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ALEXANDER SJÖGREN ’06

A.S., B.S. Business Management. Chief Technology Officer and Partner at Yellow Pepper. Miami, Florida. Photograph by Mary Beth Koeth

The transactions you make at a bodega or a department store or a gas station are, Alexander Sjögren ’06 acknowledges, the dullest part of the trip. “Nobody wakes up wanting to make a payment,” he says. “They want to do the shopping. Payments are not sexy.”

But as chief technology officer of the multinational digital firm Yellow Pepper, Sjögren also sees his job designing payment systems as his window to the world: a way for him, as a technologist, to explore other countries and cultures, and to bring tech to retailers who have a specifi c problem they need to solve. That could be enabling Latin America’s largest convenience store chain, OXXO, to let customers skip the line as they check out. Or it could be creating a new credit system for Apple retailers in Colombia that lets customers apply for a credit card and immediately use it to buy an iPhone before the physical card is even issued. “Unless you can prove you’re solving a consumer pain point, no one’s going to adopt a technology just for the sake of it,” says Sjögren.

From a small village in Sweden, Sjögren saw his school friends travel a great deal, and decided to shoot for a school and career that would allow him to do the same. He enrolled in Johnson & Wales’ programs at the Institute of Higher Marketing Business School, which at the time were offered in Göteborg, Sweden. Once acclimated to the American schooling style, he transferred to the Johnson & Wales campus in North Miami. “It was what I wanted to get out of the college experience, which was to be subjected to a lot of different cultures. Everyone seems to be a foreigner in Miami.”

After graduation, Sjögren and his wife, Dominique Oleas — a 2005 Johnson & Wales graduate in Hotel Management — lived in Sweden and Ecuador before settling for good in Miami. A willingness to learn a culture and a language, he says, is essential to making people comfortable enough to do business. And the exchange goes both ways.

“The Latin culture is something I admire — extremely positive, enthusiastic,” he says. “It really helps you get your energy and motivation up. Scandinavians have a lot to learn from Latin America.”

SAM EIFLING

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NATILY SANTOS ’03

B.S. International Hotel & Tourism Management. Director of Supplier Diversity Strategic Sourcing at Aramark. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photograph by Gene Smirnov

Natily Santos ’03 knows the signifi cance of paying it forward. As a fi rst-generation Dominican-American and the eldest of fi ve siblings, she learned early on the impact her actions could
have on others."

“Professional success is directly connected to how much you’re able to pay it forward,” says Santos. “Being a leader is about how you inspire people.” Fifteen years ago, she started working at Aramark as a senior sales manager. Today she develops and executes partnerships that provide solutions for local sourcing, supplier diversity and sustainability-driven product needs."

Looking back, Santos is grateful for the moral support she received from a JWU professor. “In the spring of senior year, I had received a number of job offers, but they were more sales-oriented
than operations-based, which was more my specialty,” says Santos. “I told Dr. Fink [Robert Fink, now associate dean of the College of Hospitality Management], ‘I’m unsure I’ll make the right decision. I’m not even sure I can do sales.’ Without hesitation he said, ‘You can do sales, go for it. You can do anything!’ When I really doubted myself, he was a great advisor and continues to be one today.”

Growing up Latina in the U.S. also shaped Santos’ experiences. “My parents came here hoping for a better life for their children, and encouraged me to experience as much as possible,” she says. She was the fi rst person in her family to attend college and acknowledges that “as soon as I stepped outside my house, there was a huge learning curve.”"

Along her journey, Santos benefi ted from Fortune 200 mentors who helped her push forward. Now that her career is more established, she’s doing the same for others. Santos founded Impacto, Aramark’s fi rst Hispanic Market & Employee Resource Group. She’s been recognized as a member of the 40 Under 40 (current and future leaders) by the Philadelphia Business Journal; serves on the board of PHLDiversity and The Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and is also the Philadelphia Board President of Prospanica, the Association of Hispanic Professionals."

Santos says, “One of the things I enjoy doing most is mentoring and volunteering with different organizations that sponsor scholarships, professional development and economic growth programs.”

