Welcome to the Pretty Powerful Podcast with Angela Gennari
April 19, 2022

Episode 7: Stephanie Stuckey

Stephanie Stuckey is the road trippin', pecan lovin', branding genius CEO of Stuckey's, a company founded by her grandfather in 1937 with $35 and a borrowed truck. Listen to this fascinating story about how Stuckey's was sold to a large corporation, almost shuttered completely due to neglect of the brand, resurrected by Billy Stuckey and then bought by Stephanie in a last ditch attempt to keep the company in the family. Stephanie had to walk away from her successful law and political career to pursue a new role as a CEO.... and this would be her biggest trial yet!

Stephanie Stuckey is the road trippin', pecan lovin' CEO of Stuckey's, a company founded by her grandfather in 1937 with $35 and a borrowed truck. Listen to this fascinating story about how Stuckey's was sold to a large corporation, almost shuttered completely due to neglect of the brand, resurrected by Billy Stuckey and then bought by Stephanie in a last ditch attempt to keep the company in the family. Stephanie had to walk away from her successful law and political career to pursue a new role as a CEO.... and this would be her biggest trial yet!


Pretty Powerful Podcast with Angela Gennari, Episode 7: Stephanie Stuckey

Welcome to the Pretty Powerful Podcast. Where powerful women are interviewed every week to share real inspiring stories and incredible insight to help women or anyone break the barriers, be a part of innovation, shatter the glass ceiling and dominate to the top of their sport industry or life's mission. Join us as we celebrate exceptional women and step into our power. And now here's your host. Angela Gennari.

Angela Gennari: Thank you for joining us for the Pretty Powerful Podcast. This is Angela Gennari, and I have the pleasure of speaking with Stephanie Stuckey today. Welcome, Stephanie.

Stephanie Stuckey: Thank you.

Angela Gennari: So, I wanted to read your bio because you have an incredibly interesting past. I know that you are now the CEO of Stuckey's, but prior to that, you've had a full career in a completely different industry.

Stephanie Stuckey: Several different industries.

Angela Gennari: And so, you just, I am just fascinated with your journey. So, Stephanie Stuckey is the CEO of Stuckey's highway Oasis. That's been serving pecan log roles and kitschy souvenirs to road trippers since 1937, founded by her grandfather Ws Stuckey senior in Eastman, Georgia Stuckey's grew to over 350 stores nationwide by its peak. In the 1970s, the company was sold in 1964 and sadly declined for decades under a series of corporate owners.

Fortunately, Stuckey's is now in family hands again and making a comeback with a mission to make road trips, fun. Stephanie received both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Georgia, go dogs. She worked as a trial lawyer and was elected to seven terms. As a state representative ran an environmental nonprofit law firm served as director of sustainability for the city of Atlanta and taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Georgia school of law. Stephanie purchased Stuckey's in November of 2019 and assumed the role of CEO at that time. Stephanie's achievements include being named 1 of the 100 most influential Georgians by Georgia trend magazine and a graduate of leadership Atlanta. She is active in her community and has served on many nonprofit boards, including the national Sierra club foundation earth share of Georgia, and her local zoning review board.

When she's not running the Stuckey's candy and pecan shelling plant in Ren’s, Georgia, or the distribution operations in Eastman, Georgia, Stephanie enjoys traveling by car to explore the back roads of America and pulling over for every roadside oddity in souvenir shop along the way. I love that right. And that is absolutely true. Yes. I watch your LinkedIn and you have some incredible adventures and I just love you. So, thank you for being here. What an incredible story.

Stephanie Stuckey: I'm delighted.

Angela Gennari: So, one of the things that I think is so neat about your story is that you are the third generation of Stuckey family members to run the company, but it didn't start out as easily as it sounds. You didn't just inherit it. You guys had to fight to get it back.

Stephanie Stuckey: Well, yeah, it's a little complicated. It was out of our family hands for decades after my grandfather sold the company in 1964, right. My dad and his business partners got it back in 1985, they were running a very successful business, we're not looking to add Stuckey's to that portfolio. They had the exclusive rights to have franchise locations for dairy Queens on the interstate highway system. Oh, interesting company. My father founded it, and they had the opportunity to get Stuckey's back. And at that point, Stuckey's was losing money. In the company that had acquired it, there were a couple of corporate takeovers. They did not want Stuckey's and it was a liability on their books. So, my father got it, but it was not profitable. And he had profitable businesses. So, he essentially props Stuckey's up. He got it off of essentially a deathbed. Resurrected the brand. And he paired it with his dairy queen. And largely the revenue and the structure, the financial structure, the human resource capacity, all of that from his dairy queen business helped give life to Stuckey's. Fast forward, 30 years, my dad sells his dairy queen business, to Warren Buffet who owns American Dairy Queen.

Angela Gennari: Oh, interesting. I didn't know it.

