Walter Godfrey Furman University Alumni

Walter Godfrey '16

— President of Neo Burrito

If you have a particular industry in mind, find a job or internship that can give you more experience in that field. Do not be afraid to climb the business ladder because the process stimulates growth and ambition.


Personal/Professional Journey

How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey.

I started working with Neo Burrito in 2011 and have been there since. I worked my way up the ladder from dishwasher and cashier to cook, prep, shift lead, and, finally, to general manager. In 2015, I helped open our newest location in East Asheville and started considering the business side of the restaurant industry.

During the fall semester of my senior year, I worked on a business plan for Neo's expansion to Greenville, SC. After juggling time between school-related activities and the plan, I finally finished in November. During that month, I presented my idea to the owner and he was highly interested, so I began working with realtors in the area. We scouted numerous locations and made multiple offers, but many fell through.

My original plan was to own part of the Greenville location, manage it until everything was running smoothly, and then attend graduate school for choral conducting. However, when an offer fell through for a location shortly after graduation, I was disheartened. I was moving back to Asheville and we had to go back to the drawing board.

However, this disappointment actually turned out to be an incredible opportunity for me. The owner offered me the position of president of the company, and while this delayed progress in Greenville, it was an offer I could not decline. I went through a month of extensive training learning more about the workings behind the company and have now been in this position since June of 2016. The Greenville expansion is almost set up and we are currently negotiating a lease agreement.

My biggest inspiration is my dad. He is a teacher at Pisgah High School and also teaches business at AB Tech. He showed me steady work pays off and instilled phrases in me like, "haste makes waste." While formulating the business plan, this phrase came in handy and he was a helpful mentor who did not tell me how to do things, but gave me suggestions and sample plans he endorsed. I thoroughly enjoy the relationship we share today not only on a personal level, but also on a business level.

Within the field

When providing advice for professional development, what are some resources one should consider?

I recommend immersing yourself in the business world and establishing connections with entrepreneurs who could serve as possible mentors. If you have a particular industry in mind, find a job or internship that can give you more experience in that field. Do not be afraid to climb the business ladder because the process stimulates growth and ambition.

Being in the restaurant industry, competition is inevitable. As a result, your business concept must be updated every few years or one risks reaching a plateau of staleness. In this condition, the concept grows old and customers begin to prefer other businesses more attuned to the current industry. While change must happen for a restaurant to succeed, the concept must still hold true to the original mission statement.

Another challenge in my industry is high turnover. There is a constant struggle in training new employees to replace experienced employees who have left the industry for better paying jobs. It is also difficult to find quality staff members who are not all young. Most quick service restaurants rely on students to work part-time and have a shortage of older, full-time workers. It is unusual to have a consistent, solid team.

For someone just getting started

What do you wish you would have known getting started in your field?

I wish I had known how much goes on behind the scenes to keep a business running on a daily basis. There is a long list of tasks you do not usually think about when you are just reading a business book or planning an operation. As a leader in the food industry, the business is on your mind and not always conducive to the 9 – 5 lifestyle. Often, it is difficult to maintain personal time without sacrificing the well being of the company, and vice versa. However, it is important to maintain a healthy balance between the two.

Typically a business degree is required to attain a position like mine, but I was extremely fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and to have a good connection with the owner. Connections are everything because a start-up is extremely hard to fund. Working your way up in some companies is nearly impossible without knowing the right people. I was blessed to get this experience so early in my career and am constantly humbled by that thought. .

Furman University

How has your liberal arts background shaped your career path or supported your success?

Furman provided me with an all-encompassing education, which has given me the tools to succeed in the ever-changing business world. A liberal arts education allowed me to dabble in many different areas and has come in handy in my career. For instance, my class in environmental studies assists me in Neo related activities because our mission statement revolves around sustainability. Our goal is "Making the world a better place one burrito at a time." The learned skill of balancing many disciplines of study while being involved socially and academically on campus helps me juggle the many tasks that come with running a business.

My major was vocal performance and I took many courses in theory and composition since I was an intended double major. Music correlates with business because one must constantly evaluate details and use the information gathered to make impactful changes.

In my vocal studies, I was highly attuned to the sounds being produced and how they were being created in order to figure out the solution. Being the conductor of the chancel choir on campus and a couple of musicals gave me more experience in being a leader, coordinating schedules, and evaluating many things at once. In the role of a conductor, you have to listen to the cohesive sound being made by many people and evaluate how to fine-tune the product. That is exactly how a business works.

You must be able to view the business as a whole but also notice and tweak the variables that contribute to the success of the company. I am humbled to have this position in the restaurant industry, but I know that music, the academic experiences, social encounters, and depth of a Furman liberal arts education helped me get to this point.

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