QuikTrip CFO provides advice to success in business, life and careers

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by Jim North
Southeast Campus Editor

The humble beginnings of QuikTrip Corporation (QT) go back to 1958: a single store in Tulsa was opened on a modest start-up investment of $15,000.

So says Stuart Sullivan, a Tulsa native and current chief financial officer (CFO) of one of America’s most successful companies.

Sullivan spoke in the Film Lecture Room of the Tulsa Community College (TCC) Metro Campus (MC) on Feb. 3.

He was the third in a four guest speaker series sponsored by the Business and Information division, along with Phi Beta Lambda.

His address was aimed at the impartation of ideas to help students focus on career goals, sharpening the attitudes of success.

Chester Cadieux, a college buddy Burt Holmes and another investor pitched in $5,000 each to launch the phenomenal growth of the entrepreneurial success story.

Today, QT is a $3 billion privately held company based on annual revenues of $12.5 billion.

There are 20,000 plus employees and 723 stores in 11 states. Georgia is their largest market with 138 stores in Atlanta alone. The Dallas/Fort Worth market is soon to eclipse that number.

The first stores were grocery and convenience only, however by 1972 they edged into the gasoline market.

In 1984, decisions were made to position themselves as a major player in the niche. QT currently sells three to four billion gallons of gasoline per year.

QT is ranked number 27 on the Forbes list of largest privately held companies and number 54 on the Forbes list of best companies for which to work.

“We’re really proud of that, because we do invest heavily in our employees,” says Sullivan.

His role as CFO involves the oversight and
responsibility of the financial health of the corporation.

Sullivan was raised in Tulsa and attended the University of Tulsa (TU), obtaining degrees in accounting and law.

He has been associated with QT for 18 years, beginning in 1997. His initial duties were providing general counsel to the company as an attorney. The merging of his experience in accounting and law helped prepare him for the position he occupies today.

“That’s the key thing … think about the type of experiences you can garner … and how you can grow that to an ultimate goal,” he says.

His open door to establish a legal department at QT eventually lent itself to contributing his business and accounting aptitudes also.

“When I was going through college, like where you guys are now, I didn’t have a clear picture of where I wanted to end up. I didn’t have a goal of being a CFO.”

He stresses the idea that the building of experiences, one upon another, can lead to greater opportunities in the future. It is the combination of past experiences that have helped mold and shape him as a leader.

As CFO, he oversees corporate accounting functions, treasury functions and cash handled in the stores, namely payment methods involved in transactions.

He also is responsible for capital structure, from both financing and equity standpoints (ownership interest in the company).

Sullivan urged attendees to find their own direction for their careers but through time-proven strategies.

“The first one is relationships … because the relationships you establish, even at this early point, will dictate the path to your success. Business is based on relationships.”

He also stressed the importance of finding role models of individuals already involved in particular spheres of business. Then, he says, “Emulate those things in yourself.”

Sullivan also encouraged attendees to align themselves with people who can help them become more successful.

Finally, he validated and reinforced the concept that “perception is reality.”

“You’re creating a perception for others all the time. Everything you do is creating a perception of you.”

He says people can change their actions and behavior to match the way they want to be perceived.

Another success factor is effective communication—ensuring the message conveyed is the same one being received by the hearer. Sullivan says listening has become a lost art, and people do well who want to
excel at the skill.

He defines active listening as the art of asking questions or restating words, so the original message can be heard accurately.

“The message given is the message that we receive. That’s what we want to achieve.”

Expanding on the topic of communication, Sullivan says modern electronic communication, such as social media, is the lowest form.

Most communication is non-verbal, comprised by 50-60 percent facial gestures and body language. He cautions it is not good to totally rely on electronics to meaningfully communicate with others. Be involved, he stresses.

Sullivan cited QT’s clear purpose statement: “’Provide an opportunity for our employees to grow and succeed.’ We say that’s why we do what we do, that’s why we’re in business.”

He concludes by saying the goal for QT is to be viewed by customers, employees and the competition as the best gasoline, quick-service food and convenience marketer.

Core values guide day-to-day decisions for the company, according to Sullivan.

“The first one we have is to be the best. The second one is to never be satisfied. The next one is to focus long-term … the last one is just to do the right thing.”

He points to core values as being woven in daily operations, creating the positive culture across the company.

The next speaker in the Business division series is Marcia Sauzek of Cox Communications on April 1, also in the Film Lecture Room of the MC. For more information, call (918) 595-7354.

 

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