Former Starbucks SVP Pays It Forward

Executive Andrew Alfano has held a variety of positions in the past 25 years in the retail, hospitality, and restaurant industries, including 15 years at Starbucks and a current role as president and chief operating officer of The Learning Experience, the nation’s fastest growing academy of early education for children. Throughout his changing job titles, however, his belief in the importance of building strong teams for success has stayed consistently strong.

Alfano received an Associate of Occupational Studies in Restaurant and Food Services Management from the Culinary Institute of America before beginning his career in the restaurant industry through positions at Host Marriott, B&I Executive Dining, and Friendly’s Restaurants. He joined Starbucks in 1999, rising from district manager to eventually become the senior vice president in 2012, where he was responsible for leading and supporting Starbucks partners as well as building the brand in company-operated and licensed stores. Furthermore, he was able to direct profit and loss accounts in excess of $3 billion. In 2015, he became COO of The Learning Experience, which provides child care service, education, and enrichment for toddlers and preschoolers.

“We've selected a very strong leader at a time when our company is in a very strong position,” said Richard Weissman, The Learning Experience’s Chairman and CEO. “Today’s pace of change is exponential, and every company is navigating disruptive markets while continuing to maintain guiding core principles and recognizing transformation has never been more important. Andrew Alfano is a change agent, unique in his ability to translate vision and strategy into world-class execution.”

While some might see early childhood education as an entirely different world from that of selling Frappuccinos, Alfano stresses their shared focus on customer satisfaction: “The food sector is all about creating great experiences and creating a quality experience for the consumer, internal and external, and through that, people create an emotional experience. He continues by explaining that this translates to his current role, saying, “We are responsible for children, USA’s greatest commodity. We know what parents are looking for: safety and a good education. We’re sharing a brand experience.”

Whether at Starbucks or The Learning Experience, Alfano believes that “success comes from building a performance-based organization through focusing on our people and their passion.” So far at his newest position, he has practiced these principles by engaging in “circle time” with his employees to stay connected and prioritizing employee happiness.

“We bring everyone from the corporate office, and it’s a state of the union if you will. We have the chance to address all the employees, about performance, priorities, and other company news,” he explains.

His value of employees is also embodied by his belief in internal promotion, which he aims to do over hiring outside. He also frequently stresses the importance of understanding that different employee populations have different needs: “You have to build a community- the different generations have different needs. We have a high population of millennials, and understanding what they want out of a career is important.”

It’s fascinating to understand just how deeply Alfano values the employee as the core of the customer experience, and also how he has transferred this learned knowledge from Starbucks to The Learning Experience:

I have long subscribed to the idea that the experience your customer has is directly proportional to the happiness of employees. To drive revenue, make your employees happy. It’s not about winning at all costs, it’s about building an enduring brand.
— Andrew Alfano

Focusing on employee growth and development is part of a pay-it-forward mentality. He explains that “[he] only got where [he is] by working at companies that focus on the development of their people… [he] went to a college focused on excellence, and had good mentors along the way, and then had an opportunity to learn from great leaders.”

In this spirit, Alfano shared some advice for young people just getting started in their careers: “it’s not necessarily the knowledge, but the application of the knowledge that is important,” noting that he only graduated with an associate’s degree from a culinary school. “It’s the experience that you will gain in life that will dictate how you do. It’s about sacrifices, learning, and learning how to fail.”

He highly encourages college students to start networking and find mentors in their quests to accomplish their goals. “You need to speak with people who have taken the journey that you want to go on. Depending on what you want to do in life, you have to go after something to fill your buckets.” However many mentors we may or may not have, paying attention to Alfano’s thoughtful employee strategies and community-centric management approaches, as well as his attention to applicable life experiences, is a valuable lesson that we should always keep in mind.

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