Advice from the Italian Centre’s Teresa Spinelli, 2018 Allard Chair in Business
We are celebrating Teresa Spinelli, president of the Italian Centre Shop and MacEwan University's 2018 Dr. Charles Allard Chair in Business, at a reception on Thursday, March 8. Get information and tickets.
For Teresa Spinelli, food, family and business are inextricably intertwined.
“The dinner table is where families bond, where friendships grow and where business deals are done,” says the president of the Italian Centre Shop Ltd. and MacEwan’s 2018 Allard Chair in Business. “Food is about family, it’s about comfort and it’s one of the things that connects us as human beings.”
Teresa built her food business by focusing on people – growing the Edmonton institution her father opened on 95 Street more than a half a century ago from a single store to a chain of four.
“It was easy to feel like a family when we were 30 people and one store,” says Teresa. “It’s more of a challenge now that there are 509 of us spread across four stores in Edmonton and Calgary, but we really are still connected. We care about each other and we help one another.”
Nurturing a company culture based on caring is something Teresa takes seriously. She says it means being concerned less about whether sales or margins are up, and a great deal more about employee turnover.
“I hope we open other stores and I hope our company continues to grow, but seeing people grow is what really gets me up in the morning. That’s where I find my joy.”
“I make an effort to get to know people. When I ask someone how they are, or how we could do or make things better in our business, I really listen to what they have to say. I want people to know that I hear them, that they’re important and valued.”
Not everyone in the business world sees things that way, so Teresa is careful to make sure her management team members are all on the same page.
“People are the most important thing in my business. So if you don’t believe in people, then you don’t belong here,” says Teresa. “ I truly believe my employees want to do a good job and are doing the best they can. If someone isn’t living up to our expectations, then we need to ask the right questions and find out why.”
The approach, it turns out, is good for business. Since taking over as president in 2000, Teresa has grown the Italian Centre from a local grocery store into a major importer and distributor. The company is now eight times its original size, and has $70 million in annual sales.
I’m a chocolate connoisseur, so when I saw how quickly Polish chocolates flew off the shelves in our store I had to try them. They were not good.
So I started asking people why they bought them, and the answer was always the same. “They’re so good,” people would say, and I would reply, “No, they’re really not. Is it the price? The label?” It was neither.
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“The better we are at taking care of our employees, the better they will do at taking care of our customers,” says Teresa. “I hope we open other stores and I hope our company continues to grow, but seeing people grow is what really gets me up in the morning. That’s where I find my joy.”
It’s a message she hopes to share with students in the School of Business as the 2018 Allard Chair in Business.
“Over the years, I’ve learned to follow my heart and trust my gut,” says Teresa. “I recently promoted someone in my company and I think it’s a really good decision. Not everyone agrees with me, but that’s okay. My heart and my gut both tell me it’s the right move. I think that’s the best advice I can share.”
Teresa says she’s looking forward to connecting with students, contributing to their learning and doing some of her own.
“I’m honoured to be in this new role. My degree is in psychology, so everything I know about business came through watching and learning. For a long time I’ve wanted to do an MBA, but I always joke that if I wait long enough then the feeling will pass. I’m excited about 2018 and looking forward to connecting with new people as Allard Chair. I think I’m going to learn a lot in this role — maybe, for now, this will be my MBA.”
About the Allard Chair in Business
For more than three decades, MacEwan University and the Allard Foundation have partnered each year to provide students and faculty members with opportunities to meet an inspiring role model. The Allard Chair in Business honours individuals who have exemplary business acumen, demonstrate remarkable leadership skills and make significant contributions to the community.
Read more about Dr. Charles Allard and see the list of people who have held the Allard Chair in Business since 1985.
Read more about students and faculty in the School of Business: