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7-Eleven President and CEO Joe DePinto '99 speaks at the inaugural Kellogg on Growth Forum on Nov. 10.

7-Eleven President and CEO Joe DePinto '99 helps kick off the school’s inaugural Kellogg on Growth Forum.

To grow, serve

7-Eleven CEO Joe DePinto ’99 explains why servant leaders make the best leaders

By Rachel P. Farrell

11/12/2015 - Serving others has a business benefit: growth.

Just ask Joe DePinto, who has spent the last 10 years practicing the principles of “servant leadership” while sitting at the helm of 7-Eleven. During DePinto’s tenure as president and CEO, the convenience-store chain has grown from 27,000 to 57,000 stores, with sales doubling to $8 billion worldwide.

Today, the company is expanding so quickly that it opens a new store every three hours.

“Servant leadership is what I believe has enabled my career,” said DePinto, addressing a crowd of more than 1,400 in Cahn Auditorium on Nov. 10. DePinto joined Kellogg Dean Sally Blount ’92 and Silicon Valley Connect Managing Director Ellen Levy in kicking off the school’s inaugural Kellogg on Growth Forum, which brought together business leaders and members of the Kellogg community to explore methods of driving growth at the enterprise, macroeconomic and personal level.

Putting others first

DePinto defines servant leaders as those who are “ambitious for their organizations and other individuals ahead of themselves.” These leaders “have a paradoxical mix of personal humility and strong professional will.

“It seems very simple, very intuitive,” he said. “But it’s very hard, in practice. Think about it: As humans, we’re hard-wired to think about ourselves and our own selfish needs. That’s why servant leaders are so special and rare.”

DePinto pointed to Doug Brooks, former President, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Brinker International; Albert Carey, CEO of North America Beverages at PepsiCo; and Tom Greco, CEO of Frito-Lay North America as examples of servant leaders. What makes these CEOs especially effective, he said, is that they’ve combined the principles of servant leadership with strong “capacity” in terms of intelligence, ability, knowledge and experience.

Capacity is “a bit of a commodity” among Kellogg students, graduates and faculty, he noted, acknowledging the caliber of talent in the auditorium. He urged audience members to rise to the challenge of servant leadership and use it as a catalyst for personal growth.

“Serve and support others and your organizations first — authentically,” said DePinto in his closing remarks. “If you do that, I know you’re going to grow and attain incredible success in your personal career and your professional and home lives.”

Meanwhile, DePinto says he’ll continue to work on his own development as a servant leader and that of his employees.

“My ongoing challenge is to continue to cascade this principle throughout the company,” he said. “It develops others and ultimately grows our business.”

Read more about the Kellogg on Growth Forum: