On Tuesday, April 5, Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens gave an hour-long talk to Rowan students, staff and attendees inside the Business Hall at the Rohrer College of Business.
All students, faculty and staff were invited to join the event. Seating was limited to one hundred people and spots fill up quickly.
Gheysens was born and raised in Vineland, New Jersey. He attended St. Augustine Preparatory School, an all-boys Roman Catholic school in Richland, New Jersey. Later, Gheysens was accepted into Villanova University. Gheysens earned a bachelor’s in accounting and later earned his Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) from Saint Joseph’s University in 2005.
“I literally haven’t made it that far. From where we sit, I’ve made it 30 miles,” Gheysens said.
Gheysens was hired by Wawa in 1997 after working as an auditor in Philadelphia at the office of Deloitte. Making his way up the ladder, Gheysens eventually served as the company’s chief financial officer and chief administrative officer in 2007. In 2012, Gheysens became the CEO of Wawa, after his predecessor, Howard Stoeckel.
“I was reading something not long ago and it said your zip code, where you’re born, dictates much of your life. Here’s what I’ll tell you: the data is pretty compelling but throw that out. That doesn’t matter. You’re an individual. Your life experience, your family, the values that you create and you nurture that become part of who you are, that’s what’s going to lead you where you want to go,” Gheysens said.
Gheysens went on to discuss how Wawa operates and what being a CEO means, but what Gheysens emphasized was the importance of Wawa’s core values.
What came first was family.
“It’s not about building loyalty for business, it’s about building human connections,” Gheysens said.
Making connections is the heart of Wawa. As Gheysens told students, Wawa should and will always be a friendly, comfortable environment.
As CEO, Gheysens is in charge of over 35,000 employees but that’s not how Gheysens views his work. Gheysens works for Wawa employees in order to better connections and in order to better the company.
“It’s more active, it’s a deeper meaning, and [creates] opportunities,” Gheysens said.
And who Gheysens admires the most are just the employees themselves.
“People often ask me who’s your mentor, who do you look up to? They expect me to have some big, fancy CEO or someone luminary. But frankly, I look up to the single moms that get up with a smile that have all kinds of difficult life going back at home. They’re wrestling with all of that and at the same time they’re able to come in and give a smile and create such warm connections with people in our stores,” Gheysens said.
Towards the end of the session, guests were able to ask questions of all sorts. From how to run a business to Gheysens favorite type of Wawa hoagie.
“We’re not a homogenous group of people that look and feel the same. Actually, we’re quite diverse. But what we do share are a generally common set of values. And those values are things like: just treat people with respect, value them as individuals, and do the right thing,” Gheysens said.
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