Source : Convenience Store News (CSNEWS), November 2019, CSNEWS.COM, https://issuu.com/ensembleiq/docs/csns-1119
Brian Hannasch has led the tremendous expansion of Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. (ACT), driving organic growth while executing and integrating multibillion-dollar acquisitions of such companies as The Pantry, Statoil, CST Brands and Holiday Stationstores.
Since being named president and CEO of ACT in September 2014, Hannasch has seen the organization become the largest company in Canada in terms of revenue, and one of the largest convenience store groups in the world. EBITDA has grown by an average of 17 percent per year during his tenure.
Recently, he’s led a multiyear global rebranding campaign to bring the company’s diverse brands together under one global Circle K banner. This includes most of the company’s 16,000 stores across the world, except those in Quebec, which continue to display the Couche-Tard banner.
Accomplishments like these have earned Hannasch the recognition of being the 2019 Convenience Store News Retailer Executive of the Year.
In an interview with CSNews, Hannasch made clear that his focus is on ACT’s employees, ensuring they are growing together to fulfill the company’s mission of “Making our customers’ lives a little easier every day.”
Couche-Tard, based in Laval, Quebec, is the leader in the Canadian convenience store industry. In the U.S., it is the largest independent convenience store operator in terms of number of company-operated stores and the second largest in total stores. In Europe, ACT is a leading convenience and fuel retailer in Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden and Denmark), the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), as well as in Ireland, and has an important presence in Poland.
CSNEWS: When did you start working in the convenience store industry?
HANNASCH: When I was 16, I started working in a local convenience store in Iowa after school and on weekends. Back then, it was pumping full-serve gas, changing tires and selling a very narrow selection of products. I went to college, got a degree in finance and really had no plans in terms of industry. I joined Amoco in a finance role and after about 18 months, found it a bit boring and asked to have a role in retail operations. I left that job when I was asked to move to London — I wanted to stay closer to my family as my dad had just been diagnosed with cancer, and so I walked away without a plan. Luckily, I was not unemployed for long. Dick Johnson, an Indiana businessman whose family owned a small chain of service stations and convenience stores under the name Bigfoot, knew me and asked me to manage the business. Less than a year later, Bigfoot was bought by Alimentation Couche-Tard. As they say, the rest is history.
CSNEWS: What subsequent positions have you held and what other companies have you worked for?
HANNASCH: Only three companies, starting with Amoco, which merged with BP. At BP, I had a number of positions in operations, pricing, and strategy groups. I was at Bigfoot for less than a year when it was purchased by Couche-Tard. We started our U.S. journey with 165 or so stores. I was responsible for this business and within a year, we purchased Dairy Mart and had over 500 stores in what we still call the Midwest Business Unit. From there, I became vice president of integration when we purchased Circle K in 2003, and from 2004 to 2008 was senior vice president, western North America. Following that, I became senior vice president of U.S. operations from 2008 to 2010, and then chief operating officer before being appointed president and CEO five years ago.
CSNEWS: What attracted you to working in the c-store industry?
HANNASCH: As I said, I kind of fell into it at Bigfoot, but once part of the industry, I came to love it. The c-store industry is closer to its customers than any other retailers and, as I often say, if you don’t like being with customers, you shouldn’t work in c-stores. It is also important to me that along with selling fuel and snacks, we sell time to our customers. Our mission is rather humble — to make our customer’s lives a little easier every day — and that humbleness and pride is what attracted me to the work and has kept me engaged now for nearly two decades. I am also attracted to the immense growth possibilities for people in our industry.There are a lot of people like me in our industry who started in stores and had a lot of both personal and professional growth opportunities — from a small farm community in Iowa to leading a business in 27 countries with 16,000 stores. This company, which started 40 years ago with a single store in Quebec, is now a Fortune 200 global company. Who would not be attracted to that growth?
CSNEWS: What has been the most personally satisfying achievement of your career?
