The Big Question: Victor Paterno, President & CEO, Philippine Seven Corp., 2023-24 NACS Chair

The Big Question: Victor Paterno, President & CEO, Philippine Seven Corp., 2023-24  NACS Chair

November 2023   minute read

How did you get involved in the convenience retailing industry?

I studied engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in the late 1980s, and you could make an argument that’s where I first got heavily involved in the industry. There was a Wawa down the street, and I became intimately familiar with that store.

After graduation, I worked in an instant coffee factory in New Jersey, where I hoped the management track that I was on would get me into an MBA program that would launch my career as an investment banker. (Remember, that was back in the “greed is good” days.)

It wasn’t for me, and neither was New Jersey. I drove to New York City every weekend to visit friends. But after my car was stolen in the East Village a second time, I figured it was a sign that it was time to go home. And that’s when my true career in the industry began.

I arrived in the Philippines with vague ideas about entrepreneurship and, more importantly, an offer from my father to handle construction and maintenance in the interim. He had co-founded 7-Eleven Philippines 10 years earlier, and his private equity investors wanted to go from 40 stores to 100 as soon as possible so they could get their IPO exit.

In a couple of years, I had moved up to essentially “general manager for all things except the stores.” My father insisted that the stores report to him directly, because he worried that my “overly logical” approach would threaten the store-first culture he built the company upon.

My father cast a long shadow, so I didn’t protest too much—he was widely respected in business circles for his service in the Cabinet and Senate. But he had yet to build a successful business of his own, and I thought I could help him do that—if only he’d let me. When we got to 100 stores and the IPO, I told my dad that I valued our relationship too much to continue to work under him.

You can guess what came next, as this was the late 1990s. I cofounded a payments company to take offline payments for online services, with—you guessed it—7-Eleven as its anchor channel.

Meanwhile, 7-Eleven Taiwan acquired a majority stake in Philippine Seven Corp. and doubled its size, but also found that there were challenges in continuing this growth.

Here was the pitch that got me back in the business for good: “You know the business and what to do. Come back, build it to a couple thousand stores, and that’s your tech platform.”

I was fortunate to be able to step out of my father’s shadow, and also fortunate to see things more clearly before he died 10 years ago. “I never thought we’d ever get to a thousand stores when a hundred was such a struggle; I’m proud of you, son,” he told me.

Today, I wish I could tell him that the reason it took him 10 years to get to 40 stores was because, perfectionist that he was, he unknowingly laid the foundation for 4,000 stores—and perhaps more after that.

Today, I’m as old as he was when he opened his first store nearly 40 years ago. And I have matured enough to realize that in regards to the compassion and charisma that it took to build this company, I am still in his shadow—but this time gratefully so.

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