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MEDIA, Pa. -- After 15 years with Wawa Inc., Chris Gheysens is set to add to his title of president when he becomes CEO at the end of the year. With his background in the retail and service industries, it shouldn't come as a surprise.
But to hear Gheysens explain it, the chief executive officer is not the most important title at the Mid-Atlantic convenience store chain. "This company isn't about the CEO. We have 18,000 associates, and this is really about them," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer .
Gheysens completed his undergraduate work at Villanova University and received a master's of business administration from St. Joseph's University, both well-regarded Philadelphia institutions. He will use his business knowledge and experience -- which he began cultivating at his father's car wash growing up -- to lead the retail chain when current CEO Howard Stoeckel steps down in December.
The new leadership appears to be a perfect fit. "[Gheysens] has got 'goose blood,'" Stoeckel explained, referring to the company's logo. "Just like the rest of us."
Wawa traces its roots back to 1800 when Richard D. Wood operated a store in Greenwich, N.J. Gheysens will become only the second non-Wood family member -- Stoeckel was the first -- to run the company. He takes over as Wawa is embarking on an ambitious growth plan, stepping outside its Mid-Atlantic comfort zone for the first time. The company's first Florida location will open in mid-July and plans call for a total of 100 Wawa stores in central Florida within the next five years. The company is also revamping its foodservice business with the goal to become the world's most appetizing convenience retailer, as CSNews Online previously reported.
Gheysens grew up in Vineland, N.J. and lives with his wife and four kids in Gloucester County. His father owned a string of Sparkle Kleen car washes. "My father is a significant inspiration," he said. "He didn't have the education and the things he has afforded me in life. He started with a painting-contracting business. He worked hard. He's the most down-to-earth man I know. I never heard him use a bad word."