Starbucks Teams Up with UW Bothell MBA Students

Starbucks Teams Up with UW Bothell MBA Students

Published: March 03, 2015

Four years ago, Dennis McGrath, Vice President Global Test and Operations at Starbucks Corp., approached UW Bothell’s School of Business to create a partnership where students could get involved in low-level testing and program development. But Associate Professor Surya Pathak challenged him to do more. “He told me I wasn’t thinking big enough about this and we could make it much more significant,” says McGrath. Although wary at first, McGrath agreed to take a chance.

Since then, select students in UW Bothell’s Master of Business Administration program have worked on twenty projects addressing real questions facing McGrath’s Global Operations Innovation team. “What we usually do is that we have one big problem that is then distributed among multiple teams,” says Pathak, who jointly leads the partnership through his Management Consulting class along with Mr. Brooks Gekler, an executive-in-residence at UW Bothell School of Business.. “If it is a large problem either we break it down into small projects and then we come up with a combined solution or we sometimes put multiple teams on the same problems and we get different perspectives.”

Early on in the program, McGrath’s team asked the UW Bothell students to explore whether the cafés and drive-thru stores should develop hand-held, point-of-sale (POS) devices based on the company’s standards for service. The students recommended that the company should not pursue development of the POS for the café, but launch it in select drive-thru stores. “This was one of the early projects and I was a little apprehensive so I also had my own team work on it in the background,” says McGrath. “The students were right on. The work that was produced by that class was of the same quality as if I would have hired an outside consultant and the conclusions that they drew are the conclusions that we adopted.”

Pathak says that the partnership with Starbucks aligns with the community-based learning focus that is becoming a signature of UW Bothell overall by giving his students practical experience working on real-world problems. “It allows them to take a very ambiguous project and learn how to scope it and figure out who the stakeholders are,” he says. “It mimics what they would do in a real consulting job or in a company where you are basically an internal consultant.”

McGrath says the program benefits Starbucks as well. “It is a development opportunity for many of the people on my team,” he says. One of his team members decided to go back to school and earn an MBA at UW Bothell. Others have led class discussions and participated in poster sessions. “It is a great opportunity to see how these presentations are done and to see some of the tools that the students used,” he says. “It has all around been a very mutually beneficial relationship.”

Image of Starbucks