CSP's 2017 Retail Leader of the Year: 'Acts of Greatness'

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

CHICAGO -- Credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie: These five elements fuel the people of Cumberland Farms, from the chain’s nearly 600 stores in eight states to the office occupied by its CEO, Ari Haseotes (above).

“All of that work we’ve done around building engagement is absolutely my highest accomplishment,” Haseotes told CSP during a summer visit to the retailer’s Westborough, Mass., headquarters.

A few months later, on a breezy October night at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, 300 Cumberland Farms colleagues, industry peers, friends and family members of Haseotes had a chance to thank him personally for his leadership in building that engagement. It was an ideal setting for CSP’s 2017 Retail Leader of the Year and one of the convenience industry’s brightest stars.

Here's a look at the night ...

Photography by W. Scott Mitchell

Haseotes took the helm of Cumberland Farms just a decade ago, representing the third generation of family leadership. But in that short time, he has already had a huge effect on the direction of the chain.

“The Retail Leader of the Year is about more than just performance. It’s more than just the impact of a leader on his company. It focuses more on the impact that a leader has on the community,” said Mitch Morrison, vice president of retailer relations for Winsight, and emcee of the evening.

“It’s about more than how they operate,” he continued. “It’s more than just the bottom line. It’s also about culture. It’s about the kind of company that people want to work for and customers want to patronize.”

Above: Haseotes looks on as family, colleagues and peers celebrate his achievements.

“I look at the business I’ve really loved working for all of these years, and I see in Ari what I see in the other great companies in the convenience-store space,” said guest speaker Tim Columbus (above), partner with Steptoe & Johnson LLP, Washington, D.C., general counsel for NACS and SIGMA, and a former Cumberland Farms board member.

“That is leadership of a different generation characterized by great intellect, fabulous education, terrific focus and heretofore unprecedented interest in the human resources of the company.”

“I don’t know anybody who works harder than Ari does every day,” Columbus told guests. And Haseotes is motivated by two of his biggest priorities: his family and Cumberland Farms team members.

During his acceptance speech, Haseotes recognized those family members who led the company before him, including his grandparents, Vasilios and Aphrodite Haseotes, who founded Cumberland Farms nearly 80 years ago, and past leaders of the company such as his uncle Jim Haseotes and his aunt Lily Haseotes Bentas, the current chairman.

Above: The Cumberland Farms management team rallies around its fearless leader, Ari Haseotes.

“I’m a lucky guy,” Haseotes said. “My grandparents came here and started the company with nothing. The generation before me—my dad, my uncles, my aunts—built it into something special.”

Haseotes thanked his mother, Joyce, who watched him with pride from the audience. “My mother is a special woman to me, so supportive, believing in me from the time I can remember in my life as a young boy,” he said. He acknowledged his brother, B.J., and sister, Heidi, both at dinner that night. And he praised his late father, Byron, who taught him his work ethic.

“I had a dad who was extremely demanding—he was a tough guy,” said Haseotes, who recalled his dad dropping him and B.J. off to work in the fields of the family farm early in the morning. “He would say, ‘Bring your lunch and don’t come in until it’s dark again,’ ” he says. “In the summer, working in the fields, that’s like a 14- to 15-hour day. But he taught us hard work.”

Above: Haseotes with his sister Heidi Davis (from left), sister-in-law Tiffany, brother B.J., mother Joyce and wife Ashley.

He credited his years wrestling in high school for teaching him how to meet the “moment of truth” and overcome life challenges.

“It’s how well you prepared, how hard you worked, how ready you were for that moment,” he said. “That taught me about being prepared, being ready, having the fortitude no matter how big the fears were—and, believe me, the fears were tremendously great.”

Above: Roger Woodman (left) of Raymond James, Arie Kotler and Chris Giacobone of GPM Investments and Joe DePinto of 7-Eleven

And he gave special thanks to his wife, Ashley (above), whose opinion he relies on as leader of Cumberland Farms. One area in which her input proved paramount was in the development of the chain’s signature coffee about a decade ago.

