Wawa CEO and MFS Parent Chris Gheysens Speaks About Servant Leadership

On November 10, Wawa President and CEO and MFS parent Chris Gheysens visited the Leadership Styles & Skills class to discuss the philosophy of servant leadership. The course for tenth grade students is taught by Head of School Larry Van Meter and Director of Auxiliary Programs Martha Cameron. As the entire organizational structure of Wawa follows the servant leadership approach, Mr. Gheysens shared why the servant leadership style, of putting the employees’ needs first so they can perform to the best of their abilities, is effective and successful for Wawa.

“At Wawa, our purpose is fulfilling lives, every day,” said Mr. Gheysens. “We are people focused and it starts internally with our culture. We know our associates can make a tiny difference for our customers that come into our stores every day, whether it’s acting as a “day-brightener” saying good morning before they go to work or acting as a “waker-upper” by making them a great cup of coffee. Our brand becomes known as a comfortable, family-like community because we build trust. As a result, our performance is high which leads to company growth.”

To help the students conceptualize how Wawa is strengthened by earning followership from its associates and servant leaders at all tiers of the company, Mr. Gheysens named a few examples of how Wawa gives back to its people. Wawa is a private business but 41% of the company is owned by Wawa associates through an employee stock ownership plan. An internal care department looks after associates in times of severe financial hardship or crisis. Wawa provides tuition reimbursements for employees for both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Mr. Gheysens and the class also discussed, at the individual level, what traits distinguish a servant leader compared to a traditional leader. Together, they decided that servant leaders listen, help others grow, coach, support, collaborate, trust, and empathize.  

“Are people better leaders, better empowered, and better people after you leave? That’s the test of servant leadership,” said Mr. Gheysens. “But whatever your leadership style, the values of your organization that you lead or work for has to match up with your personal values. That’s what matters most — your personal values, not just the job.”

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