John P. Thompson, the leader of the Dallas family that transformed an ice business into 7-Eleven, passed away on January 28, 2003. He was 77.
Mr. Thompson was the eldest of three sons, all employed at Southland, their family’s company. After graduating from the University of Texas in 1948, John worked in Southland’s dairy division.
The Thompson family was one of the few elite families in Dallas whose fortune did not come from oil and gas. In 1927, Mr. Thompson’s father began selling blocks of ice to refrigerate food. At times when grocery stores were closed, a dock employee added bread, eggs and milk. This inspired the family’s company to operate a chain of Tote’m convenience stores. In 1946, these stores’ new hours—7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week— inspired their renaming as 7-Eleven.
Mr. Thompson became president of Southland in 1961. By this time, the chain had grown to 600 stores and was expanding into new markets. By 1969—when Mr. Thompson was named chairman and chief executive— this number had risen to 3,800. Southland’s stores included Gristede’s supermarkets and Barricini candy stores located in thirty-five states, as well as Canada. The company’s dairy division took over producers, processors, and distribution centers in twenty-two states. Southland also moved into chemicals and began to franchise 7-Eleven stores.
Under Mr. Thompson’s guidance, 7-Eleven expanded to Mexico, the Far East, Australia, and Europe in the 1970s and 80s. The company ventured into other business enterprises, acquired Citgo Petroleum and Pate Foods, established a ground transport system, and set up innovative regional distribution centers. In the late 1980s, the expansion ran its course. Southland sought bankruptcy protection in 1990, and the company was rescued by infusions of capital.
Mr. Thompson stepped down as chairman in 1991. He remained vice-chairman until 1996 as Southland spun off all of its businesses except the 7-Eleven stores. The company officially changed its name to 7-Eleven Inc. in 1999, when it was operating 21,000 stores in the U.S. and in sixteen other countries. Today, 7-Eleven is the largest convenience store chain in the world.
A leader in Dallas philanthropy, Mr. Thompson supported the University of Texas, Goodwill Industries International, and the Salvation Army. Nationally, he was a major contributor to the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the National Wildlife Federation.