The Journey

Building Community through Technology and Innovation
By Katy Chapin

Chris Bruzzo, '91, spends his days trying to develop new ways to use a cell phone.
As the director of digital strategy for Starbucks, Bruzzo must come up with new strategies that allow customers at the company's 12,000 stores to use their own technology while drinking coffee.

"I'm a communicator with a lifelong interest in technology," Bruzzo says. "I love to work in groups and to see collective work that is greater than what any individual can do."

However, the digital world can separate people from their experiences with one another. With thousands of people going to Starbucks each day, the company is seizing the opportunity to do more than just serve coffee. The company wants to create an entire "Starbucks experience" that includes music, community, meetings and connections with baristas.

Due to Starbucks' popularity, Bruzzo works to use the digital experience as a means to integrate people and to build a worldwide community. Bruzzo says Starbucks will add chat rooms and music-discussion boards to its website and will possibly add a store-locator feature available via cell phone. As technology grows, options are opening up, which puts Bruzzo and his work in high demand.

Bruzzo devotes his career to one of his passions: building community. Through his talents and love for technology, he works at a company that strives toward that same goal. Bruzzo's Whitworth education, which includes a political-science major and a communication minor, taught him how to be an effective communicator and an efficient writer.

While Bruzzo was the vice president of operations for the Associated Students of Whitworth University, he oversaw the activities of the cabinet and the club council. His job included organizing events, including fund-raisers and outdoor-recreation activities. In 1990, Bruzzo reinstituted a committee comprising all the media heads. He worked to reduce the number of elected ASWC officer positions in order to create a more efficient organization. Through these experiences and working for The Whitworthian, Bruzzo learned skills in diplomacy, organizational development and supervising.

Straight out of college, Bruzzo jumped into a job at a life-insurance company. He found himself leading a team struggling to keep up with the rapidly expanding world of technology. Bruzzo decided to seize the opportunity by fixing the technological problems and unifying his accounting team. Although Bruzzo enjoyed the human side of this job, he absolutely hated the accounting work.

Later, he leaped into a low-paying, entry-level job at the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. Bruzzo enjoyed working with the community through events and media relations, designing city projects, developing major marketing campaigns and writing public-policy statements for the city.

Swedish Medical Center then asked Bruzzo to head up its first-ever marketing department. This was a huge undertaking, since Swedish is the largest hospital in Seattle. This opportunity led to more senior positions in healthcare organizations, including head of marketing and public relations for Regence BlueShield.

Bruzzo switched companies again 10 years later in order to work at the rapidly growing online company He was hired to begin a marketing- communications and entertainment-strategy team. Again, his job required him to find ways to connect customers to the company he represented. After three-and-a-half years of creating a global community for, Bruzzo became the leader of the company's worldwide marketing and public-relations department.

Starbucks then recruited Bruzzo to work as its director of digital strategy. Bruzzo had the chance to start something from scratch, which was becoming a pattern in his career.

"I'm really excited about the opportunities here to create meaningful human connections over digital experiences, which is something I believe Starbucks is uniquely positioned to do," Bruzzo says.

Starbucks is a place that people know whether they are coffee drinkers or not. With its wide-spread popularity, Starbucks believes it needs to do its part in keeping together not only local communities, but the world as well, Bruzzo says.

Although Bruzzo is still in the beginning stages of his new adventure, he could not be more thrilled about seeing where this work will take him and anticipating the effect he will have on his community.

"I'm now at a company where the chairman says, 'We're not in the coffee business; we're in the people business, serving coffee,'" he says.