People to Watch: Kum & Go's Tanner Krause ready to make his mark at family business
Tanner Krause, president of Kum & Go, talks about the company's future. Kelsey Kremer, email@example.com
Tanner Krause is ready to take on a challenge he’s been preparing for since he was 9 years old.
As the new president of Kum & Go, the 31-year-old looks to grow the $2.3 billion convenience store chain that his family has operated for nearly 60 years.
One of his top priorities: Improve the lives of the company’s 5,000 employees at 400 stores.
Krause, one of the Des Moines Register's People to Watch in 2019, is the fourth generation from his family to operate Kum & Go, a legacy that presents significant responsibility.
“I find that pressure motivating,” said Krause, sitting on the sixth floor of the $150 million Krause Gateway Center, which opened last month in downtown Des Moines. “Being responsible for 5,000 people challenges me to work harder and think bigger to do what’s right. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with it and there are a lot of rewards that come with it.”
Krause’s great-grandfather, Tony Gentle, and grandfather, Bill Krause, founded the business in 1959 when they opened a gas station that also carried groceries in Hampton, a small town in north-central Iowa. His father, Kyle Krause, followed in their footsteps and remains the company's chief executive.
Tanner Krause is intentional about carrying on the vision his father and grandfather had for Kum & Go, but he also wants to make his own mark.
He's starting with employee benefits.
“As long as we take good care of our associates and make it a great place to work, they will take good care of our customers,” he said.
Last year, the company launched a discount food and drink program for employees, enhanced paid time off options, and expanded maternity and paternity leaves for managers. Next year, Krause said he plans to add consistent work scheduling, add more full-time positions and expand medical insurance “to thousands of people.”
Krause has been involved in the family business since he was in third grade. He swept and mopped the floors and stocked coolers two hours a day after school.
“I wanted to negotiate an earlier age to start working,” he said. But family rules dictated starting no sooner than the age of 9.
Krause attended Dowling Catholic High School, where he played soccer. His friends from high school have remained close.
R.J. Tursi met Krause in middle school. He described him as an “intelligent kid” who was creative and competitive. Being from a prominent family didn’t afford Krause special treatment.
“He was not excluded from any of the harassment from our friend group,” Tursi said.
Krause and Tursi both work in family businesses and both landed in top spots at an early age. Tursi is the founder and owner of Exile Brewing Co. in downtown Des Moines. He started the business at 25 with his father Bob Tursi, owner of the longtime restaurant Tursi’s Latin King in Des Moines.
“You want to make sure people don’t look at you through a certain lens as a young executive. Tanner is continually educating himself,” he said. “And he has managed to stay pretty humble.”
Krause graduated from Loyola University in Chicago where he played soccer for four years. After graduating, Krause got a sales job with E. & J. Gallo Winery in Chicago.
His father requires all family members to work for other companies before coming into the Kum & Go fold.
He returned to Kum & Go as a district supervisor before enrolling in DePaul University’s MBA program in Chicago. After Kyle Krause bought Enrico Serafino, a winery near Canale, Italy, the younger Krause took a break from his studies to spend six months running the business.
“I knew the sales and marketing of wine. The farming viticulture was all new to me,” he said. “It was a great learning experience for me, and I had a blast.”
When it came time to return home, he paused. “To be honest it was kind of tempting to stay in the winery business,” he said. “I was on this career path my whole life to work at Kum & Go, and at 28 I was running an Italian winery. It was a shiny object and for a second I had to stop and consider it."
He returned to Chicago to finish his MBA before rejoining the company in 2016 as director of operations.
“At Serafino it’s a very fun, sexy and dynamic business,” Krause said. “However, the team was 12 people and your reach is only so far. You don’t have that face-to-face interaction that retail provides you."
At DePaul, Krause said he developed a passion for human resources. “I saw the opportunity in our business to manage people,” he said. “When the senior vice president of (human resources) job opened, I quickly put my hand up. Dad gave me the opportunity to jump to the senior team at a young age.”
Two years later he was named Kum & Go president. He oversees human resources, operations and marketing.
“That’s a big ask for any 31-year-old,” said Joe Benesh, who serves with Krause on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Iowa. “He is very level headed and he’s got the temperament for the job. He’s kind of a humble guy.”
Krause’s father remains chief executive of Krause Holdings and its subsidiaries: Kum & Go, Solar Transport, the Des Moines Menace soccer team, Vietti Winery and Enrico Serafino Winery.
Krause is the heir apparent. “At some point I’ll become CEO," he said, but "Dad won’t be retiring anytime soon. He’ll be my boss for years to come.”
A source of great pride for Krause is the company's eye-catching office across from the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. The glass-wrapped building was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano.
Tanner Krause's office is a small white space with a large yellow and gray painting, but he works in several collaboration spaces in the building. Everyone who works in the office is encouraged to move around the building.
One thing that's keeping him busy: Kum & Go's ambitious goal to open 22 new stores in 2019.
“One of our competitive advantages is that we are a family-owned business and aren’t beholden to outside investors or Wall Street,” he said.
Kum & Go is beating the odds in that regard. Only about 12 percent of family-owned businesses make it to the third generation, according to the Family Business Institute. And only 3 percent persist to the fourth generation or beyond.
Krause said two reasons many family businesses don’t last is that they don’t reinvest in the company and later generations don’t share the same passion for the business as their predecessors.
“Those absolutely aren’t issues for us,” he said. “We’ve made significant investment in the new downtown building and I have a ton of passion for Kum & Go.
"As long as we can get our children excited about the business, then it’s very likely there will be a Krause or one of our descendants running this company for generations to come.”
Outside of work, Krause continues to play soccer. He and his wife, Hannah, also a Loyola grad, have a 5-week-old daughter.
“I hope she is Kum & Go’s first female CEO. It’s entirely possible,” he said.
About ‘People to Watch’
The Des Moines Register's "15 People to Watch in 2019" are movers and shakers, givers and doers. They were chosen by Register news staff from scores of reader nominations. Their stories will run in the Register through Jan. 6. To read about past People to Watch, visit desmoinesregister.com/peopletowatch.
RESIDENCE: Des Moines
EDUCATION: Loyola University; DePaul University (MBA)
OCCUPATION: President, Kum & Go
POSITIONS OF NOTE: Board of directors, Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Iowa
FAMILY: Wife, Hannah, and daughter
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