A Charmed and Shrewd Leader

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A Charmed and Shrewd Leader

By Don Longo, Convenience Store News - 12/08/2008
If you haven't finished your holiday shopping yet, or if you just want to treat yourself to a thoughtful, down-to-earth book that addresses the broad range of business decisions faced by one of the industry's founding pioneers over the span of 50 years, you should try "From Lucky to Smart: Leadership Lessons from QuikTrip," by Chester Cadieux.

Cadieux, co-founder of Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip, packs more insights and inspiration into this 200-page book than you're likely to find in dozens of other, thicker business tomes written by more famous authors, business leaders and consultants. It felt good to read a business book that focused on a simple truth: that underlying any great enterprise is a group of people willing to work hard to accomplish great things. Cadieux created a culture unlike 99-percent of American companies. The result is a workforce willing to go the extra mile to service customers and change with the times.

The most important lessons in the book have to do with how QuikTrip has dealt with change. "Constant change is inevitable," writes Cadieux, who was the first executive inducted into the Convenience Store News Hall of Fame back in 1987, but "it's how you apply what you learn that makes the difference."

He also warns against complacency and urges retailers to strive for constant improvement. "While there are benefits to getting comfortable in a certain place and really perfecting everything about it, that attitude doesn't reflect the constant tremors that shake the foundations of all customer service businesses," writes Cadieux.

I think a good example of this is the company's thinking around "reasonableness." The executive doesn't dismiss the value of computer-generated reports, but he notes "the truth is that in the age of computers, people all too often treat reports as though they're always accurate. In reality, the dependability of any report is only as good as the information (and formulas) used to construct it." Thinking like this is the result of "asking lots of questions, learning all the time and developing the habit of thinking about how things fit into the bigger picture."

Some other sharp observations from the book:

-- "Reach outside your organization to develop networks that expand industry knowledge."

-- "Although quick employment decisions may reduce short-term stress, they often feed a vicious cycle of costly, long-term mistakes."

-- "Without fail, each year we learned something important from a question or comment voiced by a single employee."

-- "Without great execution, the best processes and plans will fall short of expectations."

If nothing else, the chapter on "The Infamous Asshole Memo" is worth the price of the entire book.

There's nothing wrong with learning the hard way, as long as you learn from your mistakes, writes Cadieux. I'm glad I read the book.

You can read more about the history of QuikTrip in our special 50th anniversary report in the October 2008 issue of CSNews, available at www.csnews.com. And, of course, you can buy the book, available on Amazon.com.