ATLANTA — What began 10 years ago as a simple breakfast in the basement of the Las Vegas Convention Center to recognize 30 deserving women in front of a crowd of less than 100 attendees evolved into the 2023 Convenience Store News Top Women in Convenience (TWIC) Awards Gala, where an extra-special 10th anniversary ceremony recognized 86 honorees in front of a sold-out crowd of 450 attendees.
The 10th class of Top Women in Convenience comprises 86 established and emerging female leaders in the convenience store industry. The honorees were selected from an extremely competitive pool of nominees based on their innovative corporate initiatives, extraordinary financial and strategic accomplishments, astute problem-solving acumen, exceptional performance, mentorship work and selfless charitable participation, along with other attributes that go above and beyond the call of duty.
The 2023 TWIC class of five Women of the Year, 39 Senior-Level Leaders, 35 Rising Stars and seven Mentors from across the industry's retailer, distributor and supplier communities were honored the evening of Oct. 4 at an awards gala and party at the Omni Atlanta Hotel at CNN Center, against the backdrop of the 2023 NACS Show.
"The Top Women in Convenience program has evolved into a robust recognition and education program and community that facilitates networking, amplifies important conversations and celebrates achievement. It's very exciting tonight to recognize a new group of exceptional women and to reflect on 10 years of outstanding achievements," said Paula Lashinsky, senior vice president and group publisher, U.S. Grocery & Convenience Group, for EnsembleIQ. "It reminds us of something we've always known, which is there's power in numbers and strength in collaboration."
Keynote speaker Ina Strand, chief people officer at Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc./Circle K (ACT), spoke to the power of the TWIC program, noting that it was a mere decade ago that women's contributions to the convenience store industry were going unnoticed.
She shared with the audience how the morning after the 2018 TWIC Awards Gala in Las Vegas brought together past and present Circle K Top Women in Convenience winners who were inspired to create winning conditions for women across the organization. After several hours of courageous conversation, that meeting provided the foundation for what would become ACT's Women's Council. On International Women's Day in 2019, the group became official. Now, ACT's Women's Council meets annually the morning after the TWIC awards ceremony.
"We get together with our new honorees as well as our male allies to continue exploring how we can create better pipelines for advancing and for advancement and winning conditions for women in our business and in the industry. I can proudly say that what started in Vegas didn't stay in Vegas," Strand said, adding that ACT now has seven business resource groups, including the Women's Council.
Words of Wisdom From the Women of the Year
Each year, five women are selected as the Women of the Year for their positive impact not only on the success of their own companies, but also on the convenience store industry at large. The 2023 Women of the Year are Treasa Bowers, senior vice president of human resources, 7-Eleven Inc.; Kathy Cunnington, senior vice president of global shared services, Alimentation Couche-Tard/Circle K; Kellie Janssen, president, Henry's Foods Inc.; Eva Rigamonti, associate general counsel/executive director of public policy, RaceTrac Inc.; and Kathy Williams, vice president, National Retail Sales, East, The Coca-Cola Co.
Upon receiving her award, Bowers reflected on her nearly 40 years serving the convenience channel at 7-Eleven and said she expects the best is yet to come.
"I have had really great opportunities, but I think what's been more magnificent and wonderful is all the people that I've been able to experience," she said. "I'm more inspired and energized for building the future of convenience. And, looking at all of the leaders here tonight, I can honestly say it is clear that the future is really, really bright."
Cunnington, who has been a part of the industry for nearly three decades, shared that while she has had strong role models and sponsors both personally and professionally, the most impactful role model she had was her father, Dr. Harry Arthur. When debating whether to be a marketing major or an accounting major, he once told his daughter, "You can do anything you set your mind to. Your biggest problem is deciding what that is."
"I've often reflected back on my dad's wisdom. We make choices. We make choices that make us happy. Those choices turn into the paths we take, and that's how we define success. We need to own those decisions," Cunnington said.
She and her husband Jeff use this insight as a guide to raising their three daughters by showing them the world, and encouraging them to make their own decisions and do what inspires them. Cunnington believes this is the most important pointer that all women need to remember.
"I smile proudly when I look to the future of women in this industry. We've made hard choices, but we've made tremendous progress," she told the audience. "We have more sponsors, male and female. They help us navigate career paths, and we need to be those leaders for them. My most important thing: this is a marathon, it's not a sprint."
Woman of the Year Kellie Janssen
Echoing the theme of making choices, Janssen recognized that all of the TWIC honorees are doing what they do each day to make an impact, and that impact will continue for years to come. Although she didn't know much about the distribution side of business when she accepted the offer from Henry's Foods to join 12 years ago as its first president who was a nonowner and female, she did it to make a difference.
"I didn't know what that looked like or how I could do it, but I knew if I created pathways to find a way to make a difference, I would," she said, explaining that part of Henry's Foods' mission statement is to exceed expectations and to make that a living statement, it can't be just words, but action. "And action is what got me on this stage. You have to do something to make an impact and to make a difference. You have to be intentional."
Calling the convenience store industry "exciting" and "never boring," Rigamonti applauded the channel, where she said it is commonplace for an entry-level employee to rise through the ranks to the top. While she acknowledged that it is still a male-dominated industry, Rigamonti also said it is an industry where women have "a real chance" to grow, develop and flourish.
"It is my great honor, and on most days my great pleasure, to work in this industry and represent RaceTrac before the federal and state governments," Rigamonti said. "The beauty of my role is that even though I'm standing in a room full of fierce competitors, my world, the policy world, is one where competition takes a backseat, where we always come together and collaborate to push the policies that benefit the entire convenience store industry and the customers that we serve."
In her acceptance speech, Williams extended her gratitude to her team and thanked the "exceptional leadership" at Coca-Cola, where she has worked with and for leaders who don't just understand the power of diversity, but embrace it.
"In the convenience retail business, you are given the extraordinary opportunity to interact with millions of people each and every day," she said. "I'm so proud to represent Coca-Cola in this channel and to work with many of you."
This year's TWIC Awards Gala also honored Yesway with the 2023 TWIC Corporate Empowerment Award. Now in its second year, this award honors a convenience retail company that commits to gender equality, paves the way to empower women in leadership roles and is a champion for the inclusion of women in the goals and vision of the enterprise.
Supporters of the 2023 Top Women in Convenience program include: founding and presenting sponsor Altria Group Distribution Co.; platinum sponsors ITG Brands, PepsiCo Inc. and Reynolds Marketing Services Co.; gold sponsors BIC USA Inc., The Boston Beer Co., The Coca-Cola Co., Core-Mark International, Juul Labs, Mars Wrigley, McLane Co. Inc., Mondelēz International, The Proctor & Gamble Co., Swedish Match North America, and Tyson Convenience; silver sponsors Anheuser-Busch InBev, BeatBox Beverages, Constellation Brands, Glanbia Performance Nutrition, PDI Technologies Inc. and Premier Manufacturing Inc.; bronze sponsor Zebra Technologies Corp., and Corporate Empowerment Award sponsor The Hershey Co.