Cornering the market on success

She loves coming to work every day
How do you top being named one of Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Women” only five months into your job? If you’re president and CEO of the now publicly traded and locally owned CST Brands, you head to the Big Apple and ring the bell at the opening of the New York Stock Exchange! On Tuesday, December 3, that’s just what Kim Bowers did. “That was definitely a goose bump moment,” says Bowers, not only of ringing the bell, but also of seeing the 90-foot CST Brands banner stretched across the front of the building. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

100 stores in 100 days
Less than one year ago, Bowers assumed the role of CEO of Valero Energy Corporation’s convenience store spin-off company, CST Brands, after serving as Valero’s executive vice president and general counsel. You might think that such a high-profile CEO would spend most of her days in a large corner office issuing directives to her staff, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Instead, you are likely to find Bowers stocking shelves in a local Corner Store as part of her efforts to unite the company on every level and facilitate a spirit of teamwork. Bowers explains that the genesis of her focus on a unified atmosphere came from a variety of roundtables she attended in her first few months as CEO. Here, she learned that there was a growing divide between employees who worked in the Corner Stores and the those who worked in the corporate offices. Bowers set out to change that by visiting 100 stores in her first 100 days on the job.
“Getting out to the stores and understanding what goes on there every day is important,” she says. “We have at least 12,000 team members at CST, and I wanted to visit with them and find out what their ideas and concerns are and address those. You have to walk in someone else’s shoes to be able to understand where they are coming from.” During her 100 days Bowers served food, took out trash and performed nearly all of the daily responsibilities of a CST employee in order to fully grasp the operations from the ground up. The experience was such a positive one that Bowers decided to require all the other corporate employees to do the same thing by implementing Corner Store Time. Through Corner Store Time, all above store employees are required to work two days per year in one of the retail convenience stores, with that commitment extended to five times per year for all employees in leadership positions. As added incentive, a portion of the employees’ company bonuses depends on their participation. To date, the participation rate is 97 percent.

How do you top being named one of Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Women” only five months into your job? If you’re president and CEO of the now publicly traded and locally owned CST Brands, you head to the Big Apple and ring the bell at the opening of the New York Stock Exchange! On Tuesday, December 3, that’s just what Kim Bowers did. “That was definitely a goose bump moment,” says Bowers, not only of ringing the bell, but also of seeing the 90-foot CST Brands banner stretched across the front of the building. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Creating the culture
When a corporate giant like Valero decides to spin off one of its departments and create a separate entity, it isn’t without a little upheaval. Bowers, however, looks at change as opportunity, and she set forth to create and build a unified retail culture. “I knew I had to get the culture right from the beginning because we came from such a great culture,” she says. “I had to get people excited about what we had to offer as CST and get them comfortable with the change.”
In addition to the implementation of Corner Store Time, Bowers set about to define CST as a more relaxed atmosphere in other small ways that made a big difference. The first order of business was to do away with the previous Valero dress code. Corporate employees are now free to wear jeans and CST shirts, while store employees are allowed to swap the mandatory black pants and shoes for dark jeans and shoes. She also lifted Valero’s “no beard or facial hair” policy for the male employees across the board. “Changes like these bring employees together and make them feel alike whether they work in the store or the corporate office,” she explains of her reasoning behind the changes. Bowers adds that by bridging the gap between corporate and store, it allows all employees to focus on the company’s vision statement, which is “Delight more customers every day.” “Our first priority used to be to move fuel for Valero,” she says. “Now we can look at growing the food operations and retail items and providing a full convenience experience.”

Looking ahead
The success Bowers has achieved in less than one year in her new role is impressive enough for most people. However, this Ohio native is not showing any signs of slowing down. Thirty new stores are set to open across the United States in 2014. That is in addition to the 1,040 already in existence. Canada will see the addition of eight new stores to its current number of close to 900. And it’s not just the number of stores that is growing. The items available to customers at the stores will be expanding. At the pump, fuel customers may soon have options other than just the Valero brand. At the food counter, plans are underway to add afternoon and evening meals to the already popular menu of coffee, kolaches, pastries and other breakfast items. Bowers is also looking at ways to balance convenience food with healthy food. “They don’t always go hand-in-hand,” she says.

As for balancing other areas, Bowers says her biggest challenge is figuring out how to balance her role as the public face for CST Brands with her employee responsibilities, and defining the growth and strategy of the company for the long haul, the latter being her highest priority.
Factor in making time for exercise every day, spending time with her family and her community service work with United Way as the chair of the Partners for Community Change Coordinating Council, and you begin to wonder how she does it. A self-described people person, Bowers takes it all in stride.
“It’s all about motivating employees, and that’s what I love to do,” she says happily. “You know you are successful when you wake up every day and want to come to the office. My job is fun!”

By Bonny Osterhage
Photography by Josh Huskin