Power 20 2018: Outside Influencers

world graphic influencer

CHICAGO -- Disruptive forces, from the on-demand economy to the electrified future of the vehicle fleet, are surrounding the c-store industry. The trends and businesses that are pushing change are well known—think Tesla and Amazon. But the names of the people guiding these ships of transformation are in many cases buried in press releases.

To put a spotlight on these outside influencers—and accompany CSP’s inaugural Power 20 Change Makers list—here are some of the most notable names and faces to remember in 2018 and beyond.

Steve Kessel

amazon mobile

Senior vice president
Amazon.com Inc., Seattle

Kessel, the man behind Amazon Go, the next-generation c-store that allows Amazon Prime customers the ability to pick up and pay for snacks, beverages, sandwiches and more without interacting with a human, is still working out its kinks. But once he does—and can begin to apply those lessons to the Whole Foods grocery chain—the implications for the corner c-store are incredible. This competitor’s labor costs would be significantly less—wages and expenses made up nearly 32% of convenience industry gross-profit dollars in 2016, according to NACS. Also, its technological prowess is leaps and bounds ahead of most convenience chains, many of who are still at the mobile-app stage.  

Elon Musk

elon musk

Co-founder and CEO
Tesla Inc., Palo Alto, Calif.

Musk has the flash, ambition and creativity of Tony Stark, the billionaire inventor who is Iron Man, and is doing more to get electric vehicles (EVs) taken seriously than any global automaker (see GM and Ford). For c-store retailers, the chance to partner with Tesla on its growing network of Supercharger EV charging stations has been undeniable; chains from Sheetz to QuickChek have made room on their lots to serve a customer that currently makes up only a fraction of a fraction of their store traffic. Meanwhile, the opening of two massive Supercharger sites in California, complete with customer lounges, food, drinks and restrooms, puts the EV manufacturer increasingly in the convenience space heading into 2018.  

Mike Hanrahan and Marc Lore

jetcom logo

Jet.com, Hoboken, N.J.

Ever hear of Project Kepler? It’s Walmart’s answer to Amazon’s Go concept, and its development is being led by Hanrahan, a former Amazon exec and co-founder of e-retailer Jet.com, which Walmart acquired in 2016. Today he serves as general manager of Walmart’s Store 8 startup incubator. As reported by Recode, Walmart is developing technology to create a store without cashiers. Meanwhile, Lore is spearheading the expansion of Walmart.com and has forged a partnership with Google on voice-activated shopping. As Walmart and Amazon continue their retail arms race, other players may be forced to evolve—or disappear.

Jim Hackett and Mary Barra

hackett barra

Jim Hackett
President and CEO
Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich.

Mary Barra
General Motors Co., Detroit

It’s tough to reinvent multibillion-dollar companies that are more than 100 years old and sprawl across dozens of countries, but Hackett and Barra are attempting to do that for two of the Big Three automakers. And they can’t afford not to: In 2017, EV manufacturer Tesla briefly became the most valuable carmaker in the United States, surpassing GM and Ford. The execs are placing their bets on an automated, connected, electric and ride-sharing future, or ACES. In the next 20 to 30 years, should more consumers ditch their personal vehicles and instead subscribe to a transportation service from an automaker such as GM or Ford, c-store retailers would see increasing consolidation of their customers.

Warren Buffett

warren buffett

Berkshire Hathaway Inc., Omaha, Neb.

Even as the spotlight gets hogged by electrified semis and predictions of an autonomous trucking future, Buffett’s 38.6% equity stake in Pilot Travel Centers LLC, dba Pilot Flying J, suggests that the truckstop industry still has plenty of legs left. In a statement on the deal, Buffett described Pilot Flying J as “a key enabler of the nation’s economy,” with a smart growth strategy and potential “for years to come.” It’s a powerful endorsement of the role of travel stops from the so-called Oracle of Omaha, and it provides some needed confidence to a retail chain that is trying to shake off the bad press of a diesel-rebate fraud scandal.   

Todd Vasos

dollar general

Dollar General Corp., Goodlettsville, Tenn.

With more locations than McDonald’s, double the profit of Macy’s and a $22 billion market value that blows away Kroger Co., Dollar General is increasingly becoming the face of retail in rural America. “The economy is continuing to create more of our core customer,” Vasos recently told The Wall Street Journal, alluding to those with a household income of $40,000 or less—a key c-store demographic. It has 900 new stores slated to open in 2018, and three in four Americans are already within 5 miles of a Dollar General. Add in the chain’s increased selection of refrigerated and frozen groceries, packaged beverages, beer and tobacco—as well as fuel, with its ownership of more than 40 former Walmart Express sites—and Dollar General is looking like a much more immediate competitive threat than perhaps any other operator.