Stephanie Stuckey: And Warren buffet didn't want Stuckey's. And a way I'm disappointed because he would've run it really well. But if he had, I wouldn't be sitting here today talking to you. So, Stuckey's was left on its own without that infrastructure to support it. And my father and his business partners at this point are on in their seventies. They just made a good chunk of change, selling out to Berkshire Hathaway. They retire, and they leave a small but dedicated crew running Stuckey's at that point we did not own or operate any of the stores, we did not own our distribution facility, and we did not own manufacturing. So, it was just a skeleton of what it had once been. And it was gradually declining and was losing money by the time I was approached. So, the crazy journey there.

Angela Gennari: And your father's franchise expertise is what kind of led Stuckey's down the road or franchising Stuckey's. Is that right? Because I remember seeing something about 65 franchise locations.

Stephanie Stuckey: Well, at its peak, there were 368 stores in 40 states and they were franchised. So, my grandfather was franchising really sort of in the early era of franchising. So, he came along with holiday Inn, Kim’s Wilson, and we were talking before we went live about the incubator group that you are with that's composed of CEOs, which I absolutely love, and this network of CEOs, you see these all over the country and it's so important. And my grandfather had that network, and it was the young presidents’ association. Which is still Y P O Young President's Organization still around. So, he was friends with Kim and Wilson of holiday Inn. And that was a franchise. So, he was sort of around in that era. Colonel Sanders, I would love to say he knew him. He did not, he did know the waffle house founders.

Okay. He knew Joe Rogers, a senior. So, it's fascinating to me that sort of this early era of franchising, they knew each other. So, it was franchised. But by the time my dad got it really was not in good shape, and again, it was not the profit driver for his business. The dairy queen was extremely successful. So, he focused rightfully so on what was earning revenue and then when left, without that support system in place, right. Stuckey's began to decline and there were 68 stores when I took over. And like you said, it was not your typical third generation, acquisition. I did not inherit the brand. I did not grow up in the company, I'm number four or five kids, and I was not groomed to be the PCAN log roll error.

So, it's an atypical path. I bought the company and I joked that I had to learn from the top down. Absolutely. Instead of from the bottom up, which the way you should do it is from the bottom up. You should start as a stock clerk and learn the business and know the ropes. But no, I came in on day one as CEO, not having a clue. How to do just about anything.

Angela Gennari: But you made a really smart acquisition early on.

Stephanie Stuckey: Yes.

Angela Gennari: And that has helped tremendously. I imagine, just in bringing in the right expertise and in broadening your depth or broadening your scope of what you came pro produce, which is the pecan log rolls and you have is a pecan farm. Is that what it was?

Stephanie Stuckey: No. So, close I brought in a business partner and we jointly owned the company. That was a very deliberate decision, that we are equal in the company and we really do share in how we run the company and how we own the company. So, he is a pecan farmer by training the third generation. And saw that he brought that expertise to the table, but the pecan farm is not part of the corporation. What we own, he has a healthy snack nut company, front porch pecan. So, that came under the umbrella of Stuckey's and he's got a portfolio of business clients and whole foods, for example, has sold his product. So, sort of in the health food market. And then we have not so healthy, but certainly, D delicious candy treats. And so, we merge our two companies and I joke at the time we both had negative EBITDA for a company.

So, we really had to go back and forth on how do you evaluate these two companies and how do we figure out the merger? It was quite the learning experience, but jointly, we bought an existing PCAN shelling, PCAN candy, and fundraising business all under the same ownership, and we merged all those companies into one a year ago. That brought all the manufacturing capacity, that's been a game-changer. So, the company went from operating three figures in debt to, we just finished out 20, 21, a little over 2 million next.

Angela Gennari: Wow. Congratulations. What a huge turnaround in a short amount of time.

Stephanie Stuckey: And a short time and a huge part of that. Is attributed to acquiring a profitable company. That was manufacturing the product that we made, and I'm a huge believer that manufacturing is part of growing our economy. So, not just growing our business, I think more and more, we need to get back to making things ourselves, and we've learned with COVID all of the challenges with global imports and trying to get products that we need and the supply chain shortages. And again, I'm not saying, I certainly recognize we live in a global economy. Of course. So, I don't think we should isolate ourselves, but we also need to start making things again in this country.

Angela Gennari: I agree. And it gives you more leverage over the quality. So...

Stephanie Stuckey: A hundred percent...

Angela Gennari: Of what you're putting out there, you know, the quality because you've seen from start to finish how it's all made...

Stephanie Stuckey: And you get control. Angela, you're a mom. Yes. When it comes to food, you want to know where your food comes from.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely. And you want to know that it's locally grown and not been shipped from overseas to your table because it does make a quality difference and you're supporting your local community in that way.

Stephanie Stuckey: Your local community, your local farmers, we buy direct from the farmers. We don't buy from a broker. So, that helps keep the cost down, and a lot of folks don't know this, but the only snack net native to this country is the pecan.

Angela Gennari: Really!

Stephanie Stuckey: Yes. The only snack tree nut.

Angela Gennari: I had no idea.

