Kurt Wessel is the CEO of Wessel Petroleum and the third generation of family members to work within the business. This is his story…
I was born in Bundaberg on Queensland’s coast where I was an only child and lived with my parents, Paul and Debra. It was a great childhood, I loved playing sports, particularly Rugby League and swimming. Then when I was about 16, I got really into surf lifesaving, and a few years later I was lucky enough to win an Australian surf boat title – that was probably my proudest sporting moment.
I was never a huge fan of school, it just seemed like a waste of time to me, so I ended up leaving at the beginning of grade 12 to pursue a career in the family business.
My grandfather Henry founded Wessel Petroleum in 1947, and growing up, both of my parents worked in the business – my dad was the Managing Director and mum managed the Retail Network. Over the years the business has grown to now employ a team of more than 240 staff. We operate 20 service stations and Blitz Car Spas, ranging from highway service centres, multi-bay carwash sites, and your humble corner service station.
Since joining Wessel Petroleum, I have worked in all areas of the business, including as a kitchen hand, a depot assistant/truck driver, site manager, area manager, and retail manager.
During this time, there were some interesting moments, such as when I accidentally rolled a truck off the road, but all of these experiences, while being a very steep learning curve for me, have given me a very good grounding of the business as a whole, and ultimately led to my current position as CEO.
I always knew that I wanted to join the family business, so when a part-time job became available in 1999, as a kitchen hand, I jumped at the opportunity. The role was in the kitchen flipping burgers at Mobil Airport Bundaberg, which has since rebranded to bp Airport and includes a Wild Bean Café. That site holds some very fond memories for me because it’s where I first started working, and now, since the refurbishment last year, I have been able to bring it into the future. Being able to revamp the food and coffee offer there gives me a bit of nostalgia of those early burger flipping days.
We used to have only Mobil sites, but with them exiting the country we have converted to bp and that has been great for us. The bp Airport site that I mentioned has been able to nearly triple coffee sales since it’s been rebranded, and food sales have significantly improved as well. Wild Bean Café is a really recognisable brand and a perfect fit for our business. We have just opened a new bp site at Noosa, which has a sleek internal look and includes the Wild Bean Café offer. Positioned in a prime location, the site features five bowsers and infrastructure for future electric charging. All of our sites are either on highways or in destination areas where people have been flocking for fishing and camping while borders have been closed, so our business has been really fortunate in that sense.
One of my career highlights was in 2019 when we built two greenfield sites and a carwash business all at the same time. That was a pretty tough year for us, as it was the year my father Paul retired, and I took over as CEO. At the same time, a lot of new independent sites had started opening around us, which took away a bit of our volume share. But one of our business partners, Amanda Coates and I, worked extremely hard over this time and went hammer and tong for about three months to get the new sites and the carwash business off the ground, and I am very proud of our efforts.
I have been fortunate enough to do a lot of traveling through my job and some of my fondest memories have been at international bp conferences. I actually proposed to my wife, Sue Ellen, while standing under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, just following a bp conference in Istanbul, Turkey. It was pretty funny because throughout the conference I had been copping a bit of flack from everyone over the fact that we weren’t engaged yet and I had to keep nudging people and trying to change the subject. Sue Ellen and I had planned to do a bit of traveling together following that conference, but the proposal was a complete surprise to her. We have been happily married now for the last five years and have two amazing dogs, Lilly who is a Labrador and Marley who is a King Charles Cavalier.
During summer I am still pretty involved in surf lifesaving and surf boat rowing. And I like to do a bit of surfing and getting away for fishing trips with dad whenever possible. I’m fortunate to have been able to forge a great work/life balance for myself.
And am grateful to also work in such a vibrant industry, where no two days are ever the same.
This article originally appeared in the October/November issue of Convenience & Impulse Retailing magazine.