Leadership Built to Order

Students gain valuable insights about servant leadership through a trip to the Wawa Corporate Headquarters.
Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wawa Food Markets is embarking on a new journey with plans to migrate south, become the “world’s most appetizing convenience store,” and provide more ownership for its 16,000 associates. The transition won’t be easy – there will be risks, and leadership will certainly be challenged, admits Howard Stoeckel ’67, president and CEO of Wawa. However, Stoeckel knows that in order to remain competitive, change is necessary.

“In business you have to travel, you have to journey,” Stoeckel, who is also the chair of Rider’s Board of Trustees, told a group of 17 Rider students recently. “Leadership will be the determining factor.”

Stoeckel gave the students an overview of Wawa’s leadership and values system, as well as insight into new directions for the company during the Center for Development of Leadership Skills’ Wawa Leadership Trip at Wawa Corporate Headquarters in southeast Pennsylvania on February 17. Dorothy Swartz, director of Talent Management; Stephanie Sharpless, manager of Learning and Design; and Marc Maiolino, manager of Workforce Planning; also shared how they emerged as leaders at Wawa.

Under Stoeckel’s leadership, Wawa runs about 570 Wawa Food Markets in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Wawa stores are noted for their coffee, salad and deli offerings, including hoagie sandwiches, and more than 300 stores sell gas. 

Though Wawa Food Markets have evolved from a variety of businesses, including a general store, an iron manufacturer, cotton mill and dairy farm, several things have not changed. The company has remained privately owned by a trust fund and associates share ownership. The company is also governed by six core values: Value People, Delight Customers, Do Things Right, Do the Right Thing, Embrace Change and Passion for Winning. The structure is based on servant leadership, where leadership is derived from service to others.

“It’s important as a business to preserve what makes you unique but embrace change,” he explained. “As a Wawa employee, your higher calling is to help family and friends and neighbors have a better day. You do it by brewing coffee and pumping gas, and by giving back to the community. That is part of our DNA.”

Toward the end of the trip, the students participated in a facilitated group activity. One of the groups discussed strategic thinking with “The Migration of Wawa” to Florida. In July, Wawa plans to open a store across the street from Sea World. The second group discussed setting a vision for “Fast, Casual Food To-Go.” Wawa aims to provide higher quality, healthier food in order to compete with chains like Panera and Chipotle.

“I wanted to give the students an opportunity to interact with Wawa leaders through meaningful and intellectual discussions related to leadership concepts,” said Laura Seplaki, associate director of CDLS. “It’s one thing to think strategically and create a vision for your personal life. When you’re in charge of setting a strategic direction or vision for a large corporation with a lot of people involved – it is much more complex. I thought the students did very well thinking within the larger context.”

The participating students included: Tatana Cepkova ’11, an M.B.A. student; Lorelei Colbert ’14, a Public Relations major; Angela L Delgado ’14, a Behavioral Neuroscience major; Michael T. DiBiasi ’13, a Secondary Education and History dual major; Brooke E. Erdman ’14, a History and American Studies dual major; Michelle Farace ’14, an Elementary Education and Mathematics dual major; Justin R. Geissler ’14, an Accounting major; Ethan Grossman ’12, a Global Supply Chain Management major; Rachel E. Guida ’13, a Marketing and Interactive Advertising major; Alex M. Lamon ’14, a Business and Marketing Education dual major; Ashley L. Liput ’15, an Elementary Education and Biology dual major; Vanessa M. Maldonado ’13, Communication major; Sarah K Sell ’13, an Elementary Education and Integrated Sciences and Math dual major; Monica Swietlik ’14, an Accounting and Finance dual major; Lauren C. Testa ’14, a Public Relations major; Elizabeth Williams ’10, MBA ’12; and Christina L Yasay ’14, an Accounting major.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. Howard was so laid back and kind. I really enjoyed the meetings and working in the sessions with him as well as the three other executives,” Guida said. “They had a wonderful culture and really made me feel comfortable to talk about future career plans, things about school, my ideas, and especially about leadership.”

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Howard Stoeckel ’67, president and CEO of Wawa (sitting, second from left), gives Rider students a lesson in leadership.