Vice Chairman of the Wawa, Inc. Board of Directors and former Wawa President/CEO Howard Stoeckel visited Moorestown Friends School today to discuss leadership with Upper School students.
Stoeckel first met with students in Clark Thomson’s Economics course in a roundtable discussion format. Following the discussion, Stoeckel gave a presentation about servant leadership to students in the “Leadership: Style and Skills” course. The visit occurred as a result of an invitation from Head of School Larry Van Meter, who co-teaches the leadership course with Director of Innovative Programs Kathryn Park Cook. Students in the course have been reading The Wawa Way, a book the history and culture of Wawa written by Stoeckel.
Stoeckel emphasized three things that make Wawa unique: private ownership, shared ownership, and servant leadership.
In speaking about servant leadership Stoeckel said: “The days of a title signifying respect are disappearing. True leadership is the ability to influence people, with or without a job title. Good leaders give other people credit.”
In this vein, Wawa employees are always referred to as “associates,” not employees or subordinates.
Regarding private/shared ownership, Stoeckel stated: “Employee shared ownership has grown from 10% to almost 40%. Our associates think like owners.The more people that share the dream, the further the organization goes.”
He spoke extensively about the longstanding Wawa culture, which “flowed from Grahame Wood and the whole Wood family.” Wawa’s six core values are: Value People, Delight Customers, Embrace Change, Do the Right Thing, Do Things Right, and Passion for Winning. Stoeckel noted that the Wood family was originally Quaker and that Friends’ beliefs have helped shape the culture of the company.
“The key to growth is culture, said Stoeckel. “People first, profit second.”
The former CEO provided advice to students pondering their future careers. “When you are looking for a company or organization, try to find a soulmate – an organization with which you share the same values,” said Stoeckel, who spent almost 30 years with Wawa. “Wawa brought out the best in me because I shared the same values.”
He spoke of the importance and weight of the strategic decision to expand Wawa to Florida: “Expanding to Florida was the biggest strategic and financial decision made in our company’s history.” Another major decision in which Stoeckel was involved was the company’s decision to sell gasoline 18 years ago. “Gas helped us increased our customer base,” he said. “We never sleep. We help customers fill their daily needs.”
“We were thrilled to welcome Howard Stoeckel to MFS today,” said Van Meter. “His presentation and remarks applied directly to many of the leadership concepts we’ve been discussing in our course. In particular, the concepts pioneered by Robert Greenleaf, a Quaker business theorist who founded the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.”
As Stoeckel closed his presentation to students in the leadership course, he left them with a philosophy to adhere to: “Always be kid-like. It’s a state of mind.”