Answering Starbucks’ Siren’s Call

Director of global strategy Leslie Hampel T’07 is helping chart a bold future for the coffee retailer.

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Director of global strategy Leslie Hampel T’07 is helping chart a bold future for the coffee retailer.

For Leslie Hampel T’07, director of global strategy at Starbucks, a luxury handbag and a skinny latte aren’t that different. The decision to purchase either product, she asserts, is driven by the same consumer desire.

“Why are consumers willing to spend $500 on a Coach handbag when there are much less expensive options?” she asks. “Coffee comes with a similar consideration when a customer decides, ‘I’m going to buy a $5 cup of coffee,’ rather than making it at home for a fraction of the cost. They are both premium retail experiences.”

Hampel works as an internal strategist at Starbucks, helping the coffee chain define and execute its highest priorities. Among her many duties, she helps to articulate the five-year strategic vision for the company and leads cross functional teams in enterprise transformation projects to drive revenue and cost reduction through the lens of humanity. “I enjoy being drawn into far bigger business problems than I had in my previous roles.”

Hampel arrived at Starbucks after a two-year turn at strategy consulting firm Booz & Company (now PwC’s Strategy&) followed by five years at Coach, where she started out as an internal strategist as well. Coach, a company known for its premium leather goods and accessories, including handbags, was entering new international markets and Hampel aided that effort by building consumer insights and market positioning for the brand. After two years, she transitioned to the international finance team, analyzing operations and establishing sales and inventory targets for stores.

She recalls her two years in Hanover as a special time during which she met a lot of amazing people and developed a powerful network."

It was a move uniquely suited for Hampel, who graduated from Ohio University in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She recalls the words of advice she got from her father when she was about to start her undergraduate studies: “Find a major you’re naturally good at,” he told her. For Hampel, that was accounting and finance.

After college, Hampel took a job in the bankruptcy consulting practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers (now FTI Consulting) in New York City, where she helped companies navigate the procedures of a bankruptcy filing. The experience provided Hampel with a deep understanding of accounting and finance, but she longed for exposure to other parts of the enterprise, to “sales, operations, marketing—all the more optimistic, future-looking functions,” she says.

At Tuck, Hampel found the broad business education she was looking for. She recalls her two years in Hanover as a special time during which she met a lot of amazing people and developed a powerful network. “One of the things I love about Tuck is it isn’t just about getting your degree and then getting a big job. It is a wonderful confluence of amazing people at the right time in your life.”

Hampel eventually felt herself drawn to Seattle, home of several Tuck friends as well as several large retail companies. She applied to Starbucks, which impressed her with a corporate vision of not only healthy profits and growth, but also of social responsibility. “I come from a family of altruists,” she explains. “My mom was a school psychologist who worked with kids with learning disabilities and my dad teaches toddlers with developmental disabilities how to walk. So I love the idea of working for a company that sees its role as not only to be profitable and to deliver incredible growth, but also to leave the world a better place.” In November 2014 she moved to Seattle and began her job as director of global strategy.

Recently, Hampel traveled to Chicago to interview prospective interns. She found herself wishing that she could give these young graduates a bit of advice. “We can plan as much as we want as we’re getting ready to graduate,” she says. “But the fact of the matter is, a lot of what happens in our career is out of our control. Just find something you like and do it well and let the promotions take care of themselves—the angst and worry will get you nowhere.”