rewarding too. And so that's the way anything is; anything that brings you great reward has great responsibility in my opinion. So I'm pleased most days to be saddled with it.

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