Hometown boy: BV native Engskov builds successful career with Starbucks
From working in his family’s hardware store on the Berryville Public Square to joining the senior leadership team of Starbucks, Kris Engskov said the lessons he learned about life and customer service in his hometown have stuck with him throughout his career.
Engskov was promoted to executive vice president and president of U.S. Retail for Starbucks in May 2016. He joined Starbucks in 2002 after previously working for Madrona Venture Group, LLC., a Seattle-based venture capital fund, and serving in the White House as assistant press secretary and personal aide to President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2000. During his time at Starbucks, Engskov has served as the president of Global Channel Development and the president of Starbucks Coffee Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and the managing director of Starbucks UK and Ireland.
Engskov said the executive vice president position is a big challenge, but one he welcomes.
“It’s a giant opportunity and a giant responsibility, but it is a dream job,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Starbucks has nearly 9,000 stores across the United States, he said, and employs more than 160,000 store partners.
“Everybody at Starbucks is called a ‘partner.’ Everybody has equity and has options in the company,” Engskov said.
As executive vice president, he said his day-to-day responsibilities are helping prioritize what is most important in the business and supporting the field teams at Starbucks locations across the country.
“My main job is to support that front line, the people who are working in the store every day,” Engskov said. “The philosophy of Starbucks has always been and will always be that if you take care of the people working at the stores then they will take care of the customers. Over my 14 years here, I’ve never known that not to be true.”
He said being the executive vice president gives him the opportunity to represent all 160,000 people who work in the business every day and help them be successful.
“I feel that responsibility every day to lead well, to get it right and to make good decisions,” Engskov said. “There are a lot of people counting on me and us to be successful, so we need to be sure we think about that every day. I’ve always wanted to do this job ever since I’ve been with Starbucks, so it’s a great opportunity.”
Starbucks has made significant investments in wages and benefits for its store partners over the last few years, he said.
“We created a college achievement program, so we now have over 6,000 people at Starbucks going to college, which is paid for by Starbucks,” Engskov said. “We also hired 10,000 veterans or their wives into the company.”
He continued, “What’s nice about what we’re doing is that it provides a great opportunity to both hire exceptional people into our retail business and to provide differentiating benefits that you can’t find anywhere else. That has worked very well over a long period of time, so I’m going to try to keep doing it.”
Engskov said he traces his success in the customer service industry to his childhood spent working in Berryville Hardware on the public square with his father, grandfather and grandmother.
“I worked there every day after school, on the weekends and on holidays. I loved working in that store,” he said. “There are so many examples I think back to of spending time with my grandfather, grandmother or my dad where I learned how to be good at customer service and how to genuinely love to serve people.”
Engskov continued, “I learned that in the hardware store, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about those lessons and how great a place that was to grow up in.”
He described Arkansans as modest, hardworking and very diligent people.
“People in Arkansas have such strong values and take care of each other. I wouldn’t say those values don’t exist everywhere,” he said, “but growing up in Arkansas makes for a blessed childhood because you learn a lot of things that you might take for granted. I’m sure glad I grew up down there.”
Engskov said that whenever he has the chance to speak to a group of people he tells them about Berryville and growing up in his family’s hardware store.
“The lessons I learned there are as relevant in what we do every day here as they are everywhere else,” he said. “I’ve always said that I have great parents, who showed me how to do things and allowed me to take these opportunities because we were from a place like Berryville.”
Engskov’s father, Paul, said he is proud of his son’s success, noting that Engskov has been driven all his life.
“Kris was kind of raised in the hardware store that his grandparents, Elizabeth and Si Bigham, and I ran on the square. We learned early in life not to underestimate that kid,” he said. “It seems like kids have a lot more opportunities than they did years ago, and Kris has made his own. I’ve never underestimated him.”
Engskov graduated from Berryville High School in 1989 and went on to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville where he graduated in May 1993 with a degree in business and finance.
Suzanne Miner, social studies teacher at Berryville High School, said Engskov was a student in her first year of teaching. Engskov was the student council president, and Miner was the student council sponsor.
“I got to work with him through student council,” she said. “Later, I was able to visit him in the White House a couple of times when we would take students there on field trips. He would meet with us and talk to the students for a bit. I always knew he would do great things. I’m very proud of him.”
For those considering entering careers in business today, Engskov said there is probably no time in recent history when businesses have been more influential in leading change than today.
“If you look at the next 25 to 50 years, I think businesses, which are the engine for jobs, growth and prosperity, will be asked to lead change more than any other entity,” he said. “If you’re getting into business today, of course you’re doing it because you can sell something and make a profit and all those basic things, but you can also lead social change.”
Engskov continued, “I think Starbucks has done a great job of this by providing opportunities for kids to go to college and taking a number of social stances on things well beyond our business that we think are important. I think businesses are very influential today and are going to be even more influential in the years to come.”
In many ways, he said, he believes businesses today do not have the option of deciding whether they want to make a profit or have a purpose beyond that.
“If you look in Berryville, I think there are some great examples of businesses that have been involved in the community for a very long time,” he said. “Anymore, that just earns you a license to operate. That’s an expectation.”
Engskov continued, “In the future, that expectation will only get bigger. That’s why I think it’s so exciting for people who are getting into business for the first time today. There is going to be a redefinition of what business does in society. It won’t just be about making money. It will be about helping communities lead change for the better.”
Students in Carroll County have an advantage, he said, because of the core set of values equipped in many people by growing up in the area.
“I think we sometimes undervalue what growing up in a small town teaches you. We don’t want to take that for granted, and I don’t,” Engskov said. “I’m grateful I was born in Carroll County with such good parents and a good upbringing. It made a big difference obviously and gave me opportunities to be successful.”