Frank Gleeson Reflects on His Year as NACS Chairman
DUBLIN — When Aramark Northern Europe President/CEO Frank Gleeson succeeded Joe Sheetz as NACS chairman in October 2018, he became the first executive outside of North America to hold this influential position. But the move signified far more: For NACS, it meant international retailing had earned a prominent place in the boardroom; and for Gleeson, the appointment was the culmination of 15 years of work on NACS’ international agenda.
As chairman, Gleeson has become a voice for the international community. Working with the board’s key decision makers, he’s addressed major issues impacting convenience stores worldwide, including emerging technologies, healthy food options, and carbon fuel regulations. Changing consumer demands and the best-practice models of top global retailers were also a focus.
“I brought an international perspective and voice to what is largely a North American organization,” said Gleeson, who works out of Aramark’s Dublin headquarters. “There’s a massive sense of pride in being the first chairman outside of North America to represent a global organization and make sure the international agenda is strong.”
Gleeson’s involvement in international retailing began in the early 2000s when he was vice president of retail for Statoil Ireland (now Equinor). He toured the United States’ and other countries’ convenience stores, educating himself on best practices. He then emulated the successful concepts he saw in his home country.
In 2005, Gleeson joined the NACS International Committee. He also attended the NACS Executive Leadership Program at Cornell University and became a regular participant in NACS’ Convenience Summit Europe and Convenience Summit Asia.
Over time, he watched NACS’ commitment to global c-store retailers and suppliers gain muscle. “They pioneered convenience store connectivity in Europe and Asia,” he explained. “While it took a number of years, I was there for NACS growing as an international organization. All my colleagues supported me.”
Today, 50-plus countries are represented on NACS’ membership roster and delegates from 70 countries attend the annual NACS Show. Many foreign participants in both U.S. and overseas events are key decision makers. “They tend to be high-level, progressive global leaders who are most influential,” said Gleeson. “There’s so much in common for all of us.”
He points to some winning international c-store concepts, such as 7-Eleven in the Philippines and EG Group in England. “You see excellence around the world, with Asian stores redefining how convenience and technology can enhance operations and customer service, and European stores presenting fresh food on a higher level,” he noted.
Ireland, he believes, also has excellent c-stores, including Fresh the Good Food Market, which earned the 2018 NACS International Convenience Retailer of the Year award.
Aramark’s own operations include c-stores within hospitals and on oil rigs, fuel stations with convenience stores and foodservice, and Avoca, a premium lifestyle brand.
In the U.S., Gleeson admires many of the Mid-Atlantic convenience store chains, particularly Sheetz and Wawa Inc. But he sees a huge gap between the industry’s top performers and those lower on the totem pole. “There’s pockets of brilliance but, when you benchmark top against bottom, there’s huge opportunities for the latter,” he said.
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Gleeson, who will turn over the chairman role at the 2019 NACS Show, believes NACS’ extensive information network, advocacy efforts and other initiatives are invaluable to c-store operators worldwide.
“The most important thing they offer engaged members is unbelievable access to trends and knowledge, a database and great thinkers,” he said. “For me, a noncompetitive peer network provided knowledge, connections and personal insights into our business to make it better.”
NACS’ strong government representation is important in crucial areas like fuel, tobacco and food ingredients, where new regulations can seriously impact sales. While Gleeson was “taken by surprise” by how rapidly new legislation can be enacted, he said NACS is quick to respond.
“They have a strong voice on the Hill,” he assures. “They get member engagement to make sure industry and legislative issues are heard and leaders of respective governments are aware of them. They make sure we have the right representation and are capturing issues locally.”
Outside of the U.S., hot-button issues like tobacco and sugary foods continue to gather steam. “They’ve generated a lot of haste internationally and have a big impact on the industry and profitability,” Gleeson added.
When it comes healthy food, he praises NACS for joining forces with the Partnership for a Healthier America in 2017 to share ideas on how to increase healthy food choices in stores. In turn, the c-store industry has responded. In recognition of its efforts to fight obesity, NACS received the organization’s Partner of the Year award this April.
“They put this on the agenda and led it in a big way,” said Gleeson. “To be recognized by Michelle Obama’s Partnership for a Healthier America is a big deal. We’re proud of our role. The c-store industry hasn’t always been recognized for healthy choices.”
Gleeson also notes that NACS is being proactive in addressing the issue of low carbon fuel mandates. “Legislation will change how fuel is delivered to service stations. They have a pretty good handle on this with the Fuels Institute and how they’re advising government and legislators,” he said.