HANNASCH: I never dreamed that we’d have a company like this. I grew up modestly in an Iowa farming community, was the first in my family to go to college, where I paid my way by working in the cafeteria. Leading a multinational company in Quebec was far from my mind. Being a part of the ACT story has been thrilling! In particular, rejuvenating and growing the global brand Circle K has been one of my most satisfying achievements. But even more so is the success we have had bringing so many new and talented people from many different companies into the Couche-Tard family and making them feel welcome, a part of the company, and a part of our shared culture.
CSNEWS: Your previous positions at ACT have been in operations. What is it about operations that gets you excited?
HANNASCH: Operations is the heart and soul of our company and of our industry. It’s where we meet our customers each and every day. Early in my career, I was more than excited to get out in the field. I’m not an office guy. Even now in my current role, I spend very little time in my office. Our leadership team spends a big part of the year visiting all parts of the network on “Pride Tours,” meeting our great store managers and associates, seeing our store and fuel court layouts, spending time with our customers, and learning best practices from around the globe to share with other regions. As the business grows, I am focusing more on strategic issues and leading our global functions, but I will always keep close to operations as it is vital to the business and to my leadership of it.
CSNEWS: What are the key growth initiatives for ACT in the coming year?
HANNASCH: In fiscal 2019, we publicly stated our goal to double the financial performance of the company within five years. In a nutshell, we want to double the company profitably through both organic growth and network expansion. We have done it several times in the past, but this time around, our goal is to put even more emphasis on organic growth. As per our strategic plan, more than 50 percent of our growth should be organic. We have based our strategic plan on a thorough understanding of our existing customer needs, and on educated views of our future needs and of current and future market dynamics. While we can never be certain of the future, we have created a diversified portfolio of actions that we believe will serve us well in this rapidly changing retail environment.
CSNEWS: What is the most significant change you’ve seen occur in the industry during your career?
HANNASCH: No doubt, advances in digital and the ability of technologies to make information available, remove friction from so many facets of life, and consequently disrupt many longstanding business models. The very definition of convenience is literally being redefined almost daily. The mass adoption of smartphones, social media, gaming, etc., has fundamentally changed the way we live, the way we work, the way we play, and has created multi-industry disruption at an incredible pace. The pace of change has never been faster and the impact technology is having on driving business performance has never been greater. It will only deepen with artificial intelligence, robotics and mobility, and while this is exciting, it means we can never rest — as we grow, we must simplify, standardize and, at the same time, innovate and take risks.
CSNEWS: Were there any leaders or role models who particularly helped you during your career?
HANNASCH: I have been fortunate to work with a lot of great people over the last 30 years and would like to think I am a product of all of those people. That said, the founders of ACT have been hugely important to me both personally and professionally. They are each very different and bring different skills and strengths to the partnership. It’s likely they would not have been successful without each other and they recognized that. They worked together with tremendous respect for each other, listened to each other and made sure they were all aligned before moving forward. Forty years later, they are still partners and friends. That speaks volumes, and I would like to think it has helped shape me from someone who focused a lot of time on trying to be right to someone focused on building teams, nurturing culture and giving people space to be their best.
CSNEWS: Looking ahead, what changes do youforesee happening in the c-store industry?
HANNASCH: We sell time and I believe time will continue to increase in value. I also believe great customer service and clean bathrooms will always be important. We need to continue to embrace the rapidly changing digital world, as well as the generational changes in snacking patterns and mobility. As a result, we need to keep innovating solutions and developing the convenience and mobility offer of the future — whether it’s for food, coffee, snacks, car wash, fuel, charging or frictionless payments. At the same time, we need to always focus on the fundamentals.
CSNEWS: Personally, looking ahead, what is the most important change you’d like to see at either ACT or in the c-store industry in general?
HANNASCH: What I want most is for the c-store industry to stay relevant in our customers’ lives. We have a unique product that gives our customers back time in their day by being able to fuel up quickly and satisfy their drinking and snacking urges. We need to stay true to our place in the market while, at the same time, recognizing how advances in technology and mobility can make us even better at what we do, both for our employees and our customers. And, most of all, we need to stay authentic to our culture — at all times, humble, customer-centric and ambitious to grow the brand as we become the world’s preferred destination for convenience and fuel.
Source : Don Longo, Convenience Store News