A guy in a Hawaiian shirt may not reflect the classic image of a major corporate CEO, but for Trader Joe’s chief Dan Bane, his outfit at a recent Town & Gown gathering was in line with his company’s corporate culture and clothing.
Dressed to instruct, Bane was the keynote presenter at the second annual Career Advantage Mentoring Program event.
More than 300 USC Marshall School of Business undergraduates, mostly juniors and seniors in business suits rather than island gear, mingled with about 100 USC Marshall alumni who mentor the group through the program.
Bane, the Trader Joe’s chief executive officer and a USC Marshall School alumnus, 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. 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,” Bane said. “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.”
The Career Advantage Mentoring Program 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 r�sum�s, interviews and career paths.
Junior Dalar Tahmasian sees mentoring 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 an impact on students that will last for years.
“This is one of the programs that really set Marshall apart,” said Lloyd McKinney, a Marshall alumnus who works for Northrop Grumman and has been mentoring students for seven years.
Gary Duong, a manager at New Line and a recent Marshall graduate, joined the program after he gained benefits from it 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.