QuikTrip CEO explains his company’s culture to Lied Center audience

Chet Cadieux is the CEO of Tulsa-based QuikTrip. Photo courtesy of Kansas University.

In an industry where 100 percent turnover is the norm and profit margins are razor-thin, QuickTrip CEO Chet Cadieux said his company has thrived by hiring nice people and looking after them. That might sound like common sense, but it has taken years of commitment and patience from the company his father helped found.

Cadieux explained the convenience store chain’s culture and success to an audience made up largely of Kansas University students at the Lied Center Wednesday.

He came dressed in the familiar red shirt of QuikTrip store employees. Cadieux himself started out working at a QuikTrip store when he was 16.

He told the audience that the company hires people who are competitive, shun contentment, look to the long-term and do what’s right for the company and right in general.

“If they’re not the best, then they’re miserable,” he said.

Introducing Cadieux was KU business school dean Neeli Bendapudi, who published a widely read paper on QuikTrip’s business culture and strategy for the Harvard Business Review.

She and her husband, Venkat, who co-wrote the paper, researched the company specifically because it performed well and received employee praise in an unglamorous industry.

At $40,000 a year, QuikTrip’s full-time employees start out at nearly triple the market salary, Cadieux said. Those who stay long enough can even take sabbaticals.

Cadieux also emphasized the organizational respect the company shows its employees, promoting from within and giving them honest feedback and information about the company.

Although executives in the business world might pay lip service to the idea, “I don’t think a lot of companies look at their employees as an investment,” Cadieux said. Rather, employees are often seen as expenses by many companies.

And the investment in employees has paid off for QuikTrip. The company, which started out at a time when the U.S. had just 300 gas stations in total, today has 685 stores, makes $11 billion in revenue and has 14,000 employees.

The company has routinely made Forbe’s list of the best companies to work for.