Gregory Gerber was sitting in a Starbucks in Manama, Bahrain, four years ago contemplating a major career move in his life when he had one of those aha moments.
Having put in 18 years in the U.S. Navy Reserve and nearly eight overlapping years as a federal government employee, Gerber was looking for a new challenge. His goal was to find work that combined the logistic skills he’d developed in the military with finance experience he’d cultivated as a civilian.
A true coffee aficionado, he was enjoying a hot drink and staring at the Starbucks Siren on his cup when he had an epiphany: “Maybe the answer is right in front of me.”
“When I got back to the States, Starbucks was the first place I applied,” Gerber said.
Gerber is now a two-year Starbucks partner (employee) who has utilized the talents he developed in the service first as a store manager and, more recently, as a manager in the company’s Global Sourcing and Supplier Relations department.
“Greg brings a wealth of experience and skills from his time as a commander in the Navy Supply Corps, his store manager experience and prior civilian finance experience,” said Curt Freeman, director of Starbucks Finance, Global Sourcing and Supplier Relations. “I learn from him constantly and my team is stronger because of him. If leaders have questions about how military experience translates to Starbucks, please ask someone with veterans on his or her team. There are many more transferable skills than one might think and military veterans make Starbucks an even stronger organization.”
Supplies and Demand
A native of Maryland, Gerber had long been drawn to the military, inspired in part by a great uncle who was a Navy chaplain stationed on Iwo Jima during World War II. Gerber was in his high school’s Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, but ended up going to college in Florida and then finding work as a government contractor in Washington, D.C., simultaneously earning an MBA from George Washington University. He never abandoned his desire to serve, and in 1998 he was commissioned in the Navy Supply Corps. His job entailed getting necessities to sailors, including coffee.
“The Navy has been synonymous with large amounts of coffee being consumed ever since 1914, when Josephus Daniels, the Secretary of the Navy, removed alcohol rations from every U.S. Navy ship,” Gerber said, adding that Daniels was the inspiration for the phrase “cup of joe.”
Gerber ultimately spent seven years in the Middle East and traveled extensively, developing a strong attachment to coffee through the years.
“Every country I went to, I tried the coffee,” he said. “Some people like trying different desserts or whatever, but I was just like, ‘Hey, I’ve got to get a cup of coffee and see what it tastes like here.’”
He recalled how in Afghanistan he and his buddies ground a pound of whole bean coffee with a mortar and pestle and used an undershirt as a filter.
“At the time, it was the best cup of coffee we could have,” Gerber said with a laugh. “In hindsight, not so much.”
Setting a Course for Starbucks
Gerber’s logistics, finance and service background caught the attention of Starbucks when he completed his tour in Bahrain in 2014, but illness in his family altered his plans. His mother was confronting breast cancer and his father was facing open heart surgery. Gerber was committed to remaining near them, so Starbucks offered an opportunity to manage a store in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Gerber accepted and remained there through his parents’ recoveries.
“I think my two years as a store manager were invaluable,” he said. “They give me a line of sight as far as how decisions made at the Starbucks Support Center (headquarters) can affect the stores.”
When his parents received clean bills of health, Gerber began to pursue a position with Starbucks in Seattle in the spring of 2016. By that fall, he was on the job and feeling at home.
He feels like his training and perspective are welcome and aligned with Starbucks culture. Even his commute feels right – he walks a mile and a half to and from work each day, about the same length of his daily run in the Navy.
“In the Navy, we’d have a mission and we’d need to get it done,” he said. “We have a clear mission here, too. Transitioning to Starbucks in Seattle has been a dream come true.”