Stephanie Stuckey: So, cashews aren't even grown here. Almond's pistachio is not native to the us Brazil nut clearly not native by its name. Right. Peanut is a Lago. So, it doesn't count as a tree nut. And so, we are the snack nut native to this country over 80% of the world's production is in the US, and the number one pecan producing state, we are in it right now, Georgia.

Angela Gennari: Oh, Nice.

Stephanie Stuckey: We're not the peach state. I love peaches, but we're... So, I say all that to say, when you're trying to revive your company or you're trying to start a company from the start, look at what your assets are. What is your strong suit? Do more of that and what isn't your strong suit? Don't do that.

Angela Gennari: Right? Let it go.

Stephanie Stuckey: So, we are known for the BCAN roll I merged with a business partner. Who's got a healthy side of the business. So, we're covering both sides and we're respecting and recognizing that the food trends are going towards healthier.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely. Yeah.

Stephanie Stuckey: So, that has to be part of our trajectory as we move forward, and we happen to live in the heart of pecan country.

Angela Gennari: Okay. So, you're saying pecan. So, the age-old debate is at pecan or pecan.

Stephanie Stuckey: I say both, actually I slip back and forth and I often listen to what the person says, with whom I'm talking but my grandfather would say they're pecans when you pick them. Cons, when you sell them interesting, and I think it's mostly because we are from middle Georgia. I naturally will say pecan, and when I say that, it's suddenly, I'm saying y'all or that's, I'm fixing too. And South Georgia comes out of me and I think sometimes people's impression of me as suddenly. I don't know, but maybe I should just embrace that after all our brand is known for selling Ashtray shape, like toilets to say, but the, but here. So, I might as well just embrace the Southern embrace the kitchen redneck. My inner redneck is proud of it, own it. It's a pecan.

Angela Gennari: So, one of the things that I love about your brand and what your grandfather built through the years, and I remember as a kid driving and seeing all the billboards, your grandfather was genius because he didn't just form Stuckey's roadside. And this I read the story and it's fascinating. He started it with $35 that he borrowed from his mother and a borrowed truck. And his idea was he was going to go to local farmers, buy pecans and sell them in a little roadside stand, and he did so well with it. He started doing, you know, he would go and find honey, and he would have his wife Ethel, which by the way is my great grandmother's name and I never hear that, and I love that name. So, and I know that your name is Ethel when I got so excited when I saw it. It's an oldy-time name.

Stephanie Stuckey: I love it.

Angela Gennari: Stephanie. Yes. Well, my great-grandmother's name was Ethel and I adore her. She walks on water.

Stephanie Stuckey: I love it.

Angela Gennari: It's a great name. You know, Ethel mod, Hazel, those old names, Mildred.

Stephanie Stuckey: So, classic. I love it.

Angela Gennari: Yes. We need to bring them back. My daughter is grateful though, that I did not name her Ethel. I did not carry on the family tradition.

Stephanie Stuckey: But Ethel used to make candies. And that's where the pecan logs came from. Is that right?

Angela Gennari: Yeah. So, she would...

Stephanie Stuckey: It was her bridge club. Yeah. My grandmother's bridge club became the candy-making club. My grandfather got the idea one day that he would sell candy, and he interrupted her bridge game and said, Ethel, we got any candy, and she looked around at her sister Hazel, Pearl.

Angela Gennari: Oh, I love it.

Stephanie Stuckey: Birdie trying to Ruth, and they all got in the kitchen Orien had had great Ann ire and they figured out how to make prings divinity. The PCAN log role actually came later there. I set at PCAN and the production started ramping up. And so, for the first few years of Stuckey's before we really got a manufacturing facility and the first manufacturing facility was a bunch of buns and burners in a warehouse. He really bootstrapped it.

Angela Gennari: He really did. And it's amazing what he's been able to build because he took it, and the depth that you were talking about with bringing manufacturing in, he did that, but he also bought the sign company. So, we could put billboards everywhere.

Stephanie Stuckey: He vertically integrated.

Angela Gennari: He really understood the concept of building a business, having a vertical...

Stephanie Stuckey: Control the cost, control the operations.

Angela Gennari: And I mean, he mastered that. So, there's no surprise that he was so successful in his lifetime with Stuckey's and it's sad that the corporations came along and I think that they failed because they didn't have the heart. It wasn't the heart that your grandfather had for the business that really because you could tell that this was just a passion and I want to read this quote from him. Oh, okay. Because it is just so telling about the brand. So, it's where every traveler is a friend. If unthinkingly, you render a disservice to a neighbor, all is not lost. You can see him or her again soon and make amends, but should a traveler leave one of our shops with a feeling of dissatisfaction, then we can indeed despair. The traveler is gone with them it has also gone their respect for you and for the company you represent, and it is not likely that any of us ever again, will see him or her in order to make things. I love that.

