by Andrea Judy
When Mary Lyles enrolled in Georgia State University (GSU) in the fall of 2009, she planned to only stay a few years then transfer to the University of Georgia. However, she fell in love with Georgia State, Atlanta and the J. Mack Robinson College of Business and stayed to complete the Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Master of International Business programs.
She spent her final summer semester of her B.A. studying abroad in Granada, Spain, perfecting her language skills before joining the first cohort of the Master of International Business (M.I.B.) program in the Robinson College of Business. She knew she wanted to do work internationally and see more of the world. The M.I.B. program offered the chance to grow her skills and experiences. While in the beginning of her coursework, she was offered an internship with Diaz Foods, a leading Atlanta-based Hispanic food distributor.
The internship gave her the first real-world experiences working in a company with an international component. By getting involved in purchasing she found a passion for supply chain. Plus, she was able to bring her experiences at Diaz Foods into the classroom with her.
At the beginning her career, Lyles looked to her professors and classmates for guidance. “My classmates were so diverse. They were in all different stages of their careers and I found it extremely inspiring,” Lyles said.
It wasn’t just her classmates that impacted Lyles but the opportunities she found in the M.I.B. program. “The experiences within the program left a big impression on me. We got to see where international goods come in at the Atlanta airport and visit the Savannah ports. It was a great behind-the-scenes tour!” she said. These opportunities helped solidify Lyle’s newfound passion for supply chain work on an international level.
When she graduated in December of 2013, she was employed full-time at Diaz Foods as a buyer. Through her collaborations with manufacturers, domestically and internationally, Lyles developed the D’Sabor brand. During her time at the company, Diaz Foods acquired La Cena Fine Foods, a New Jersey-based company that distributed Hispanic food products in the Northeast. This gave Lyles the opportunity to work on an acquisition team, and ensure synergy with the acquired company.
But while she loved the work she was doing for Diaz Foods, Lyles knew there was more to see in the world. In April 2015, she accepted a position as a sourcing analyst with Starbucks Coffee Company at the Evolution Fresh juice plant and relocated to Southern California. While the move has had its ups and downs, Lyles doesn’t regret it. “I love it out here,” she said. “I just wish I was still close to GSU; I miss the alumni meet-ups!”
In her position with Evolution Fresh, Lyles is responsible for the daily operations associated with juice production, in addition to other domestic and international projects in food business at Starbucks. Her role has continued to teach her new things. “Everyone thinks of Starbucks as coffee, but we’re a bigger food company then Panera. And we’re using the best products. I know because I’m ordering it!” She sources produce and ingredients internationally and makes sure that there is no sacrifice in quality or processes in place at these international facilities.
Robinson has continued to impact her work, and she draws on lessons learned in her Robinson classrooms using them daily. The class that has stayed with her the most is business law, something she deals with frequently now for labeling purposes in different countries. But it’s not just the laws in different countries she has to keep in mind. “Dealing with cultural differences can be tricky! Keep in mind that when working on a project in another country, you have to adapt the product, but you also need to keep it true to the brand,” she says as one of the challenges she deals with.
She’s been able to put her Spanish language skills and her business knowledge to work when she traveled to Mexico with representatives from Starbucks Global Quality Assurance. “All the workers spoke Spanish and the forms and audits were in Spanish, so I had to translate and explain for both sides,” Lyles said. Being able to think on her feet in an international environment was a great experience, requiring her to draw on her studies at Georgia State and the knowledge gained in the M.I.B program.
While Lyles hopes to continue to travel internationally for her job, she and her friends travel the globe on their vacations. She’s already visited the Dominican Republic and has plans to visit Thailand later this year. She’s also trying to coordinate a trip to Cuba before the end of the year. “I love to travel and learn about other cultures.”
Lyles is excited about working with an international company like Starbucks and looks forward to where the future might take her. She hopes to keep moving up within the company and take on more international responsibilities as she grows her career.