After his father passed away, a young Joseph Petrowski and his mother Ann opened a farm stand in Brockton, Mass., to sup­port the family. One day, a cus­tomer asked for eggs, prompting Joseph to dash inside his home to fetch a dozen store-​​bought eggs to meet the request. That prompted his family to begin selling eggs at a market in Boston, which netted thou­sands in earn­ings over one summer in 1970.

Petrowski, now the CEO of the Cum­ber­land Farms Gulf Oil Group, said that expe­ri­ence from his youth has ben­e­fited his busi­ness career by reminding him to pay atten­tion to cus­tomers’ needs and look for ways to sus­tain long-​​term eco­nomic health.

That taught me a lesson in busi­ness,” Petrowski told more than 100 audi­ence mem­bers on Tuesday morning at North­eastern University’s CEO Break­fast Forum. The forum invites leading CEOs to speak to an audi­ence of other senior exec­u­tives from the Greater Boston area.

Cum­ber­land Farms was founded in 1939 with the pur­chase of a 110-​​acre farm in Rhode Island for the pri­mary task of pro­ducing milk. Today the com­pany owns and oper­ates nearly 600 con­ve­nience stores across 11 states. Cum­ber­land acquired the naming rights to Gulf Oil in 1986 and acquired the com­pany in full in 2005. The $13 bil­lion a year enter­prise employs more than 8,000 people in 29 states.

In wel­coming remarks, Stephen W. Director, Northeastern’s provost and senior vice pres­i­dent for aca­d­emic affairs, praised Petrowski for his lead­er­ship and noted his company’s novel approach to evolving and expanding.

It’s an example of inno­va­tion and seeing things in a dif­ferent way,” Director said. He added that North­eastern has taken a sim­i­larly inno­v­a­tive approach to higher edu­ca­tion by launching grad­uate cam­puses that strate­gi­cally align the university’s edu­ca­tional and research strengths with the needs of regional economies nation­wide. Through the “hybrid delivery model,” Northeastern’s pro­gram offer­ings inte­grate both online and class­room learning.

In his keynote address, Petrowski com­pared the phi­los­ophy of suc­cessful com­pa­nies with that of suc­cessful nations. Both, he said, not only sur­vive but also thrive by recruiting the right people and spending cap­ital in smart, strategic ways.

He noted that suc­cessful com­pa­nies adapt to rapid changes in the busi­ness world, including new trends and tech­nolo­gies. “Many com­pa­nies that die do so because they get the strategy wrong and don’t adjust to the out­side cir­cum­stances,” Petrowski said.

Cum­ber­land Gulf is cur­rently is breaking into the elec­tricity industry. Gulf Elec­tricity, formed in Jan­uary, cur­rently serves con­sumer and small busi­nesses in Con­necticut, and in March the com­pany became the offi­cial elec­tricity sup­plier of the Boston Red Sox. Con­tinued expan­sion into Mass­a­chu­setts will come later this year, Petrowski said.

In explaining this move, he said, “We are a com­pany that is well-​​known as Gulf. We have a mil­lion and a half cus­tomers who come through our sta­tions every day, and we have the ability to handle the hedging, billing, inven­tory and dis­tri­b­u­tion of all energy prod­ucts. So why limit our­selves to petro­leum or diesel or gasoline?”