Stephanie Stuckey: There are so many nuggets there that are relevant today. So, it's interesting because he was around the 1930s and forties, and when I bought Stuckey’s, I did not have a business background. The one thing I did get in addition to the debt, and thank God I got the trademark, but I got a box of his papers that had not been opened in over 50 years It was like opening a time capsule, and I found that quote, I found his papers, I found how he built the business, and there are nuggets that can be extracted that are still relevant today. Maybe it's slightly different, maybe you're not going to advertise by billboards, maybe you're going to do Google ads instead, but the concept of integrating your businesses. So, you control as many of the core aspects as possible. He did that. The concept that you usually just get one shot... At that first impression with the customer and if you blow it, you don't get that. It's not like your next-door neighbor who you're going to see again. And you can go over and bring them a casserole and apologize, whatever, they're gone. Especially, if you're in the interstate business, right. They're off to the next exit.

Angela Gennari: And they're not going to stop.

Stephanie Stuckey: They're not stopping again. So, always keep that first impression in mind when you're in business and then the branding. The billboards he said at one point, and I found this in his papers and I just loved it that he spent, he had almost as much money and inventory for billboards. As he did for candy. Now, I don't know if that's actually true, but just the fact that he said that, and he said that he had so many billboards, he lost track of them. And so, that's what you've got to do, you've got a brand.

Angela Gennari: Well, and Stuckey's has seen so many changes. I mean, if you think about how long ago your grandfather started the business and the first decline was about sugar rationing. That's right after World War II. So, I mean, we talk about having to overcome COVID and having to overcome, and yes, these are major issues, major milestones that we're having to overcome, and global tragedies, but the sugar rationing after World War II nearly killed as candy business.

Stephanie Stuckey: And the gas rationing

Angela Gennari: And the gas rationing.

Stephanie Stuckey: People, weren't traveling by car.

Angela Gennari: And then the railroad. So, the railroad developed, and now they weren't taking road trips. They were taking railroad now from East Coast.

Stephanie Stuckey: Well, what really killed us was the airplane. Obviously, airplanes and plane travel was around in the forties, fifties, and sixties, but it wasn't affordable, and it became affordable in the 1980s with the airline deregulation act. So, Stuckey's had been sold at that point, but that's part of our downfall under other corporate hands. Because people just weren't traveling by car, but absolutely. He had a terrible setback right. During World War II, he had another big setback when the interstate highway system came along and it bypassed all of his stores, and the big picture here to tease out is that if you are in an intergenerational business. In a business that's been around 50 plus years, you know that these outside factors that are completely out of your control you can't control. If there's ration, you can't control, there's a pandemic, you can't control if there's an oil embargo. They're going to happen.

And it's the trend, that you look at, you don't look at these short-term ups and downs, you're in it for the long haul. And I think too often, private equity right now, I'm just going to bash private equity because I have not had a good experience trying to pitch to them and I've decided it's not a fit for us, and that's okay.

Angela Gennari: It's okay. I did the same thing. It wasn't a fit for me.

Stephanie Stuckey: And they may be a wonderful trip for if you're in a different position, but it's not good for our brand, it's not a good fit if you're looking at being in a business for a long haul, and I bring up private equity because their model is different. It's three to five years, we want a solid return on investment. They've got these investors that they've pulled that often have a very specific business in mind. It's a different model.

Angela Gennari: It really is.

Stephanie Stuckey: Yeah. But the model that I value is the long-term model is the model of, I am not just building a business where I'm going to turn a profit. I am building a community of people, they're not just customers or people who share a passion that I share and my passion, and I think the passion that I hope I'm building with Stuckey's, I'm building a community, people who care about this country, people who care about a small town, America who love road trips, who love exploring the back roads absolutely of seeing the small town, America supporting local, supporting local businesses, supporting family-owned businesses, that's what we stand for. And if you stand for that too, then I invite you to go buy a PCAN log roll.

Angela Gennari: Yes, absolutely. Well, and I think that that's, it's so important to note because it was the same thing when I was building my business, I had some standards that I wanted to maintain and those standards were going to cost more and give us a lower profit margin, but it was important that I maintain them and that wasn't going to work for equity. So, for me it was, well then, I'll just not take a salary and I'll just bootstrap it and figure out how to get by so that I can continue doing what I want to do because I know it's the best thing for the business, and sometimes you have to find that alignment in a different way. And so, I applaud you for sticking with your values because it is difficult.

Stephanie Stuckey: But as you build the brand, right, you can charge more.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely.

Stephanie Stuckey: There's a premium for that.

Angela Gennari: There's a premium...

Stephanie Stuckey: And then your margins are going to improve.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely, but it just takes time, and for that time you're basically buying that time from yourself, because you're saying, I'm going to keep investing and I'm going to keep putting my time, my effort, my money back into this business because I know it has value, and then that value is there, and then private equity can't afford you anymore.

Stephanie Stuckey: I know by the time private equity might actually come to Stuckey's with a decent offer, we're not going to meet them anymore. Well, and that's the way it worked.

Angela Gennari: It's a catch-22.

Stephanie Stuckey: It is investing.

Angela Gennari: So, you came from a very different background. Obviously, law and public service. So, and now you're in the business world. I mean completely opposite. So, public service is a totally different mindset, obviously. So, the transition, how has that been?

