NATIONAL REPORT — The convenience store industry gathered virtually to honor 52 outstanding female leaders, ranging from top executives to up-and-comers, at this year's Convenience Store News Top Women in Convenience (TWIC) awards gala.
Held the evening of Oct. 12, the seventh-annual event celebrated women working for c-store industry retailer, supplier and distributor businesses who are making outstanding contributions to their companies and the industry at large. Award categories included Mentors, Rising Stars, Senior-Level Leaders, and Women of the Year.
Originally scheduled to take place during the 2020 NACS Show in Las Vegas, this year's program was held as a special Virtual Watch Party due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The pandemic has disrupted so many aspects of everyday life, but there has been a constant in the chaos: a strong sense of community in the convenience store channel and the innovation, creativity and dedication of the individuals and teams running these enterprises," CSNews Brand Director and EnsembleIQ Vice President Paula Lashinsky said in her opening remarks.
Special guest speakers included Joe DePinto, president and CEO of 7-Eleven Inc.; Brian Hannasch, president and CEO of Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.; and Darren Rebelez, president and CEO of Casey's General Stores Inc.
"Through the Top Women in Convenience awards, we're able to recognize so many outstanding leaders for doing incredible work and making our industry stronger," DePinto said as he introduced a video that included congratulations from many 7-Eleven employees in different roles and locations, including a large group of masked and socially distanced well-wishers outside the retailer's headquarters in Irving, Texas.
"Like we say at 7-Eleven, Oh thank heaven for both of you," DePinto added in a shoutout to Erin King and Julie Trapp-Clark, 7-Eleven's honorees in this year's class of TWIC award winners. Both women were honored as Rising Stars.
Hannasch reflected on how when he began his career, nearly everyone on his team looked like him, but since then, advancing gender and racial equality has made Couche-Tard a better company. At the same time, he noted that while approximately 60 percent of store-level employees are women, including managers, "that percentage falls off quickly" in the higher ranks of the company. A similar gap is observable for Black and Latino employees.
"We honestly believe that's not good enough. That's not reflective of who our customer base is," he said. "We're on a long journey to remedy this. As an industry, in this regard, we need to stay humble; stay focused on the journey that's in front of us."
Rebelez concluded the guest speeches by highlighting how women have had an effect on the convenience store industry even before it was commonly recognized.
"The convenience store industry has made a lot of progress over the years, but from my perspective it has always had strong women leaders that shape the direction of this industry in meaningful ways," he said.
Rebelez commended this year's TWIC honorees for their current work and past achievements, stating: "Each of you demonstrates the recognition of the positive impact that happens when we make sure women have a seat at the table and a voice in the meeting."
HONORING THE WINNERS
TWIC is the first and only convenience store industry awards program that recognizes women making outstanding contributions to their companies and the industry. Judging was conducted by CSNews in collaboration with the Network of Executive Women and the 2020 Top Women in Convenience Advisory Board.
This year's TWIC honorees included five Women of the Year, 21 Senior-Level Leaders, 22 Rising Stars, and four Mentors.
The Women of the Year were:
- Anne Flint, Director of Category Management, Tobacco, EG Group;
- Ramona Giderof, Vice President, Convenience Channel, Anheuser-Busch;
- Julie Jackowski, Chief Legal Officer & Secretary, Casey’s General Stores Inc.;
- Natalie Morhous, President, RaceTrac Petroleum Inc.; and
- Ina Strand, Chief Human Resources Officer, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc./Circle K
"They are being recognized for their positive impact not only on the success of their own companies, but on the convenience store industry overall," CSNews Editor-in-Chief Linda Lisanti said of the Women of the Year. "These visionaries have steered their companies into new markets, new opportunities, and strong measurable growth."
As she accepted her award, Flint described how she has faced difficulties but also witnessed change as a female leader. "I have personally seen and experienced the positive changes in how women are viewed and treated in our industry, but know that there is still much more than can be done," she said. "I can tell you that succeeding as a female in the industry hasn't been easy as I have had to continuously prove my capabilities and, at times, be assertive to gain the respect of leadership and my male counterparts."
She added that she would be remiss if she didn't thank her male counterparts who contributed to her personal and career growth. Flint went on to encourage all male leaders in the industry to continue offering support.
Giderof expressed thanks to the Anheuser-Busch leadership team for giving her the opportunity to lead a passionate and talented team, as well as the members of her team for motivating and inspiring her every day.
Morhous likewise showed appreciation for her team members in a recorded speech in which she applauded RaceTrac employees at all levels. "Whether you work in our stores or our Store Support Center, thank you for everything you do for our company," she said.
Jackowski, who also served as the 2019-2020 NACS Chair, accepted her award with a look back on her early nervousness as Casey's first female officer, which she said gave way to an understanding of how differences can lead to strength.
"When people make an effort to understand each other, collaborate together and learn from one another, the different genders actually complement each other to enhance the overall work of the team," she said.
The 2020 Top Women in Convenience awards program is sponsored by founding and presenting sponsor Altria Group Distribution Co.; platinum sponsors RAI Trade Marketing Services and Ruiz Foods Products Inc.; gold sponsors Anheuser-Busch, BIC USA Inc., The Coca-Cola Co., The Hershey Co., Mars Wrigley, McLane Co., Mondelez International and Proctor & Gamble Distributing Co.; and silver sponsor Molson Coors Beverage Co.