A Chat With Retailer Executive of the Year Brian Hannasch
LAVAL, Quebec — 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; the largest independent U.S. convenience store operator in terms of number of company-operated stores and the second largest in total stores; 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. CSNews recently chatted with Hannasch about the honor.
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: Before becoming president and CEO, your previous positions at ACT were 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: 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.