Stephanie Stuckey: Actually, has not been hard at all, and I think a large part of what I've done is integrate what I've done in the past with what I do today, and I see part of what I do is public service. I like to visit these small towns that other people just drive by and they pass by the exit and they don't pull over and I like to applaud them and herd them and talk about the amazing things. It's so funny. I was in a coffee shop today. I started talking to the guy in line with me, and he's like, I know you, you're that lady on LinkedIn he's always stopping at places. I swear. I was. So, it was validating, it wasn't like puffing me up, it was just validating that. The message is resonating. It's not about me, it's about the message and the community that I'm trying to put out there, and we started talking about small-town America and he is like, yeah, I'm going on this trip and I'm going to pull over.

I'm going to see Shreveport, and he's like, I think Shreveport's kind of boring. I'm like, are you kidding? Do you know, Elvis gave his first concert in Shreveport? You can go see the statue, and by the way, the only jingle he ever made, the only commercial Elvis ever made was for the donut shop there in Southern Maine Donuts. And it's still operating and they don't open until 4:30 PM. How weird is that? And it's a famous donut shop, like Donny cash used to go there. So, anyway, I love that. I love saying, well, wait a minute, this place is really interesting. And then I like meeting people who are like, hey, I loved your post on tucum Carey, New Mexico. I'm from there. And it's just, that's how you connect with people.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. You're engaging.

Stephanie Stuckey: So, it's a public service. The other thing that I've done throughout my career, is I started as a public defender. So, I was a litigator. I was a public defender, and then in the legislature, I often represented the minority interest. I was in the minority party in Georgia and then in representing the environment I represented Sierra club river keep so quite often we would be coming up against large corporate interests. So, the connective tissue and all of that is that I was advocating for the underdog. And that's what I'm doing right now. Stuckey's is the underdog. We're the bad news bears of the candy industry. I go to these candy conferences and I'm at the, I get in the CEO events, but I'm in there with Seas Candy. Hershey's, Mars Wrigley, the big players, right.

I'm the scrappy underdog and you got to be able to advocate in a way that's going to get you legitimately at the table, which is where we belong.

Angela Gennari: That's where we belong Absolutely.

Stephanie Stuckey: At the table too. And I think America wants that and frankly, it's been really refreshing how welcoming the CEO community is.

Angela Gennari: Isn't it?

Stephanie Stuckey: Yeah. I thought even the big people, I mean, I was at this conference and I pulled aside the CEO of Mars, Wrigley, and he's from Jackson, Mississippi of all things. Wow. Interesting. So, I told him a few about why I love Jackson. So, anyway, he was very approachable. Well, I find that most of them are like the CEO think tank. I belong to very approachable. I have the best, most transparent conversations because they're not threatened by me.

Angela Gennari: I'm not in threat to her Hershey's, and it's actually refreshing, and it's so funny because I was saying this to a friend earlier that with this podcast, one of the most surprising parts of this podcast is how we've been embraced by high-level executive men who say, yeah, it's about time we start hearing this and I'm really grateful that this is getting out there because I agree women deserve a seat at the table and we should be able to have the same conversations and it's been refreshing, and for you to be CEO of Stuckey's now is just amazing.

Stephanie Stuckey: And when we hit it big when I hit that, my goal is to be at a hundred million, gross sales, and then I can retire. And I've got my business partner 17 years younger than me. So, that's my succession plan when I hit that mark, and I go on that great road trip across America for my retirement. I'm I really want to make time for upcoming entrepreneurs because that's what we done for me.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely.

Stephanie Stuckey: That's what's been done for me.

Angela Gennari: We need to know...

Stephanie Stuckey: Got to pay it forward. So, I'm holding myself accountable now.

Angela Gennari: All right. You said it.

Stephanie Stuckey: On record, me and 15 years can look at this and say, all right, I promised I was going to do this, you got to get back.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely. So, let me ask you this because I feel like this is an important question, especially with everything that you've had going on over the past. Well, since 2019, but well, before that, as women, we often give away our power, we often give away our power, we give it to our spouse, our kids, our coworkers, and our boss, and we give them credit when we should have stepped into our own power. Tell me about a time when you gave away your power. And then tell me about a time that you stepped into your power and what was the difference for you?

Stephanie Stuckey: That's such a fascinating question. I have been fortunate in that my career, I have had lots of opportunities to build consensus, and I think that started early on, I was fresh out of law school, and I was in Athens, Georgia. I practiced law there for two years. That's where I started my legal career, and I got approached to be president of the local league of women voters.

Angela Gennari: Nice. Okay.

Stephanie Stuckey: And I was so flattered that they asked me and I found out much later on that I was like the 12th person there.

Angela Gennari: I was so young, inexperienced. But what a wonderful experience to be absolutely of thrust into that leadership role. And I bring that up because if you've ever been involved with the legal women voters, they're nonpartisan, and their entire model is consensus building. So, any decision that they make is built on this collaborative approach.

Angela Gennari: Interesting.

