LONDON – This year’s recipient of the NACS European Industry Leader Award is Frank Gleeson, president of Aramark Northern Europe. The award, sponsored by Mondelez International, was presented during the NACS European Convenience Retail Awards in London on June 6.
“I cannot think of a better leader to be recognized for this prestigious award. He has been one of the industry’s strongest advocates for decades, and his leadership is second to none,” said Rick Brindle, vice president of industry development at Mondelez International.
Gleeson, who also serves on the NACS Executive Committee as vice chairman of international, grew up in the foodservice and retail industries, working his first job in his brother’s coffee shop and restaurant business; his parents owned a clothing store. He also worked in the video store business, managing 16 Blockbuster stores before the age of 30. Gleeson joined Aramark in 2014 as managing director of food services Ireland and more recently as chief operating officer of its Northern Europe group.
Prior to Aramark, he served as vice president of retail for Statoil Ireland, and in 2005 became the retail director for Topaz Energy Group, the largest importer and distributor of transport fuel in Ireland, which was purchased by Circle K parent company Alimentation Couche-Tard in 2016. There, Gleeson led a team responsible for the successful development and rollout of the Topaz brand in 2008, oversaw an integration of Shell and Statoil service stations, and was responsible for the retail business of more than 340 sites.
In April, Aramark Northern Europe launched a new 10-year partnership with British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to enhance food concepts and delivery across workplaces in Northern Europe, including the United Kingdom and Ireland. “We are passionate about the health and well-being of those we serve every day, so it was a natural fit for us to partner with Jamie Oliver,” said Gleeson about the new initiative. “Aramark serves hundreds of thousands of people in workplaces, schools and colleges every day, so we have a fantastic opportunity to work together where we can set the agenda for health and nutrition and have a real and lasting impact on people’s lives.”
On June 7, Gleeson sat down with NACS President and CEO Henry Armour during the Summit to talk about the dynamics taking place across retail and now they are affecting convenience. Gleeson shared his thoughts on how the market is evolving, and key factors that industry leaders should keep in mind.
Taking a page from Darwin’s theory of evolution, Gleeson said, “It’s not the strongest who will survive; it’s the ones who are most adaptable to change.” He noted that his entire career, from washing dishes in his brother’s coffee shop to convenience stores, has been all about change. “The change has been phenomenal, and the best way to keep up is to get out into the market, see what’s going on and be willing to take risks. If you don’t push hard enough, then you probably aren’t trying hard enough,” he said.
Armour commented that industry leaders are always focused on their customers’ journeys, but today they are looking more granularly at their customers’ experience. In other words, retailers are reexamining their businesses through the lens of what their customers are seeing. One aspect consumers expect is the quality of the foods and products retailers sell, and health and wellness is here to stay. However, many retailers still are struggling with a highly coveted customer experience: personalization.
“You have to make it easy for the customer to interact with you,” Gleeson said. He noted that brands will fail at personalization and lose customers if they force them into experiences they don’t need—such as bombarding consumers with airline fare advertisements for trips they’ve already booked.
Sharing his own learnings about leadership, Gleeson said it’s about finding the right people, empowering them, and guiding and coaching them. He also credits his participation in the NACS Executive Leadership Program at Cornell for honing his leadership skills. “The 360 [review] was very eye-opening. I’ve always been a very driven and competitive guy, but I learned that I wasn’t listening and communicating with my team as well as I should be,” he said.
Today, Gleeson looks for people to fill his team who have a complementary skillset to his own, and who challenge the status quo. “I’m a firm believer that you need to have the right behaviors on your team to produce good results. I had great mentors who guided me to change my behaviors to reach the next level of my career,” he said, adding that he encourages everyone to solicit feedback from their peers.
Gleeson also talks about his leadership journey in the NACS Magazine feature, “Globalism and Grit.”
The NACS Convenience Summit Europe brings together convenience and fuel retailing industry professionals from around the world for new knowledge, new commercial connections and networking, and the opportunity to discover and discuss new ideas from retail store tours. A highlight of the event is the prestigious International Convenience Retail Awards program, now in its 10th year, which recognizes and promotes convenience retailing excellence.