Now That Was a Great Day

By Frank Gleeson   read

Frank Gleeson shares why one day in 2019 was one of the most memorable during his NACS chairmanship.

June 26, 2020

Now-That-Was-a-Great-Day_PageImage.jpgAugust 8, 2019 was one of my favorite days serving as NACS Chairman.

That was the week I traveled from my home in Dublin, Ireland, to upstate New York for the final day of the NACS Executive Leadership Program at Cornell University. Door to door it took about 48 hours by plane and car. It was well worth the time, as I too attended this leadership course back in 2003 and it literally transformed my career.

Before I tell you about August 8, I’ll share a story about one of my favorite guys in Aramark who I have the pleasure of working with. Every year during his annual review, Kevin McGinley bugged me and his boss Shane—like really bugged us—to attend the leadership program at Cornell.

I really couldn’t say no, and here’s why: Besides the fact that Kevin was displaying a great leadership quality—persistence—I had been in his shoes. Moving through the ranks from store manager to a higher level requires new ways of thinking, as well as recognizing the need to make various personal and professional changes. This is not the kind of stuff you can learn on your own…or at least I couldn’t.

When Kevin came back from Cornell, he told me all about his experience and it was almost exactly what I shared with my boss back in 2003. He had learned the difference between being a manager and being a leader, just like I had almost 17 years ago.

When I had the privilege of being NACS Chairman, the role provided me with a lot of great opportunities, including that day last August when I spoke to the classroom of emerging industry leaders on the final day of their weeklong journey at Cornell. Listening to their experiences, and sharing my own, confirmed my optimism that we can take on all the challenges and opportunities coming our way. 

That day reminded me not only how my career was transformed, but also how the NACS Executive Education programs are transforming others. We need great leadership in our companies, and it’s our job to invest in developing those who want to take on greater roles and expand and grow their knowledge.

I have always believed in lifelong learning, whether in the classroom or in real-world settings. This is especially important today as we face moving forward amidst a global pandemic and continue to focus on the safety and health of our families, our customers and business.

Although the world as we know it has changed, our thirst for learning remains. Perhaps now more than ever, we need to stay on top of issues and know what’s happening globally. If certain issues aren’t affecting you now, they very well could be waiting just around the corner. Therefore, I can’t say enough about sharpening our leadership skills. Otherwise, many of us wouldn’t be able to recognize the signals that lead to disruption or challenge our values at their very core.

In 2003, I knew I needed to develop my leadership skills. I worked hard to become more collaborative and motivational. The NACS Executive Leadership Program at Cornell really helped me understand where I was falling short. I didn’t have all the answers but knew that I need to flex and broaden myself. In fact, “I really needed to listen more and be more flexible”, or so my wife told me.

I know these are tough times and we’re all wondering what the next few years will look like. If you can, take the opportunity to reflect on the road ahead and how you can better yourself. Learn a new skill, focus on an area you could improve, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. I take great pride knowing the global convenience and fuel retail industry has the most generous and driven people I’ve ever worked with. Reach out to me or your friends at NACS. And if you’re thinking about honing your own leadership skills, take a look at all the great executive-level education programs NACS has to offer that can do just that. I promise it will be time well spent.

Frank Gleeson is the region president/CEO of Northern Europe at Aramark. Early in his career he worked at Blockbuster Video, and his youngest daughter Ella has no idea what that is.