He finds lessons in true stories

Pete Sodini hasn't had much time to relax recently.

When Hurricane Ike hit Texas, it disrupted gasoline supplies for the more than 1,600 convenience stores that he runs.

Prices surged. His chain, The Pantry, implemented rations, but some stations still ran out.

When The Pantry's chief executive does have time to kick back, Sodini, 67, likes to read about other leaders and their problems – both for escape and for inspiration. He reads nonfiction books exclusively and particularly likes political books and historical accounts.

“I think the old proverb that truth is stranger than fiction is probably true,” he said.

On his reading table now are Terry McAuliffe's “What a Party!” – a memoir from the ex–Democratic National Committee chair – and “The River of Doubt,” a book about Theodore Roosevelt.

Sodini said he tries to read a chapter or two a night before bed. He tends to read several books at once rather than sticking with one until he finishes it.

“I've got four going,” he said.

Sodini's reading rule: No business books during his leisure reading time. “It should be something you enjoy doing,” he said.

His rule doesn't prevent him from bringing his leisure reading into The Pantry's Sanford headquarters. Sodini liked Amy Chua's “Day of Empire” so much that he bought a dozen copies and gave them to employees.

“She wrote a book about the greatest civilizations,” he explained. “Why did some succeed? And why didn't others? It came down to one word. The ones that succeeded had one characteristic: knowledge. … It's the subject of tolerance, and that is a perfect lesson to be applied to business.”

Sue Stock, (Raleigh) News & Observer