Groundwork for Success

When University of Evansville adjunct professor Mindy Sagez visits Starbucks for a coffee fix, she knows she will meet the same familiar aroma of roasted coffee beans wafting through the air. She knows the same branding and logo will emblazon nearly every item in the store, from merchandise and packaged coffees to cups and baristas’ aprons. She can even tell you how long the beans are roasted and how often coffee is brewed.

But Sagez is more than just an enthusiast of the Starbucks coffee experience. As former category manager of brewed coffee and espresso at the Starbucks corporate office in Seattle, Washington, Sagez once lived it, breathed it, and perhaps you could say she reinvented it.

“It was my baby for a long while,” she says, adding each visit to a Starbucks store reminds her of her former career. “I do feel that sense of pride; I do feel that connection to it. And I’m sure I probably always will.”

Sagez worked at Starbucks from 2006 to 2009. During that time, CEO Howard Schultz sent an internal memo detailing the “watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, what some might call the commoditization of (the Starbucks) brand.” The memo was leaked to the press by one of the recipients.

“It was the memo heard around the world,” says Sagez, who would later lead Starbucks’ Reinvention of Brewed Coffee Initiative to directly address Schultz’s concerns in the infamous memo.

Fueled by Sagez’s leadership and business prowess, the initiative led to the creation of Pike Place Roast and a complete turnaround of the Starbucks brand. The initiative was so successful that a press release by Schultz in 2008 not only applauded Pike Place Roast, but also the team responsible — including Sagez.

“In my opinion and that of several others who have tasted this incredible coffee, Pike Place Roast is truly one of the best coffees we have offered our customers in our 37-year history,” says Schultz in the release, “and it will reinvent brewed coffee.”

While some could say Starbucks made her who she is today, Sagez says it’s quite the opposite. The Reitz High School graduate says her West Side upbringing laid the groundwork for her success.

“Evansville’s a hard-working community, filled with people who are determined. They care about building a better community. They know what it is to work hard,” she says. “And I definitely took that with me in every job I had, in every community I joined.”

Sagez’s resume is undoubtedly impressive. She graduated from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, with a major in social policy with an emphasis in education reform and received her master’s degree from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In addition to the stint at Starbucks, her professional experience includes an internship with Gatorade in Chicago and consultant position at Monitor Group (now Monitor Deloitte) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In 2009, Sagez returned to Evansville with husband Nic and their two young daughters. While Evansville offered a family-friendly community to raise the family, the couple also intended to help manage the family’s transportation business Walt’s Drive-A-Way. In 2014 when her family sold its portion of the business, Sagez says she immediately sent an email to Schroeder School of Business dean Greg Rawski detailing her experience and desire to join UE.

“When I looked at her experience, I thought it was a natural fit. To work for a national company like Starbucks and have that success — that’s someone we want to put in front of our students,” says Rawski. “Based on her experience, we can offer new classes that we couldn’t before.”

So in the 2015 spring semester, Sagez joined UE to teach principles of marketing and direct the Leaders Engaged in Advancing Development (LEAD) Forward program. This fall Sagez also will add a consulting class, the first of its kind to be offered at UE.

LEAD Forward provides students opportunities to build business and leadership skills outside of the classroom. Perks include access to business executives, trips to corporations throughout the Midwest, and having Sagez as a mentor. The program begins each year with a two-day retreat to Wooded Glen Retreat & Conference Center, Henryville, Indiana, where Sagez requires students to forfeit all electronic devices. Some students see it as a radical move in a world so consumed with technology, says Sagez, but end up thanking her for it.

“My perspective is that it goes both ways. We need technology and we’re able to get a whole lot out of technology,” she says. “And then there’s just other times that we need to have human moments and be able to connect one-on-one with people.”

Relationships form when technology is not a distraction and is what sets the tone for LEAD Forward fellows to learn about each other and create trust, says Sagez. That trust allows students to be open, honest, and vulnerable with one another in an atmosphere where taking risks is encouraged and feedback is valued.

In the classroom, Sagez uses a case method of teaching, presenting students with real-world scenarios to discuss business practices and conduct problem solving. Rawski says students have bonded with Sagez because of her passion and energy.

One such student is Hassan Taki Eddin of Damascus, Syria, a senior majoring in both accounting and finance. Taki Eddin says Sagez is different from other professors because she brings real-world experience into the classroom, whereas many professors teach first and then hold jobs in the corporate world.

“Mindy is a very hands-on learning type of teacher,” says Taki Eddin, who took Sagez’s marketing class and will return this year as a LEAD Forward assistant. “She brings that real-world experience with her, and she realizes that what we learn in the textbooks is not enough.”

Adjunct professors have a lighter class load, which allows opportunities for outside employment. Sagez says she still is searching for the best way to add to Evansville’s thriving business community.

“You get to see how things work from a different perspective. You get to see businesses working together,” she says. “It’s inspiring. I’m still trying to figure out the best way for me to be apart of that.”

As a professor, Sagez’s focus is on developing her students and fellows to be influential in Evansville and beyond. She doesn’t take that lightly and considers it an honor to have an effect that will reach far beyond her classroom walls.

“Leaders can change the world. Leaders impact people and they do it one person at a time … and I think that’s important,” she says. “I think if I can do that for anyone it will be great. I’m so lucky to get to do what I love.” 

For more information about the University of Evansville’s LEAD Forward program, visit

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