The Big Question: Markus Laenzlinger

The Big Question: Markus Laenzlinger

July 2022   minute read

Markus Laenzlinger, CEO of Swiss company migrolino AG, and the recipient of the 2022 NACS European Convenience Industry Leader of the Year Award 

Q: What lessons have you learned in your 20+ years of leadership? 

My first profession was a chef. I learned to live in an environment that is always busy. We are working with different cultures. Of course, you have to be precise; you have to understand stress. You have to be in the detail, because the customer otherwise changes his opinion and goes to the competitors. 

I came out of the Swiss Federal Railways. I was responsible for commercial real estate in all of the Swiss railway stations, so I was the liaison to all of the formats in Switzerland and also to all of the international brands. And then we did a new strategy, and we said, ‘What will we do in the future with the small stations?’ 

I had no clue. Then I went to the Netherlands during vacation, and I saw it. It was a small convenience store with an integrated ticket-selling situation. I came home. I had written maybe 5-6 pages of a business plan. My boss was on vacation, and on Friday evening before I left for the weekend, I put this concept on his desk. And then on Monday, I was there at 7 o’clock. He always arrived at half past seven. And then five minutes later, he came out and said, ‘Markus, that’s the way. Please organize everything you can. We will do it.’ 

That’s the start of migrolino. 

First under the brand Avec, and then fuel stations. migro (Switzerland’s largest grocer) was involved in this joint venture company, and then we said, listen, we have a fuel company, and they have the same needs for a convenience store. Could we demerge this joint venture? I did it as well, and then migro said, we are doing brick- and-mortar business, what do you want with these small formats? And I said, you have to believe, maybe one day— the day’s already here now—we will be more profitable than you. And that’s the case. You have to view the vision as big so that everybody can see it. 

I think you have to admire people. Then understand the assignment that somebody gives you. Otherwise, you’re not able to transmit it to your people. And then, of course, you have to check, do I have the right staff? Are they really able to do this mission? And then, do I need support from somewhere, for example, consulting companies? Should I hire somebody who has the knowledge? Do I have the resources? Then let’s go. Let’s do the venture. 

When I started, we had just left the joint venture, and I had a boss who said, ‘Markus, I want to be No. 1.’ So that was my assignment. No. 1 in Switzerland. My main competitor had at the time 212 stores. Coming out of this joint venture I had 14 stores. 

I said, OK, we will become No. 1. Then I had to reflect with the team, ‘What the heck can we do to be No. 1?’ My goal was expansion, expansion, expansion. I think that is the best way you can become No. 1. But it was not really organized expansion. And then as soon as I had the stores, I said, now we have to bring structure into this entire business. We did it. 

We have a lot of talent in migrolino, but you have to awake ambition to be No. 1. We are always hungry to do more. This is not easy to convince people to do extra. I hire only people who are better than me. Not every manager does this because often they are afraid that somebody is cutting the leg of the chair, but me, never. I have to give them trust, as a culture. I give them feedback; we are very close. I have meetings every week with each of the members of my directors, executive board. I became more of a coach to see if the final dish is finished at the right time. 

A journalist once asked, ‘Markus, your first education was not as an economist or a businessman. You were in a kitchen. How is it possible to be in a position such as this [CEO]?’ I said, listen, I’m still cooking. I have another kind of result, but at the time [the dish] has to be finished. 

Note: Henry Armour, NACS president and CEO, interviewed Laenzlinger at NACS Convenience Summit Europe in Berlin in June. This is condensed and edited from the full interview. 

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