"To be honest, when I was first given the news [of the change] in August 2011 and [told] it was going to be Jan. 1, 2013, my first reaction internally was 'Wow, that's a long time.' But it was exactly the right time, the right process," Gheysens
Now four months into his new role as president and CEO, Gheysens sat down this morning with CSNews Online before the grand opening of Wawa's Elizabeth, N.J., store.
The new northern New Jersey location marks the company's 617th store overall and its second most-northern site after the Wawa
in Kearny, N.J., which opened in January.
took the baton during a busy time for the company, he
did not come unprepared.
Specifically, he began his tenure as CEO armed with a six-point plan for year one.
"We have a pretty aggressive plan this year," he
"We are focused on growth, but at the same time, we have to be focused on being more efficient; being more productive so we can reinvest those dollars back into the business," Gheysens
"At the end of my first year in this role, I want the organization to achieve our financial goals, which we have set with our budgeting process.
But more importantly, I want to look at our culture and our people and make sure, even with the transition of leadership, what remains steadfast is our focus on our cultures and our values," he
That's an area where we are pushing forward, to really build our brand outside our four walls," Gheysens
At the same time, he
acknowledged that this will take some time.
"The initiatives around mobility and loyalty will be a multi-year journey.
We want to put a stake in the ground this year in defining those initiatives and getting leeway, and we are probably looking at next year to implement them."
Chris Gheysens (center), President and CEO of Wawa Inc.
admitted that one challenge he
faces is that he
likes to do a lot, to do it all now and to do it right.
In that respect, he
has something in common with Wawa
The company, he
said, "has a lot of great ideas and tremendous opportunities for growth and other ways to improve the experience.
However, at the basis of it all are pride in ownership, shared ownership and servant leadership.
"These are the three foundational items to our core values that have been with every leader in some way, in some form for decades," he
"The worst thing I can do is achieve the six-point plan and nail it, and let the culture pass me by or fade.
That won't happen."
is unique in the convenience store industry because it offers an employee shared ownership program.
Forty percent of the company is owned by its associates, giving them "a line of sight" to their financial success, according to Gheysens
"When they make a hoagie, serve a customer or greet a customer, that is going to improve their financial future personally.
And when you are also one big family, that is a competitive advantage and that is tremendous," he
Speaking of legacy, Gheysens
believes it's too early to say what he
legacy to be at Wawa
Even though his
business cards read "Lead Goose," he
stressed that the strategic planning process at the company is the result of teamwork.
"The Florida entry and the idea of fast casual to go with world-class convenience was a collaborative effort.
There is plenty of runway on both of those for us to work on," he
told CSNews Online.
"Between Florida and northern [New] Jersey, our geographic expansion is right on track, and it's going to take us a while to penetrate and get the critical mass we want in those markets.
Fast casual to go is really a journey."
With all this on his
has taken the first four months of his
own new journey to settle in, assess the future talent of Wawa's associates and build on the communication within the company.
The biggest adjustment for him has been realizing now he's
"the guy" in charge.
"You just can't understand that until you are in that seat, it's official and you look at your business card and it says president and CEO -- actually Lead Goose," he