Stephanie Stuckey: And that has served me so well. That was my first leadership role. At age, I would've been 25 and it's carried with me throughout my career. So, I don't think I've had a situation. I mean, sure. There's been maybe some isolated incidents where I thought, oh, somebody took credit for something. I did but nothing that really strikes out at me that, or today I'm just kind of bitter about it and not necessarily that people would be bitter, but I don't Harbor anything like that, and I think it's because I've been fortunate to have had that early training and I've just made it part of how I get things done. So, in the legislature, I would get any issue. I'd be bipartisan. You cannot pass anything.

Angela Gennari: I agree.

Stephanie Stuckey: Well really, and truly that's going to have sticking power. Maybe you can Ram a piece of legislation through and you can, by God, I'm going to get my way. But in the long run, it's really not going to be embraced, and I learned pretty quickly, and the legislature, you might be able to get a bill passed, you might be able to bully your way through or you're chair of the committee, or you're the speaker or whatnot, and you get that thing through but the secret is in the enactment.

Angela Gennari: Right. This is true.

Stephanie Stuckey: There were some terrible bills that people ran through. They didn't pay, they didn't take the time to bill consensus to work out the issues. and I can tell you how many of those. And as a lawyer, I would see that I would flag, like, there are all these problems, but since they weren't working with the right... Everyone, I was like, fine. Find out for yourself two years later, that issue would be back because it had been declared unconstitutional.

Angela Gennari: Right, because there was no consensus from the beginning and then there's no Biden.

Stephanie Stuckey: Yes. So, when you don't do it the right way, you may be a short-term winner. But in the long run, you will not be and history will often show.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely.

Stephanie Stuckey: I mean, I think of the gay marriage stuff that was rammed through. We passed this constitutional amendment that said, we really, really, really mean it in Georgia, that we don't want gay people to marry, although it was already in the law, and then that was struck down as unconstitutional. So, in the long run...

Angela Gennari: I think when you don't feel consensus in any part of life, whether it's a marriage, whether it's business, whether it's law, you're going to have backlash, and one of the things that I say all the time is this is not the hill I want to die on. So, choose your battle. Like you have to concede sometimes, and sometimes reaching consensus means that you're going to concede on this, but then you're going to get your way on something else. But then you're buying in because everybody feels like they're winning in the end. Because if at the end of the negotiation, at the end of structuring a bill, you're going to feel like, okay, I'm getting what I want out of this. And I might concede on something that doesn't mean as much to me. But that building consensus, I think, is how you negotiate everything in life, and I think that that leads to happier relationships across the board.

Stephanie Stuckey: And the key is how you structure from the beginning. So, that's what I learned from the legal win voters is carried me throughout my career and throughout my life. So, if I was working on a bill I'd structure from the beginning, who am I going to get at the table on this? Who do I need to reach out to? And same with business from day one, my business partner, and I decided we were going to share power. We were going to share responsibilities, we were going to share the finances, and we put in place a structure that would foster that sharing, I was going to say mentality, but culture, I think is the better word.

Angela Gennari: Do you have something in place where let's just say you disagree on one thing, right. Budget. If you disagree on a budget, does one of you have a higher? Okay. So, I think...

Stephanie Stuckey: There are certain areas of certain expertise. So, I'm like branding marketing. And initially, I was like, well, I'm sales, but he's really good at sales. Well, and I think it's important because as long as you have an understanding of look, I may disagree with you on this, but it really is your expertise and you can let go of that. Then you can trust that they're going to make the best decision and have your best interest in mind regardless.

Angela Gennari: Yeah.

Stephanie Stuckey: I think you both have to be willing at times to defer to the other and that's where you learn. You don't learn by always getting exactly what you want.

Angela Gennari: No.

Stephanie Stuckey: Sometimes the things that have worked out the best were exactly what I didn't want. So, sometimes you learn. So, I would say, when we're young and we're kind of going into our career, we have this idealistic version of what we think our life is going to be like, and I know at 18 I was determined, I was going to be an attorney, I was going...

Angela Gennari: Good career choice.

Stephanie Stuckey: I know I was going to be a profession.

Angela Gennari: I had this whole thing developed in my mind and none of my adulthood has turned out the way I thought it was going to, and I wish I could tell myself at 18, it's going to be okay if you don't. What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

Stephanie Stuckey: Yeah, I think it's going to be okay. I think one of the challenges I remember, especially when I was young was, that I had a fair amount of anxiety about succeeding. And I think this is definitely something. If you're a CEO is part of your DNA. There's a reason why you' a CEO. You are probably like me and like most CEOs where you want things to be perfect.

Angela Gennari: You are assessing every detail.

Stephanie Stuckey: You are an overachiever, you were the, a plus student in school and the thing I loved about law school, is it's very humbling. When you get to law school, you realize everyone else in your class, you look around that class on the first day. They're all the, a student, suddenly you've gone from...

Angela Gennari: Exceptional to average.

Stephanie Stuckey: Being the top student at the small high school. The top player in the little league to you're in the majors. And it's a whole different ball game.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely.