DAMARIS R. TEIXEIRA

I have always loved JWU: the environment, the people, the energy." CARRIE HEGNAUER ’94, ’05
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CARRIE HEGNAUER ’94, ’05

A.S. Culinary Arts; B.S. Food Service Management. Owner, The CityKitch. Charlotte, North Carolina. Photograph by Taylor Johnson.

It would be an understatement to say that Carrie Hegnauer ’05 has done a lot in her culinary career. Before she even had an associate degree in Culinary Arts, she was running her own cater-waiter business. Within two years she had more than 100 employees, but soon after decided to close the business and focus on her full-time job as a food and beverage director in Aramark’s business dining division.

Hegnauer remained connected to former professors after graduation and during one Norfolk Campus visit, the dean begged her to teach. “I took vacation time to teach a dining room class and I was like, ‘Holy crap, I love this!’ ” she recalls. “ I have always loved JWU: the environment, the people, the energy.”

Fast forward several years. Hegnauer was teaching full time, had her daughter, got divorced, relocated to the Charlotte Campus when the Norfolk Campus closed, earned her bachelor’s degree in Food Service Management, battled and beat cancer, and even had time to host televised cooking shows. It’s quite an impressive list, but she simply remarks, “I just kept plugging along.”

Oh, and she started a new business in 2014. The City-Kitch, a commercial shared-use kitchen with private prep suites available, was conceived when Hegnauer couldn’t fi nd a commercial kitchen to rent for her cooking classes. When she discovered the cost and complications of rental space, she and her second husband were inspired to start their own rental kitchen.

They consulted with the North Carolina Health Department to basically write the book on shared use kitchen health codes and have continued to expand. The CityKitch has now worked with more than 200 businesses, 14 of which are owned by JWU alumni. This number will only grow as their new downtown Charlotte and Greensboro locations open this year. “You have to take leaps at the right time,” says Hegnauer, who retired from teaching at JWU in 2018.

With all these accomplishments, how does Hegnauer measure success? “Contentment,” she says. “That I’m happy with how I’m living my life.”

CAITLIN ISLES

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GEORDIE BROWER ’14

A.S. Culinary Arts. Operations Manager and Managing Partner, Dickie Brennan & Co. New Orleans, Louisiana. Photography by Daymon Gardner

Geordie Brower ’14 was born with a tasting spoon in his mouth. Well, almost: “When I was four and five, my grandfather would take me to the family restaurant, and we’d walk through the kitchen with a handful of spoons to taste the sauces.”

The restaurant? New Orleans’s legendary Commander’s Palace. The grandfather? Richard J. “Dick” Brennan Sr. — of the Big Easy Brennans: restaurant royalty who launched the careers of Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse ’78, ’90 Hon.

The real treat came when Brower turned six, the family’s inaugural age for dining out: “We’d get picked up to have lunch at Commander’s with my grandfather. I commented that the turtle soup was too spicy, and my grandfather told me, ‘No, it’s well seasoned.’ ” At 14, Brower was running trays at the family steakhouse. By 15, he was a waiter.

But it was a winding path to managing projects for Dickie Brennan restaurants. Heeding advice to pursue a career with better hours, Brower followed his father’s footsteps and got a finance job. “If I read another quarterly report,” he soon realized, “I might go crazy.” He could no longer deny his calling.

Encouraged by his family to gain experience elsewhere, he headed for Denver. JWU coursework filled in key pieces: menu development and costing, running a storeroom. The nutrition classes helped him lose 30 pounds and now inform his work back in New Orleans, opening a café for the Louisiana Children’s Museum.

Before coming home, working in the Mile High City’s restaurant scene — devoid of relatives — was crystallizing: “My family has such big shoes. It’s a daunting task to even think about how to fi ll them.” He tips his toque to Rioja’s renowned Jennifer Jasinski, whose tough love inspired commitment. “I fell apart in the middle of a shift. She told me, ‘You’re better than this. And if you ever go down cooking again, you’re fired.’ ”

Now a manager in his own right, Brower recalls the words of Great-Aunt Ella: “It’s not about the numbers. It’s about the asses in the seats.”

That suits the spreadsheet-free Brower just fine: “Success is about people — figuring out the best possible solutions for the people you work with.”

