Speaking April 10, at the third annual Yeager Leadership Institute, Gillette told the crowd of Yeager Scholars, board members and guests about his rise from a dishwasher to an executive. As a Marshall student, Gillette got a job at a pizza restaurant on Fifth Avenue to work his way through college. His duties included washing dishes and mopping the floors at the end of the day, when he noticed his supervisor siting down to look over the finances with a cold beer.
“The guy who did the books drank the beer and the guy who didn’t do the books mopped the floor, and I hated mopping the floor, “Gillette said.
A coworker’s absence opened the door to learn the books, and Gillette seized it, beginning a fast-paced rise in business that saw him earn a vice-presidential position at age 30 with Pizza Hut, and become a division vice president for a Fortune 500 company (Wendy’s) by age 40.
Gillette founded his own Wendy’s franchise, Wen-Four Foods Inc., opening 16 restaurants over 15 years and remembering his alma mater along the way. He is a member of the Pathway of Prominence, having given more than $1 million to Marshall University. His generous gifts to Marshall made it possible to open the Joseph M. Gillette Welcome Center, named for his father.
In addition to his financial gifts, Gillette has been active with the Society of Yeager Scholars, serving as board president; the Marshall University Foundation, serving as chair; and the Marshall University Alumni Association. He also is a member of the Marshall College of Business Hall of Fame.
In recognition of his leadership and excellence, Gillette was named the recipient of the 2015 William E. Willis Leadership Award, given annually at the Yeager Leadership Institute.
“As the third recipient of this award, Joe has exemplified leadership in business, community service and philanthropy,” said Rex Johnson, president of the Yeager Board of Directors. “Joe has demonstrated his dedication to Marshall University through his hard work and generosity, much to the benefit of Marshall Athletics, the Marshall Foundation and the Society of Yeager Scholars. Joe is a true Son of Marshall.”
Paula George Tompkins, Marshall alumna and founder & CEO of the digital marketing and sales firm ChannelNet, received the Willis award in 2014, and presented Gillette with this year’s award.
The Society of Yeager Scholars was the first group that received a significant donation from the Gillette family when they were able to give back to the university, Gillette said. The Yeager program, which provides a complete full-ride scholarship to several students a year, also has an endowment in the Gillette name.
Photo: Paula George Tompkins (left) presents Joe Gillette with the 2015 William E. Willis Leadership Award during the third annual Yeager Leadership Institute banquet on Friday, April 10. Gillette received the award from the Society of Yeager Scholars for his leadership in business, community service and philanthropy. Tompkins received the award in 2014. Photo courtesy of Bob Brammer.