Stephanie Stuckey: And that was so intimidating for me and I wasn't top of my class. I was in the bottom part of the top third, but I did... I was not in the top 10. And so, it taught me a little grace. So, I think to give yourself some grace and recognize that perfection. Isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. I agree with that.

Stephanie Stuckey: And the hardest lesson, and I'm only just now learning it. And I would definitely tell my younger self to treasure the failures. I never wanted to fail and I always wanted to have, I wouldn't say necessarily the easy path, but the path of familiarity because I knew I could succeed. But you don't learn.

Angela Gennari: No, I agree.

Stephanie Stuckey: And that's the good stuff. One of my favorite online mentors, I don't know him. If I ever met him, I probably pass out. I'm such a fan girl, but Gary V

Angela Gennari: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Stephanie Stuckey: And he gets so riled up when he talks about how much he loves failure.

Angel Gennari: Yeah. It's true.

Stephanie Stuckey: He's like, I welcome failure. I invite failure and I thought that guy was crazy. And then I realized that it's those tough experiences that make us human, that make us interesting. And I think that's why I've got a decent LinkedIn following. It wasn't until I started talking about the failures.

Angela Gennari: Because everybody can relate to failures. We've all failed. We haven't all met tremendous success, but we've all failed. So, there's a commonality and there's a sisterhood and a brotherhood of like, you know, hey, I get it. I've been there and I read something today and it was absolutely so truthful. It says we don't grow from the things we knew we could do. We grew from the things we thought we couldn't do.

Stephanie Stuckey: Oh, that's a great quote.

Stephanie Stuckey: And so, yeah, I think that that's something we really need to keep in mind is that you're never going to grow. If you just keep doing things that you know you can do. You're only going to grow when you do those things that you think you can't do, and then you do it. And even if you fail, you've learned so much along the way. So, it's something that I think we need to implement more in our lives.

Stephanie Stuckey: And embrace. You're doing it right now. Right. I mean, doing a podcast, do you think that comes?

Angela Gennari: This is scary.

Stephanie Stuckey: Yeah. It's I mean, public speaking. You would think I've been a trial lawyer; I've been a politician; you would think that public speaking would come naturally. Maybe there's a unicorn out there, but I don't think anyone just embraces public speaking.

Angela Gennari: This was terrifying to be the first it's terrifying. I did absolutely.

Stephanie Stuckey: And that's a key part though. If you are going to be a CEO, you better figure it out. Right. And like being a trial lawyer, it was almost like a script, right. It's almost like acting in a play. You have very specific roles, there are very specific rules, and there's an order. You know what you're going to say? You prep, of course, you've got to figure out the cross-exam and the direct exam. That's, there's an art to that, but there's a structure to it. That's absolute. That's a public speak podcast that's hard. That's getting out of that comfort.

Angela Gennari: It really is. It's having to think on your feet when you're not always prepared for that. It's tough.

Stephanie Stuckey: I did do that; I did learn that with a being a trial lawyer. You do have to constantly. Absolutely, be, and that is something I would also advise myself to be in the present moment. Don't beat yourself up over the past. It's over and doesn't obsess over the anxiety of the future. When it happens, deal with it.

Angela Gennari: Be present in that way. You can learn, you can grow, you can figure out...

Stephanie Stuckey: Respond to it, but react, don't it's that anxiety of, well, if this happens, then I'll do this and that happened, blah, blah, blah. And well, why don't you just think about where you are right now. That's the only thing you really can control is what's happening right here right now. That teaches you to think on your feet. Because you are a hundred percent present.

Angela Gennari: Yeah, absolutely. So, what inspires you? What inspires you today?

Stephanie Stuckey: There's so much, I think just all the businesses out there that are making it all the small businesses. And I heard a statistic from the CEO of Hootsuite who I had a conversation with recently and I ask, you know, sort of what's what are the numbers of your business? And over 90% of their customers are small businesses and that kind of plays out for what the customer base is in the United States, small businesses. We're the backbone of this economy.

Angela Gennari: We really are. Absolutely.

Stephanie Stuckey: And that's what inspires me, but too often, what we hear about are Elon Musk and Richard Branson and the Sarah Blakeley, and I admire all of them in different ways for different things. But there are a lot of other stories out there.

Angela Gennari: There are, and we're not all going to meet that tremendous amount of success nor do some of us want to.

Stephanie Stuckey: Well, is that necessarily the success.

Angela Gennari: This is true.

Stephanie Stuckey: We define what success is. I was talking to a man I met up with, for coffee this morning, and he does training for employees, and it was fascinating to me because he said, my sweet spot is training those frontline workers. Oh great. He said too often the leadership training is spent on the management, the executive team. But you want to inspire all levels. And we got to talking about small business and he told me about this amazing chocolate company from where he's from outside of the green bay, Wisconsin, and it's just like this beloved brand, and I said, well, why don't they go nationally? He's like, they don't want to. That's their success in being this wonderful local brand.