In her remarks at the dinner, Ashley described herself as a former “Dunkin’ girl,” drinking coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts from the time she woke up until her drive home. She dismissed the idea of drinking coffee from a gas station. But then her husband began bringing samples of Cumberland Farms’ coffee home for her to taste test.

“It was months and months and months of testing at the kitchen table,” she said. Much of that time, she was not impressed. “Then one day I said, ‘Yes, it’s so good!’ ” And that was how Cumberland Farms settled on its Farmhouse Blend, later made famous by a viral ad campaign starring former “Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff.

Ashley’s input hasn’t stopped with coffee. “Lots of wine has been consumed over Cumberland Farms talk,” she said. “We talk about everything: toilet-seat covers, logos, floor plans for stores.”

“Ashley has been the rock of my life through the darkest of days, the thickest of fogs—my wife has  always been there for me, no matter what,” said Haseotes. This includes during a particularly tough time when their son, Nicholas, was fighting cancer, from which he has since recovered.

“I realized that no matter how much effort I could put forth toward anything, this was out of my hands,” and that the experience was ultimately transformative, he said. It led to him and Ashley founding One

Mission, a charity that supports families who have children in the hospital battling cancer. And it changed him.

“It impacted me in how I wanted to be … as a man and a father and as brother and son and leader for our business,” he said. “All of that combined really helped to shape my principles, my thinking about the company. And I started focusing on very strong, very simple principles for our business.”

Above: Carl Rick (left) and Greg Scriver of Kwik Trip, Mike Auger of RAI Trade Marketing Services, Joe Fragnito of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, and Don Zietlow and Mark Zietlow of Kwik Trip

Cumberland Farms is built on four core values: never settle, own it, tell it like it is and succeed together. And Haseotes lives those values.

“I know you really are going to accept this award on behalf of your team members, and that’s really so accurate,” Ashley told her husband from the stage. “Without your leadership and your acts of greatness, there would not be the Cumberland Farms we’re all here to celebrate tonight.”

Above: Hundreds of attendees enjoyed the spectacular Adler Planetarium setting.

After a video highlighting the many achievements of Cumberland Farms—its team culture, successful co­ffee program and charity work—as well as the leadership of Haseotes, it was time for the retail leader himself to share his personal credo.

“I’m for humility and being humble,” he said. “I believe that’s the way we need to be as a company and leaders.”

Above: Gary Dake (left), Aimee Taylor, Sean Brown, Pat Suprenant, Casey Kanclerz and David Caruso of Stewart’s Shops

Other things Haseotes embraces: strength, perseverance, justice, doing the right things for the right reasons, and the team.

“I’m for being your best—at all costs, doing your level best,” he said. “And I truly believe if you give me a B, C or even a D student with grit, I’d take him any day over an A student without it.”

He believes in shared prosperity, and the idea that profits provide possibilities.

“I’m talking about the shared commitment we made to one another, to succeed together, and prosper together as we commit to doing our best as a company and a team,” Haseotes said. He then asked the nearly 30 members of Cumberland Farms’ management, operations and retail teams in attendance to stand for recognition.

“These are the heart and soul of the company, and they are my blood,” he said. “I would do anything for them.”

Above: Maria Alarcon (left) of Kerry Convenience, James Fiene of Midwest Retail Group, Sharon Porter of Kerry Convenience and Rob and Lynn Razowsky of Rmarts

Haseotes described himself as “a person of average ability,” and he rejected the idea that he was responsible for so much of the business’ success over the past decade. Instead, he cited the strength that comes from working alongside his more than 8,500 team members at Cumberland Farms.

“I’d never envision myself as the general on the hill, watching as my soldiers fight on,” he said. Instead, he’d much rather “be down there in the trenches with the team, shoulder to shoulder, side by side,” helping in the effort.

“If we can continue to do that as a company, with the team and family together, and all of our passion, all of dedication, our commitment and love for one another,” he concluded, “the future of Cumberland Farms is even brighter than what we’ve accomplished thus far.”

Above: Patricia Riddle of Nestle Waters is flanked by Christopher Salvitti (left) and Brant Burchfield of Dr Pepper Snapple Group.