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7-Eleven CEO promotes importance of clientele

Profile image for By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer
By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer

Joseph M. DePinto, president and CEO of 7-Eleven Inc., shared with University of North Texas business students his experience as a servant leader Friday.

He told the story of the company and his involvement.

7-Eleven was started by Joe Thompson in 1927, when it was an ice house, DePinto said. At that time, a customer told Thompson he should offer ice, milk and eggs.

“Listening to customers led to an industry,” DePinto said. “Without customers, you don’t have a business.”

Now, 7-Eleven has about 48,000 stores in 16 countries.

DePinto talked with students in the College of Business as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series. Past speakers have included Phil Sorgen, Microsoft corporate vice president, and Jeffrey P. Fegan, CEO of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

DePinto joined the 7-Eleven team in 2005, when the company was in debt, the supply chain wasn’t efficient and customer needs and inventory didn’t line up.

His job was to figure out what to do.

The first thing he did, he told students, was gather input from employees across the company. He also found out what the customers wanted by visiting stores.

“We got closer to the customer,” he said.

The company had to change the culture of the business, DePinto said, which is difficult to do after a company has been around for nearly 80 years.

“Culture change is painful,” he said. “It takes a long time.”

Part of the change was implementing servant leadership, he said.

“It was a big undertaking,” DePinto said. “But it’s paid back significantly.”

Then 2008 gave the company and the rest of the United States a “curve ball,” he said.

The Great Recession was a major deal psychologically for the consumer, and it changed consumer behaviors, DePinto said.

7-Eleven had to start offering value products under its private label, which increased profits for the company and offered customers less-expensive alternatives.

One of the good things that came out of it, he said, is that corporate America is learning about the inefficiencies it has had.

Today, 7-Eleven offers a leaner, more streamline shopping experience, he said.

DePinto talked about how technology is developing rapidly and changing consumer behavior.

“My No. 1 worry is that as fast as our company is changing, we are not changing faster than the external environment,” he said.

His advice to the business students: “In this world you have to keep up with the pace of change,” he said.

RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is .