Jeanne Ryan

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HUBERT KLEIN ’84, ’86

A.S. Computer Systems Management B.S. Accounting. Partner and Leader of EisnerAmper’s New Jersey Forensics, Litigation and Valuation Services Group. Freehold, New Jersey. Photograph by Mike Cohea

Pedalling to his father’s work site — whichever Bergen County, New Jersey, apartment complex was being painted — 10-year-old Hubert Klein ’86 had time to refl ect: “Because of my size, my job was to paint closets. I knew, that’s not the job I wanted.”

By the time he had outgrown closets, the 6’3” Klein had an inkling of his future. “Every three months, my dad had to talk to his accountant: this one guy who’s a guru of all businesses.”

First in his family to pursue college, Klein was pretty much on his own. His immigrant parents were supportive but not experienced. So, as a high school senior, he found himself at a JWU information session. “What caught my attention real quick — other than the four-day week and trimesters — was the class size and the professors. And there was diversity at Johnson and Wales — not just ethnic diversity but people from all around the world.”

Now a top executive at accounting powerhouse EisnerAmper — clients include the New York Jets and Michael J. Fox Foundation — Klein emphasizes JWU’s role.

Coursework in Apple’s seminal spreadsheet program VisiCalc paved the way for his focus on forensic accounting, “the CSI” of the industry, involving investigation to resolve financial disputes and track down fraud: “They can’t hide from the truth once the forensic accountant uncovers it.” He’s seen big changes, from the “hunt-andpeck” days of sifting through boxes of docs to using sophisticated computer algorithims that do the same in a fraction of the time.

Klein’s changed, too: He’s not as fast as when he escaped a backstairs chase, incriminating copy in hand, implicated businessman in pursuit, promising retribution. He’s learned to excavate records more subtly, holding his cards close until all parties are in conference, primed to settle. For Klein — who coached when his kids were young and chaired community boards — success transcends profession. Adjuncting at Fairleigh Dickinson University, he mentors the next generation: “You continually need to learn: throughout your career, throughout your personal life. You don’t want to look back and say, ‘All I did was make money.’ ”

Jeanne Ryan

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ROBERT PALLESCHI ’84, ’86, ’14 HON.

A.S. Hotel-Restaurant Management. B.S. Hospitality Management. CEO, G6 Hospitality. Dallas, Texas. Photograph by Scogin Mayo

A dare swayed the course of Robert Palleschi’s future. A friend’s father bet the 16-year old he wouldn’t take a summer job working the desk of a no-tell motel. “He thought I would chicken out,” says Palleschi ’86, ’14 Hon. “But I took the job and it got me hooked on hotels — before, I thought I wanted to be in the restaurant fi eld.” That experience — and his allergy to an overdose of classroom time — led the now-CEO of G6 Hospitality to Johnson & Wales. Before G6, which owns, operates and franchises more than 1,350 economy-lodging locations under its Motel 6 and Studio 6 extended stay brands, Palleschi was senior VP at Hilton and CEO of TGIFridays.

“At G6, my focus is the future: I spend a lot of time on our five year plan and managing to that
strategy. We are a guiding the business to where customers are going and where expectations will be in three to fi ve years; you skate to where the puck is going to be instead of where it is now.”

Palleschi believes the best ideas don’t spring from the corporate boardrooms — they come from the doormen, line cooks and room attendants: “That’s really where you learn not only what’s happening at the property, but what’s happening in the market. Success is not about titles, it’s about helping people develop. My proudest achievement is seeing how people who worked for me are now leading brands and running hotels or other companies. I joke that someday they are going to hire me so I have to be nice to them!”

Palleschi’s ethos is evident in G6 Hospitality’s additional endeavors. Its Operation Next Step program is committed to recruiting veterans, and under Palleschi’s leadership, the company introduced anti-human tracking training for team members. They also over multilingual training to help employees identify and report harassment and violence. Plus, they were the first hotel brand to mandate personal security devices for all team members. “The future is extremely bright in this industry,” he adds. “We need the leadership that JWU is producing — as innovators and future CEOs. We need that Generation Z driving us forward.”

