University of Southern California

In the Bag
Trader Joe's CEO Addresses USC Marshall Undergraduate Mentoring Program
February 19, 2007 • by News at Marshall

A guy in a Hawaiian shirt may not look much like the classic image of a major corporate CEO, but for Trader Joe's topper Dan Bane, his outfit on a recent night at Town & Gown was right in line with his booming company's corporate culture, and clothing. Dressed to bag rather than to impress, perhaps, but also dressed to instruct, Bane was the keynote presenter at the second annual Career Advantage Mentoring Program (CAP) speaker event.

More than 300 Marshall undergraduates, mostly juniors and seniors in business suits rather than island gear, mingled with about 100 Marshall alumni who mentor the group through CAP.

Bane, the Trader Joe's CEO and a Marshall School of Business alum, is also a member of the leadership advisory board for Marshall's Leventhal School of Accounting.

Sporting a trademark Trader Joe's aloha shirt and his own name tag, Bane told the story of the company, which grew from a mom-and-pop convenience store started by Joe Coulombe in the 1950s to the privately owned grocery leader it is today, with 270 stores and more than $5 billion in sales.

Bane focused on the importance of integrity, the company's emphasis on its unique products and the need to create an experience for its customers that brings them back again and again. By selling private-label items, having in-store demonstrations and creating in-house radio spots rather than purchasing mass media advertising, the company cuts costs and can offer great products at lower prices, he said.

"We have a simple and focused format: we don't have secretaries because everyone should be supporting the company, not someone else," said Bane, who often reconnects with customers by bagging their groceries at the stores. "We are a product-driven company and we have a passion for our products."

Bane, a USC baseball player under Rod Dedeaux, said the fabled coach was an important mentor for him.

"I spent a lot of time on the bench and it gave me a chance to see the way he coached and what he was doing," said Bane. "I modeled my leadership style on his."

Bane's themes were intended to generate discussion among the students and their mentors during the gathering, one of four face-to-face events in the program during the school year. Mentors and students also meet one on one and in smaller group outings such as sporting events and community-service activities.

"At the core of the program, we want mentors to help students develop professional skills," said Guillermina Molina, director of undergraduate student services. "The mentors give professional advice, and after an event like this, they'll debrief with the students so that they can walk out with even more value from the speaker."

CAP started 10 years ago, as a way for Marshall alumni to share their experiences and to help undergraduates jumpstart their careers. Now with 350 students and 111 mentors from a variety of industries, the program has become a coveted opportunity that provides students with professional advice about résumés, interviews and career paths.

Junior Dalar Tahmasian sees being mentored as an important part of her Marshall education.

"It's really wonderful to be able to get the advice, and my mentor has introduced me to a network of people who can answer my questions about different areas," she said.

For the mentors, it's one way to reconnect with Marshall while making a direct impact on students that will last for years.

"This is one of the programs that really set Marshall apart," says Lloyd McKinney, a Marshall alumnus who works for Northrop Grumman and has been mentoring CAP students for seven years.

Gary Duong, a manager at New Line and a recent Marshall graduate, joined the program after he had benefited from it greatly as a student.

"It is a way to give back, and I remember when I was going through, I was interested in entertainment and there wasn't someone in the industry that I could talk with, so I'm here to do that for today's students," he said.

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.