The Starbucks senior vice president talks strategy, Seattle, and sampling coffee culture around the world.
- May 01, 2018
“Worldwide, people connect over coffee. When I’m traveling, I’m looking for how people are innovating around food and beverage.”
Finance was my first love. Then I took a strategy course. I’m an engineer by background, and so my scope was narrow and deep. The strategy case studies suddenly had me thinking broadly: Were the companies selling the right product and pricing appropriately? Had they structured their organization correctly? Were they going after the right customer? Had they defined their competitive set? It was fascinating to me. On top of that, I was thinking about these questions with three or four other students who had different experiences and opinions on the best approach. There was no correct answer. That was so different from my past studies.
Travel informs my business. When I travel, I see how coffee is consumed in different countries, and I learn their coffee culture. In Italy, it’s about sipping espresso at the bar with friends. In China, they are more likely to gather in the afternoon, and they sit down together in a shared experience. The Japanese are constantly innovating. The leading edge? Korea. Worldwide, people connect over coffee. When I’m traveling, I’m looking for how people are innovating around food and beverage. Are we tapping into the right trends? Do we see what customers are interested in or will be interested in?
We’re always introducing new products and flavors. Sometimes things go wrong. We introduced Sorbetto, a dairy-based granita. It was a great product. But it was made in a soft-serve machine that had to be taken apart and cleaned nightly. It took hours, and was too much of a burden. How it will work in the store is one of the main lenses we look at when we innovate and launch.
Mostly things go right. I savor our successes. My team reformulated our food products, removing anything artificial. We made all-day snacking permissible. We introduced the Bistro Box and cake pops.
For advice, I have a lifelong bench of mentors and colleagues, and I pay it forward by mentoring others. It’s an investment maintaining these relationships with people who have been my managers, peers, and colleagues. When I face challenges or situations in my professional or personal life, I turn to these people for a different perspective, to have a sounding board. It’s an invaluable network, and these relationships go back to my first job, span to today, and include many from Chicago Booth.
As a working mother, I’m not going to say I do it all. I am going to say that I juggle a lot of balls and catch most of them. I catch the important ones. I mentor women who want to see what it looks like to have kids and a successful career and not go crazy. We talk about that a lot.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I don’t know where that’s from, but it resonates with me. I believe in informal mentoring, being visible and open. I make sure others see the reality of my professional and personal life. I talk about sick kids, the never-ending after-school practice schedules, forgetting to sign someone up for something, being late for things. It’s hard to keep all the balls in the air and it’s OK to make mistakes. By sharing, it creates an environment where others feel comfortable and open about challenges they may be having.
I can’t remember the last time I regularly wore a suit to work. What a change over my career! Some of it is the times and some of it is living in the Pacific Northwest: I’ve gone from suits and heels every day, to casual Fridays, to a completely flexible dress code.
The Midwest stays with you. I was born in Chicago and grew up in Wisconsin. I went to the University of Wisconsin. There is a true friendliness and down-to-earth quality of people from the Midwest, and that stays with you even after you leave. In Seattle, I have an immediate bond with others from Wisconsin: the Badgers, the Packers, casseroles, brutal winters.
Seattle combines urban life with access to the great outdoors. The city is relaxed, casual, and diverse, and has good restaurants and art combined with easy access to the ocean and the mountains. My husband and I are both from the Midwest, and we lived in London before settling in Seattle. We can’t imagine raising our family anywhere else.