Stoeckel Challenges Student Leaders to Step Up the Ladder of Success

Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society, inducted 54 Rider students, as well as Wawa CEO and President Howard Stoeckel ’67, on February 27.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011

While many of their peers were enjoying their Sunday morning opportunity to sleep in, 54 Rider students took their next step to becoming the leaders of their not-so-distant tomorrows when they were inducted to Rider’s Circle of the Omicron Delta Kappa, (ODK) National Leadership Society on Sunday, February 27. ODK also welcomed Howard Stoeckel ’67, chair of the Rider Board of Trustees, into its ranks as an honorary inductee. Stoeckel, the president and CEO of the Wawa chain of convenience stores, served as the event’s keynote speaker as well.

The student inductees are all junior and senior students who meet the leadership qualifications for membership, as well as the required 3.25 GPA. The new members, including Stoeckel, have exhibited achievement in the five areas recognized by the society: scholarship; athletics; campus/community service, social/religious activities and campus government; journalism, speech, and the mass media; and the creative and performing arts.

“Howard Stoeckel not only exemplified the ideals of ODK while attending Rider, but has continually shown leadership since his graduation, as well,” said Laura Seplaki, associate Director of the Center for Development of Leadership Skills and director of the Leadership Development Program. “The society’s goals are to recognize the accomplishments of academically sound student leaders and enhance leadership skills and abilities, and he is an example of what we know our students can achieve. We are proud to induct him into ODK.”

After graduating from Rider in 1967, Stoeckel worked his way up professionally from the basement of a John Wanamaker’s department store. Today, he oversees 571 Wawa locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Stoeckel has also served as chair of the Rider Board of Trustees since 2008.

Showcasing his extraordinary leadership experience, Stoeckel delivered his speech with the goal of advising the new ODK members on how to continue to lead and succeed throughout their lives. He gave students a simple 10-step plan, from the bottom up, to climb the ladder of success.

“Career fulfillment starts at the bottom,” said Stoeckel. “I truly believe that there is wisdom to be gained and many lessons to be learned deep down in an organization.”

Calling leadership a process of “constant learning, taking one step at a time,” Stoeckel advised the inductees to learn with each step and to create a foundation through their education at Rider. Building this foundation, he said, is essential to the aspiring leader. “To this day I fall back on my experiences I had here at Rider,” he said.

In order to progress, Stoeckel urged students to “put yourself, mentally, in the next step and prepare yourself for the possibility of higher achievement.”

Stoeckel also imparted an idea to the inductees that runs contrary to common business practices, urging students to serve others along their journey. “Life is not about the leader,” he said. “The real people I work for are the 17,000 who deliver the Wawa brand experience every day.” 

Explaining that horizontal steps can lead upward, Stoeckel encouraged students to be flexible in their goals and decisions. “There is more than one path and sometimes you will have to compromise, move to the side, and, eventually, move upwards,” said Stoeckel, who also compelled students to take risks and to fill any voids they may see. “Offer suggestions, voice your opinions and ideas, and seize windows of opportunity,” he said.

Continuing his theme of service and steps, Stoeckel then urged students to empower and entrust others. “Your success is based on everyone else’s success,” he said. “Serving others can help you do amazing things.”

Stoeckel told the student leaders they must be willing to fail. He reminded them that they can learn through mistakes, pointing to Wawa’s ill-fated decision in the 1990s to install Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Dunkin’ Donuts outlets inside Wawa locations. “Admitting mistakes from failures brings lessons and success,” he said.

Though he was the day’s senior-most inductee, Stoeckel urged the students to stay young throughout their careers. “Don’t lose your competitive edge,” he said. “Mature companies, and careers, die before their time.” To keep this maxim close, Stoeckel keeps a huge Crayola crayon in his office as a reminder to think young.

Another step in Stoeckel’s ladder to success is to keep your last step to yourself. In the competitive, every-man-for-himself mentality often seen in business, he advised students to keep their own options and dreams to themselves and to instead “focus on the dreams of others.”

Stoeckel’s final step: “Have fun!” He encouraged students to enjoy their own climb to success, as the journey is more important than reaching the top. “The excitement is in developing and climbing different sets of stairs continually throughout life,” he said. “Be true to yourself, follow your passions, and do the things you love to do.” 

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Howard Stoeckel (center) with Laura Seplaki, associate director of CDLS (second from right), and new ODK inductees on Feb. 27.