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Our Inaugural Penn State SCEO Looks Back on a Life-Changing 6 Months

a man crouching in a desert for a picture

After the past six months, Ben Yan is ready for anything. He’s become a better leader, better communicator, and an expert at time management. It’s all due to his time as Student Cafe Executive Officer (SCEO) at Saxbys Penn State, where he earned college credit and a competitive wage while running all aspects of the cafe — from team development to community leadership to financial management. Leading people was so powerful to Ben that he created his own major (called workplace happiness) where he’s studying ways to keep team member engaged and retained.

Now that he’s finished, Ben is returning to his studies, tinkering with the idea of starting an on-campus food delivery business at Penn State, and starting his own podcast.

We spoke with Ben shortly after he finished his tenure with Saxbys to learn why the experience was so impactful to him.


How would you briefly describe your experience as SCEO?

I would not recognize the person I was six months ago. My mental strength, physical capacity to do things, time management, and communication skills all improved tremendously through the experience. Being SCEO was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but now everything else in life seems so much easier. Now I’m dedicating a lot of time to passion projects like starting a business and starting a podcast.

Tell us about the new career path you’ve chosen after working with Saxbys as SCEO.

By far my favorite part of the Saxbys experience was working with the team. I really cared about people being happy at work. I wanted to keep learning about that because if I’m able to have a positive impact on the people working with me, there’s nothing that makes me happier. Doing it on a professional level would be really interesting.

Team Development

How did you build a cafe culture based off your leadership style?

It’s not about making a bunch of rules, it’s about leading by example. I wanted us to be more of a family or community rather just a place to make money for rent or eating out on the weekends. I wanted this place to be a second home for my team members. If you like the people you work with, chances are that you’re going to enjoy the job a lot more — and perform better.

What was the most rewarding aspect of developing your team?

Seeing them grow. People that started off with no experience working at a Saxbys are now taking charge. They’ve earned the respect of other people in cafe.

What was a major obstacle you had to overcome when it came to developing a team member?

The hardest moments came at the beginning. The cafe was brand new. Getting through that initial first month where everyone was still figuring out how to use the machines, and how to make sandwiches. After first month things got much easier because I didn’t have to be looking over their shoulders answering questions because they had the system down.

Community Leadership

How did you balance the best interest of your team while also contributing to the community that your cafe served?

I got my entire team involved. I asked the team what they were passionate about. THON was a big one. A lot of people were interested in music, so we brought in artists to play in the cafe, mostly acoustic guitar players.

How did becoming a community leader impact your cafe?

By being engaged in the community it not only brought more people into the cafe, it made it a friendlier environment. It’s not just another place to get coffee. It’s a place to connect, a space where people want to come and stay.

You opened a brand-new cafe. How did you analyze the financial numbers to make strategic decisions?

I kept track of sales numbers and hour-by-hour sales to make sure we weren’t overstaffed or understaffed. I would look at the previous week’s sales numbers to determine how many people I wanted to schedule for the next week. I could also see from data the exact times when we’d get a rush. It took about a month for me to get the flow of how much food to order without wasting things, or running out of things.  

Final Thoughts

What advice do you have for Rainier, our SCEO for the Spring 2019 semester?

Prioritize the people over the numbers. You have to treat your team members as fellow peers. They’ll thank you for it.