Chris Suzdak ’12
How can managing a coffee shop help you find your footing within a multinational corporation? Chris Suzdak ’12 is somewhat of an expert on the subject.
As one of 47 students selected this year to be a Princeton in Africa Fellow, Suzdak says his experience managing Oxy’s student-run sustainable coffee shop, the Green Bean, has been a boon in his new role.
Suzdak, who majored in economics, lives in Gabon where he and four other recent graduates from around the United States are serving as the corporate responsibility and sustainability team for Olam International, an agribusiness company setting up rubber and palm oil plantations in the West African country. Suzdak and his team are charged with ensuring that the agreements and promises that the company has made with the local communities are being met.
Suzdak credits four of his Oxy experiences for directly preparing him for the role he has today:
Suzdak sees many similarities between managing the student-run Green Bean and the work he is doing in Gabon. In both instances, Suzdak worked with a team of five peers to make strategic decisions. In Gabon the team sets its own project deadlines, establishes project workflow and takes initiative by creating new projects. “I feel like working on a team with the Green Bean is really what got me into that routine,” he says. “It’s really paid off in terms of being efficient with our time here in Gabon.”
Suzdak credits Oxy for making it possible for him to travel to Ghana twice – first with the Davis Projects for Peace and then with the Richter Research Abroad Program. “That gave me the on-the-ground experience in West Africa. It allowed me to interview a bunch of different types of people and let me supervise small-scale development projects,” he says. “That inspired me to continue pursuing development work in Africa.”
During his four years at Oxy, Suzdak participated in managing the Blyth Fund, Occidental’s six-figure, student-managed investment portfolio. He says that the weekly meetings and detailed presentations he made to fellow students taught him how to relay information to a discerning audience. “We have to present to the CEO of country operations every month or so,” Suzdak says. “He's very business oriented, so we have to give him a concise review of our objectives.”
Suzdak also credits his managerial economics class for equipping him with an arsenal of public speaking tools. The class, taught by Woody Studenmund, the chair of the department and the Laurence de Rycke Professor of Economics, frequently put students on the spot and required them to speak up in front of 50 of their peers. “It allowed me to know how to better prepare for meetings where a country head and our supervisor would ask us pretty detailed questions about why we’re doing certain social projects, or why there's a business case for being committed to the different local communities.”
Suzdak is enjoying his experience in Gabon, but says he wishes he had access to better coffee. You can read about his adventures through his blog Where Is Gabon?