Changing of the Guard

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Changing of the Guard

November was a maelstrom of change for the folks at Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. as the company, its key executives and new Japanese ownership made headlines at a breakneck pace. Internal uncertainty and speculation about what the new private ownership structure will bring — never mind the executive management shuffle — no doubt had tongues wagging at water coolers companywide.

On Friday, Nov. 9, the world's largest convenience store chain was once again taken private after nearly 15 years as a publicly-traded company. On Monday Nov. 11 the company's turnaround president and CEO James Keyes retired from 7-Eleven after 20 years of service, the past five of which he spent as top dog. Seventeen days later, a former 7-Eleven

veteran and president of GameStop — Joseph M. DePinto – was named as Keyes' successor. (turn to Page 12 for full news coverage).

Throughout all of this tumult, Convenience Store News was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. On Nov. 1, we hosted the 19th Annual Convenience Store Industry Hall of Fame gala reception and dinner in Dallas to honor none other than James Keyes as this year's retailer inductee. Little did we know how fortuitous our timing was. The next day Keyes sat with me for an unprecedented three hour interview for this issue's cover story. It wasn't just the time spent, however, that made the interview and subsequent story so compelling. It was the candid conversation with Keyes, his self analysis and personal reflection that, in hindsight, were of course a hint of what was to come.

Commenting on his contribution to 7-Eleven and his possible legacy, Keyes said: "I hope I will have played a role in the transformation of 7-Eleven and that people will look back and say, 'Jim was responsible for getting the company to turn the corner.' I don't know if I will be the one to take it to the next level or if my strength is in the change — creating the change. That remains to be seen."

As I look back on Keyes' career and contribution to 7-Eleven — and the entire convenience store industry, for that matter — he played an important role. The upward trajectory of the company's performance with Keyes at the helm speaks for itself. It is one of the greatest turnaround stories in the c-store industry.

But I would venture to say that as Keyes made significant strides at 7-Eleven with his personable and maverick management style — and singular business focus — he managed to simultaneously elevate the c-store industry as well. He brought a certain star quality, if you will, to the industry. Wall Street and financial institutions certainly raised their heads and paid more attention to — and perhaps gained more respect for and confidence in — the industry. Retailer relationships with manufacturers and suppliers also shifted — and in most cases improved — due to Keyes' demands for more relevant and timely new products.

Because of 7-Eleven's sheer girth as the world's largest convenience store chain, the industry as a whole has no choice but to rise and fall with it. With Keyes at the helm it rose higher than most pundits ever expected.

As an industry editor, I will miss Keyes. He was strategic, bright, articulate, colorful and so quotable. Convenience Store News was privileged to salute him with his induction into the Hall of Fame last month, and are thrilled to share with our readers the last trade press interview Keyes conducted during what were his final days at the helm of 7-Eleven.

In this issue, we simultaneously welcome DePinto back to the industry. Without question Keyes turned 7-Eleven around, and it is up to DePinto to take that success to the next level. Industry players who know him well say DePinto will be good for 7-Eleven and get the job done with aplomb.

He, however, returns to a company that is structured very differently than the one he left less than a year ago. Only time will tell about the success of this change in ownership and management guard.