Angela Gennari: Well, and sometimes success might look like I get a little extra balance in my life because I don't have a nine to five job. And I have a small business that I can do from home or it's I run a store and I get to see people that are in my community every single day and expanding that will take away that close personal touch. So, success is different for everybody, and we shouldn't judge somebody else's success based on what we feel is of value to us.

Stephanie Stuckey: Yeah. And in getting into my role and just seeing all the different businesses out there, I redefined what I consider success. Even though I did say I want to get to a hundred million in sales. There’s nothing wrong with that. That's not a billion.

Angela Gennari: No.

Stephanie Stuckey: Plus, that's not jelly belly or Hershey. I want to sort of occupy a nice niche with a pecan.

Angela Gennari: And I think that honestly, you've got such a good brand that, it's such a good down-home, like community building, brand people. Remember it from when they were kids, and to bring that back would be so inspiring, you inspire me, I click at all of your LinkedIn posts and I see you visiting on your road trips, all of these little stores and small businesses and hotels and gas stations that have been around forever and ever, and owned by generations, and I just am so inspired by that because they're continuing a legacy, and I am, I just love that.

Stephanie Stuckey: That's the good stuff.

Angela Gennari: That is the good stuff. So, one last question, what do you wish more people knew and that you can answer it however you want. So, what do you wish more people knew?

Stephanie Stuckey: I wish more people knew that. Well, like I just said, most businesses in America are small businesses. And I think there's this sense of business being very corporately and being very profit-driven. And there is definitely that. But when you're actually in it, there are so many fascinating people when I would never have gone into business, had it not been my family business. That I had the opportunity to buy. This was not what I would've done because I had this perception that business was very strait-laced and financially driven and uninteresting right far from it. I now think creativity is the superpower of most successful businesses. There's an incredible opportunity for visioning and creativity and being an artist, even if what you're doing may not seem necessary to some people as creative and finances are actually pretty creative. And I'm not talking about being creative in a way that you try to hide money but creative, in a way, how do you do a capital stack? How do you raise revenue? How do you bootstrap? How do you bootstrap? How do you create a budget? How do you, your budget says so much about the morals and the values of your company.

Angela Gennari: Oh yeah. I am hundred percent agree with you on that.

Stephanie Stuckey: More so than your strategic plan or your marketing plan.

Angela Gennari: I agree.

Stephanie Stuckey: So, that's something I had not known before I took on. I wish more people knew that in business finance there's a ton of room for creativity. And I wish more people who have sort of an artistic band would consider going into business because we need more people like that in this world.

Angela Gennari: I agree. And there's an amount of tenacity that you don't get in normal day-to-day life that you see in small businesses. And you see on an executive level, and I'm not talking about the executive level where you've just, it's just longevity, that's gotten you there, I mean like tenacity and fighting for what you love, and there that comes with small businesses and owning a business and working hard late nights to get to where you want to go. And I mean, there's nothing that can describe it more than tenacity.

Stephanie Stuckey: Yep, A hundred percent.

Angela Gennari: Well, thank you so much for your time. This has been incredibly insightful and I have just really enjoyed meeting you. And I am a total fan girl of yours because I've been following you on LinkedIn. And I'm just like, she is so inspiring, and I love that you're bringing back the brand, but in a fresh, new, exciting way, but you're also honoring and maintaining the legacy of your grandfather. So, thank you.

Stephanie Stuckey: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. It's been a delight.

Angela Gennari: Thank you.

Thank you for joining our guests on the Pretty Powerful Podcast, and we hope you've gained new insight and learned from exceptional women. Remember to subscribe or check out this and all episodes on prettypowerfulpodcast.com visit us next time and until then step into your own power.

Stephanie StuckeyProfile Photo

Stephanie Stuckey

CEO of Stuckey's

Stephanie Stuckey is CEO of Stuckey’s, the highway oasis that’s been serving pecan log rolls and
kitschy souvenirs to road trippers since 1937. Founded by her grandfather, W.S. Stuckey, Sr. in
Eastman, Georgia, Stuckey’s grew into over 350 stores nationwide by its peak in the 1970’s. The
company was sold in 1964 and sadly declined for decades under a series of corporate owners.
Fortunately, Stuckey’s is now in family hands again and making a comeback, with a mission to
make road trips fun.
Stephanie received both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Georgia.
She worked as a trial lawyer, was elected to seven terms as a state representative, ran an
environmental nonprofit law firm, served as Director of Sustainability for the City of Atlanta,
and taught as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Georgia School of Law. Stephanie
purchased Stuckey’s in November of 2019 and assumed the role of CEO at that time.
Stephanie’s achievements include being named one of the 100 Most Influential Georgians byGeorgia Trend Magazine and a graduate of Leadership Atlanta. She is active in her community
and has served on many nonprofit boards, including the National Sierra Club Foundation,
EarthShare of Georgia, and her local zoning review board.
When she’s not running the Stuckey’s candy and pecan shelling plant in Wrens, Georgia or the
distribution operations in Eastman, Georgia, Stephanie enjoys traveling by car to explore the
back roads of America and pulling over for every roadside oddity and souvenir shop along the