On the Record: Chris Gheysens

Wawa’s CEO shapes a new story

Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations

Illustration by Seb Jarnot

Chris Gheysens is president and CEO of Wawa, but in company parlance he’s “Lead Goose.” Gheysens, who joined the 700-store company in 2007 from Deloitte, spent years working in accounting, finance and operations before becoming president in 2012 and CEO in 2013—a well-grounded experience he recommends for all decision-makers. Read on for more of Gheysens’ recommendations, on movies, taking risks—and how to eat a Philly cheesesteak.

Favorite movie and why:

Any Star Wars movie. I grew up with “Star Wars” and still trade texts with my (46-year-old) friends dissecting the nuances of the new “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” movie. Yep, I’m a nerd.

Favorite book:  

I have about 100 sitting on my shelf, waiting for retirement, I guess. I do listen to books on my commute. One that stuck with me is “The Power of Story” by Jim Loehr. It’s foundational to the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute’s Corporate Athlete program (jjhpi.com) I went through about five years ago, which brings sports science and psychology together to help shape new “stories” and shed old ones that get in one’s way of being happy, successful and healthy. 

Biggest professional risk:  

It may not sound like much, but deciding to open nonfuel stores in urban locations. Our singular focus for more than 20 years had been building suburban fuel stores and our board was very content doing that. It’s worked out pretty well.

Preferred space for quiet thinking:

In our “Goose Nest,” which is part of our new Innovation Center. It’s as cool as any Silicon Valley office; the energy is young and vibrant and has many great thinking spaces. I’m trying to get at least six hours of thinking and exploring time each week in 2018, as part of adjusting how I work. Hopefully, that idea lasts longer than my New Year’s resolution to go to the gym.

Biggest retailing fear:

Building too many brick-and-mortar stores. In the grand scheme, Wawa is still small, but retailing and consumers are changing so fast and stores are meant to be around for decades. We’re still building at a fast pace, so sometimes you just need to face your fears head on.

Favorite Philly cheesesteak:  

“One wiz wit,” Philly slang for one cheesesteak with Cheese Whiz and fried onions. Make sure you practice before you order at Pat’s or Geno’s! And yes, Wawa makes a mean cheesesteak, but the originals are in South Philly.