Denise Dowling

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SARA LEHMAN, ’10,’12

A.S. Baking & Pastry Arts. B.S. Baking & Pastry Arts and Food Service Management. Owner and Author, Somm in the City. New York, New York. Photograph by Peter Ross

In the competitive market that is New York high-rises, buildings splurge on amenities to distinguish themselves. Doormen. Boutique bars. Minimovie theaters. Dog runs. So why not a dedicated sommelier? Sara Lehman’s job at the tower One Sixty Madison is that sort of add-on that might set a luxury residence apart: an in-house food and wine maven who holds events, consults on residents’ wine choices and throws dinner parties.

“During the interview, I told the management team, ‘There’s no way you want me to do this as a job,’ ” says Lehman ’12. “My parents were like, ‘What are you going to be doing? You’re working in real estate now?’ ”

If the residents feel more like a family when they gather around meals and drinks that Lehman curates, trace it back to her childhood in New Jersey, where her father loved to unwind by making big family meals. She chose Johnson & Wales after hitting it off with a group of girls she met on a weekend college visit. They instantly decided to room together, and that was that — they were all off to Providence. A study abroad trip to Germany pulled her into the wine world. “When I tried my fi rst smoked salmon with a really nice dry Cab and a Riesling,
I was sold on food and wine pairings,” she says.

Her first job out of school was managing a restaurant in Montclair, New Jersey. There she found herself pairing wines with a meal for a food blogger who invited Lehman to try her hand as a wine writer. Later, when Lehman moved to New York, the title “Somm in the City” stuck, and has remained her brand since. She writes on food, wine, spirits and travel, and hangs out her shingle for just about any sort of event related to those pursuits.

Whatever her jobs entail in a given week, it’s assured that few people in the world hold a position quite like Lehman’s. Maybe she’s a food and wine expert living her best life. Or maybe you could just say she works in real estate. “ During the interview,

Sam Eifling

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CHRIS COSENTINO ’94

A.S. Culinary Arts. Chef and Co-Owner, Cockscomb, Acacia House, Jackrabbit. San Francisco, California. Photograph by Mark Mediana

Chris Cosentino ’94 is widely considered a culinary pioneer. He pitched his most recent cookbook, “Offal Good: Cooking from the Heart, with Guts,” for 10 years before the subject of whole-animal cookery was deemed publishing-worthy. He became a rising star of food TV in its early days, including a 2012 “Top Chef Masters” win that raised more than $140,000 for Parkinson’s research. He’s done high-profile collaborations with Hong Kong Airlines, Vans and Marvel Comics, among others. In 2017, he opened two restaurants in rapid succession — Jackrabbit in Portland, Oregon, and Acacia House in St. Helena, California — to join his San Francisco spot, Cockscomb.

A native Rhode Islander, Cosentino grew up in a family where food “superseded family feuds, politics and religion.” His grandmother, Rosalie, taught him to love Old World Italian flavors. “I always knew I wanted to cook. It’s hands-on, it’s craftsmanship,” he explains.

He had a rocky start at JWU. His ADHD made concentrating on his studies a challenge; the densely-written textbooks — all charts and few pictures — stymied his “broken brain.” One day, he discovered “La Technique” and “La Methode,” Jacques Pépin’s step-by-step manuals, in the JWU library. Suddenly, learning clicked for him. The revelation also helped the young Cosentino focus and gain confi dence. He became a teaching fellow and worked on the line at J. Wales, the university’s full-service restaurant at the time, which was an education in itself: “We had the best team. But we got pummeled. We made fresh pasta — that was ahead of its time. We had all-you-can-eat fish-and-chips nights — it was brutal!”

That trial-by-fire set Cosentino up for his first major job — working at Mark Miller’s Red Sage in Washington, D.C. Moving on to San Francisco, he finally found a city that matched his creative energy. Granted “100 percent free rein” at Incanto, where he served as executive chef for 12 years, he fully matured into his talents and took major risks with the offal- and cured-meatcentric menu.

These days, Cosentino is as creatively inspired as ever, juggling restaurant ownership, philanthropy and collaborative projects. Most of all, he’s having fun: “You learn something new
every moment.”

Andrea Feldman

 

JWU Magazine / Spring 2019 Features:

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