BIGGBY Coffee Co-Founder and Co-CEO Mike McFall ’93 knows a thing or two about leadership. After growing his coffee franchise from one to 370 locations across 13 states, McFall understands that people are the most critical ingredient to any successful enterprise, and he’s ready to share his hard-won wisdom with students at Kalamazoo College.
The Department of Economics and Business will host an on-campus event with McFall at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 14, in the Olmsted Room at Mandelle Hall. All students, regardless of their major, are invited to attend to discuss leadership and progressive practices in business and the workplace.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics and Business David Rhoa said he’s had the honor of hosting McFall in his classes at least a half-dozen times with each encounter proving to be a new experience.
“I think our students find Mike such a compelling speaker because of his authenticity and honesty,” he said. “He shares his real-life experiences in a candid, sometimes even brutally honest manner. While many successful entrepreneurs tend to focus solely on their achievements, Mike fearlessly addresses the value of his failures, emphasizing their pivotal role in the journey to success.”
L. Lee Stryker Associate Professor of Business Management Amy MacMillan shares Rhoa’s enthusiasm.
“I feel tremendously grateful toward our alumni who share their time and expertise with our students,” she said. “We’re fortunate to have alumni—and community members—who support our courses in so many ways. But when Mike McFall, co-Founder and co-CEO of BIGGBY, comes to class, that turbo-charges the whole experience. By having made his big dreams a reality, he’ll help others to dream big, too, and believe in these dreams. By focusing not just on profits but also on people and purpose, he inspires others to do the same and to see what great business leaders can look like. He walks the walk, and while he does, he lays a footpath for others to follow.”
In 2019, McFall published his first book, Grind, which focuses on the commonsense strategies needed to turn a start-up idea into a positive-cash flow business. He recently released his second book, Grow: Take Your Business from Chaos to Calm, which addresses his experiences with leadership, a theme he expects to explore heavily with students.
“As leaders, we need to understand the impact we have on others,” McFall said. “Business needs to go beyond what it has been historically, which is to try to get as much productivity for the least amount of money possible. We need to start emphasizing human-centric leadership and what goes into making that happen. I also like to focus on progressive thinking in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, and things like biomimicry. It’s a little bit of a look into what’s coming or what leaders should be focused on in the next five to 10 years to become more effective leaders.”
As an alumnus of Kalamazoo College, McFall places high value on his liberal arts background.
“So much of what I’ve learned in the world was built off of the foundation I had at K,” McFall said. “I’ve said forever that a liberal arts education is the best training ground for an entrepreneur because you get a much more well-rounded education. As an entrepreneur, you need to fit into all kinds of different scenarios with different kinds of people. As you grow and build your company, you need to be comfortable with that and you need to be comfortable with change. That’s exactly what a liberal arts education provides. I look at some of the extraordinarily successful entrepreneurs that came out of my class and the years around me, and I think a lot of their success has to do with the structure and format of a liberal arts education.”
McFall’s business strategies have helped him and his co-founder, Robert Fish, build their franchise into the third-largest coffee franchise in the United States, according to Forbes, a fact that’s sure to resonate with students.
“I think it’s important for students to see the practical applications of their work and then learn from the experiences of alumni who are at different intervals removed from college,” McFall said. “Someone who graduated from K 30 years ago like me has a very different take than someone who graduated five years ago, but both takes are important. As alumni, that’s what we should be focused on in terms of our engagement with the student body. We should bring our perspectives and share the many different practical ways we use our education from K to move forward and build powerful lives.”