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Alumnus Kurt Wisniewski with Starbucks – Visiting Leader

On Wednesday, February 15, 2017 Alumnus Kurt Wisniewski (BA ’94) returned to campus to speak in Dr. Ron Cichy’s Hospitality Business Strategy classes.  Kurt is national account executive — grocery for Starbucks.

“It’s become sort of a tradition,” explains Dr. Cichy.  “I invite him to speak in my Think and Act like the Owner class almost every semester. Kurt is an excellent speaker, and he brings real life stories of innovation and strategic thinking.  The students really respond to his presentations.”

Another tradition: Kurt is always assisted by Michelle Kendra, a 1984 graduate of MSU who works for Starbucks on campus.  Together, Kurt and Michelle began Wednesday’s sessions with a tasting:  Casi Cielo coffee from Guatemala and toffeedoodle cookies!  “They immediately got our attention,” says senior Lauren Millard (BA ’17).

But the snack was more than just attention getting.  Kurt always chooses items to share that speak to the company’s efforts to be a responsible global citizen, buying and serving high-quality coffee that is responsibly ground and ethically traded.   In fact, he said, 95% of the coffee purchased by Starbucks in 2013 was ethically sourced.

Kurt spoke to the students of Starbucks’ mission and values, its business model, and its recent innovations.  For example, he discussed the company’s “wall of chill,” allowing customers to grab healthy items to go along with their coffee.  He talked about Starbucks apps for Android and iPhones; Starbucks on the go; ready-to-drink cold brews; the Teavana brand of teas the company sells; Starbucks mobile trucks; nitro coffee; Starbucks rewards; and more.

Just as important to the students were Kurt’s words of advice as they start their careers.  “Love what you do,” he said, “and share with everyone else.”  He added, “People can tell if you have an agenda.  So don’t have one.  Just love, serve, care, and build relationships.”

Kurt has lived by his own words throughout his career.  He has been with Starbucks a total of 18 years, beginning there in December 1994 as a store manager in the Chicago market before starting a new career with Andersen Consulting in 1998 as an analyst within the technology field.  He restarted his Starbucks career in 2001, and has held a variety of positions within Starbucks Business Alliances, Foodservice, Licensed Stores, National Accounts, and Branded Solutions.  In his most recent position, Kurt had the honor of being asked to mentor a team of business development managers in Western Canada.

“I appreciate Mr. Wisniewski’s class presentation,” says senior Lihan Wang (BA ’17).  “It always means more when we hear from alumni who are making a difference in the industry, and who are willing to share their stories and their companies with us.”

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Eli Broad College of Business

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