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2022 Star Women in Convenience winner: Sandra Kayyali

Senior-level Star
Sandra Kayyali SWIC2022

Vice-president marketing and merchandising

Gateway Market Canada Inc.


How did you get into this industry?

Working for Torstar for nine years, part of my role was overseeing the free press distribution between Torstar and Gateway. During a restructuring phase at Torstar, the division was eliminated. My former colleagues and I saw an opportunity to take this business in-house to Gateway, so we developed a division within Gateway called Gateway Direct Media. It was a seamless business decision given the remarkable relationship and rapport that was built with Gateway over the years. I wasn’t very familiar with the convenience industry per se but quickly knew it was one I wanted to fully explore as a scalable entrepreneur with a reputable and established franchisor.  

Favourite thing about your job?

Being a part of the convenience industry is being a part of a community. I saw this community band together during the most difficult times over the past two years. I’ve never felt more blessed and grateful in my role to be able to help support our franchise owners so they can go on to support and service their direct community. In addition, the creativity, culture, collaboration and challenge my role embodies that helps foster a learning continuum. 

Biggest challenge?

Adhering and adapting to new upper management and leadership styles during the change in company ownership. Also, the transition from working for a large corporation that applies strict policies, procedures, and processes, to a small business being operated by a family unit. It was quite the adjustment but I’m glad I took the leap. Having direct access to decision makers, the ability to think and apply my creativity, room to shine and be seen, appreciate and celebrate successes big and small, have all played a major role in my career growth today. 

Best advice received? 

Never stop learning and questioning, always remain curious, engaged, and teachable.

Continue to challenge yourself even in the scariest of times as that’s when you will experience the most growth. It’s easy to get comfortable; it’s when you’re uncomfortable that you’ll experience the greatest reward.  

Career highlight?

My growth trajectory over the past eight years with Gateway; having had the opportunity to fulfill several roles. As well, the ability to fulfill the role of a mentor, to give those without the industry-specific skills an opportunity to gain valuable experience that will help them to achieve their career goals and aspirations. 

What are you most proud of during the last year? 

Advocating on behalf of our franchisees when their livelihoods were at stake due to the devastation of the pandemic. My team and I wore several hats to pivot and flex as required.  Among all the chaos and uncertainty, I have never seen a team work more collaboratively and cohesively. As well, the overwhelming commitment, flexibility, support, and communication from all partnerships was by far the best I have experienced during my time in the industry. 

What excites you most about the future of this channel? 

As consumers ourselves, we’ve seen and experienced a shift in consumer shopping behaviours over the past couple of years. Being a health and wellness enthusiast, I’m very excited to see a transition in product offerings, trending more towards better-for-you options, a focus on health and well-being. As well, using the role of technology to help promote these options alongside trusted brands and speak to an audience that is quite savvy in their convenience choices.

Leadership style?

Having the ability to put myself in other people’s shoes and the patience to lead while maintaining self-awareness, building trust and respect. I strive to lead by example. No matter the business, the human element is always present with each and every interaction I have.

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Click here for the full list of 2022 Star Women in Convenience winners.

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