Michelle Andersen's dad was a veteran employee of Boeing, the global leader in commercial aviation. But that didn't interest her nearly as much as her grandparents' business.
"Are you kidding me? They owned and operated a candy factory," said Andersen, with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for birthdays, Christmas or winning the lottery.
Being surrounded by mouth-watering chocolate was only half of it; she also adored interacting with customers. So it shouldn't have come as a huge shock when, with a fresh college degree in business, she began working for one of the most successful customer-driven corporations on the planet: Starbucks.
"When I started as a management trainee in Seattle, there were probably 10,000 employees," she recalled.
More than two decades later, the company had 300,000 employees and Anderson had worked her way well up the Starbucks corporate ladder. Along the way, she opened the Starbucks at State and 17th streets in Boise (Idaho's first Starbucks) and countless other locations across the Mountain West.
But as the company grew, so did Andersen's need to travel away from Boise and her family—she's married to Shea Andersen, former editor of Boise Weekly and Idaho Mountain Express, and current vice president at the Boise-based Fahlgren Mortine marketing and communications agency; and together they have two daughters. That's one of the primary reasons she recently accepted the top job at Boise Co-op, becoming the first CEO in the company's 46-year history.
Having worked at Starbucks for as long as you did, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about Howard Schultz. (The former Starbucks CEO recently indicated that he might launch an independent run for president.)
Yes, I do know Howard Schultz.
Might he make a good president?
I'm not answering that question.
Let me ask it this way: Outside of Starbucks, why would Howard Schultz make a good... well, anything?
I think he knows how to inspire people and really make people move forward. He knows how to shift a culture in a positive way.
Tell me how this opportunity at the Boise Co-op came onto your radar.
I've always loved the Co-op and secretly dreamed of working there someday. That said, I never dreamed that an opportunity like this was possible. So when a recruiting firm contacted me, I was very open to that conversation. This is the first time that I've lived and worked every day in Boise. I've always traveled for work, so this has given me a wonderful opportunity to be more entrenched in the community that I love. Plus, I can be home with my family every night.
What did the Co-op board tell you they were looking for in a CEO?
They were looking for somebody with a skillset that could offer a big, long-term vision and strategy. So, here I am. I think they were wanting leadership, not management, and somebody who can inspire. I think we want to see the Co-op reach out into the community as much as the community is drawn to us.
How are you spending these first few months on the job?
I've been working in all of the departments. I'm loving it.
Really? Are you any good in the bakery? Making sandwiches? Salads? Butchering meat?
Well, I did come from the coffee industry, so stick me in the coffee bar and you're all set. But when I worked in the meat department in the Co-op at the Village, I said, "I'm great with all of this, just as long as I don't have to cut anything." I'm a bit embarrassed to show them my knife skills.
Five years ago, most people never would have thought of a Boise Co-op at the Village in Meridian. And the changes keep coming: the growing number of classes and workshops, home delivery of groceries, and Uncorked!, your new wine bar inside the Co-op wine shop. Is there anything else new that you'll be launching sooner than later?
I'm exchanging ideas with my team all the time. I like to approach anything by asking, "What's possible?" I don't like to start with the reasons why we can't do something.
Can we assume that the Boise Co-op will remain in Boise's North End?
Yes, this is our flagship store, our community store. We built our core values and ideals here and we wouldn't want to lose that.
I also think it's fair to say that some people were skeptical about placing a Boise Co-op at the Village in Meridian, yet it's a major success. What's the chance of seeing another Boise Co-op location in the next five years?
Do you have a sense of what your customers' expectations will be in the near future? I'm assuming that you're always in need of being ahead of the curve.
In the retail space, lines are blurred more and more. Grocery stores aren't just grocery stores anymore, as much as coffee shops aren't coffee shops any longer. They've diversified, creating different experiences. I think consumers expect high quality and want something we call "high touch" in terms of a great customer experience. They're willing to pay a bit more if they believe it's high-quality and really convenient.
You have two daughters, a 7-year-old and 10-year-old. How do you describe to them what you do for a living?
I told my daughters "I'm the new CEO of the Co-op." But they asked, "What does that mean?" So, I said, "I'm the big boss." It's the easiest way to distill that down. They're super excited, and now they want to go to the Co-op every time I go to work.
Do they adore the Co-op like the rest of your customers?
Well, they certainly adore the Co-op cookies.