Exclusive Q&A: Michael Gaviña, F. Gaviña & Sons
“We really have something special, we have a very collegial industry that is passionate about a product that our customers hold dearly.”
Michael Gaviña is the current of the National Coffee Association. He is a fourth-generation executive at F. Gaviña & Sons, Inc. (FGS), responsible for pricing raw materials and managing inventory. A Coffee Quality Institute Q grader, he joined FGS in 2002 as a buyer. He is has served as CFO of DF Roasters since 2015.
Here, talks to Next Generation Council Communications subcommittee member Kyle Bawot about what he’s learned over his career, the challenges ahead for coffee businesses, and his hope for next generation of industry leaders.
Let’s start with a real hard-hitting question. What is your favorite movie?
My favorite movie is The Godfather. I’ve watched it many times and, in fact, I’m actually named after Al Pacino’s character, Michael Corleone.
My mother was taken by this character. I guess she really liked stories about family businesses and continuity planning.
Both you and Michael Corleone grew up in family businesses, which is a good segue to my next question. You have the unique experience of belonging to multi-generational family coffee business. What was it like growing up surrounded by coffee?
Working with family is a lot of fun! You get to see your family on a daily basis. You get to work around people you love, in an industry that you love.
… Which brings me to growing up in coffee. I consider myself very lucky to grow up in coffee and it really took other individuals from outside industries to bring that to light. We really have something special, we have a very collegial industry that is passionate about a product that our customers hold dearly.
If you think about it, our customers love coffee. It starts their day, it brings them together… I mean, you can’t talk to some people before their first cup. We’re very blessed.
Did you ever consider any other career route, or was it coffee all the way?
I always had the opportunity to work outside of coffee. For a while I was considering going to law school. In fact, I spent a considerable amount of time studying for the LSAT. However, I never ended up taking it.
I was already working in the business and, frankly, I was really liking what I was doing. Coffee is a product that brings people together and I really came to love the industry. For that reason, I was never motivated to look outside the industry.
Any favorite childhood (coffee) memories?
There are too many to mention. There was the driving golf carts around the factory, dropping pennies in the acid used to clean equipment… I could go on, but I probably shouldn’t.
At Gaviña, it seems you wear many hats. What is your favorite part of your job, or of the coffee business in general? Do you have a least favorite part?
My favorite part of the industry, and of my job, would be that its always changing. New challenges constantly pop up and having the opportunity to address these challenges is what keeps me interested and excited.
Also, I really love my role with NCA and love interacting with the wider NCA community. My least favorite part… that would probably be the traffic getting into work in the morning.
You’ve achieved a lot in the coffee industry in a relatively short time (e.g., becoming Chair of NCA). Is there anything you can point to that helped you achieve this success as advice for young coffee professionals?
In reality, it is the sum of a number of things. But I guess it can boil down to a couple things: being there and volunteering.
With regards to the first thing, being there, I have always tried to be present, to go to events, to attend meetings, to be in the room, and to find opportunities. Then, building on that, I have always tried to volunteer for whatever I can.
Once you have found the opportunities you then have to execute, and this is where a lot of learning and growing takes place. The times I have grown the most are those times that I have put myself in high stress environments, such as making a speech or attending an important meeting.
So, if you are there and you volunteer, the rest seems to fall into place. This is the best advice I could give.
How has earning your MBA been important in your professional growth?
I have benefited greatly from both my formal and my informal education.
Regarding the MBA, I actually went to grad school on a part-time basis so that I could continue working full time. So I would work a full day and take classes in the evenings. This was completely my choice and a large part of it is because I really loved what I was doing.
But ultimately, I would have to refer to my last answer and say that the best thing for me was to volunteer and take on more responsibility. Doing that, you will have no choice but to grow and learn.
I understand you were a driving force pushing the NCA to create the Next Gen group for young coffee industry professionals. Why? What role do you see Next Gen playing moving forward?
The NCA Next Gen was the vision of the NCA Board of Directors. The Board realized that it needed to stay relevant with the new generation of coffee professionals and that there were opportunities to help cultivate that leadership.
The goal of Next Gen is twofold: First, to bring in younger coffee professionals into the NCA, and second, to develop those young professionals to eventually take on NCA roles.
It was a slow process to get it off the ground but, so far, I’m very happy with the Next Gen. [The first two NCA Next Gen Chains] Brandon [Jackson] and Zach [Olsen] are both great leaders, and are doing very well.
Your father and your grandfather are well known figures in the coffee industry. What qualities and characteristics do they have that you admire? Are there some qualities you seen in them that you think may be missing from the younger, new generation of coffee professionals?
There are many qualities about them that I admire, but the main one is probably their perseverance. And part of that comes from being from an immigrant family — leaving their own country, starting over, boot strapping. They’ve gone through real crises, and this has helped them in the business. It has made them strong and entrepreneurial, focused and dedicated.
With regards to the younger generation, I know that here at Gaviña we try to figure out how we can create this perseverance in younger people. We haven’t gone through the same experiences that molded our company’s founders, so we have to find it ourselves.
So, the question is how to engender this value and help the younger employees grow.
What changes—if any—would you like to see in the coffee industry moving forward?
I would like to see greater alignment and collaboration in our industry.
I look around at other industries that are well-aligned, and I see some opportunities for our wonderful coffee industry. We have a diverse industry with many different interests at hand, but there are many times when those interests are shared, and if we’re not properly aligned, we will have difficulty addressing them.
And right now, we face some real challenges such as a very low market and climate change. These are complex issues and I think to effectively address them, we need to align and have a holistic understanding of the problem. Then we can really begin to develop effective solutions.
But I am very optimistic and believe that greater alignment is quite possible — in fact, the Next Gen community is one way in which this is happening now.
Join the Next Gen Council for a professional development breakout session and networking event at the 2019 NCA Convention in Atlanta, GA.