Marnie Alvarenga has a lot going on. One of the leaders of the Hut Academy training program, Marnie was in the middle of mentoring a new group of Area Coaches visiting Dallas this week, her 19th such group over the last two years. Having lots of balls in the air isn’t a new sensation for Marnie: she’s been balancing a career at Pizza Hut for the last 22 years. She took 30 minutes from her busy schedule to tell Hut Life what it’s been like to (literally) grow up with Pizza Hut, and what she’s looking forward to next.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, and my first 14 years with Pizza Hut were there. I started at Pizza Hut when I was sixteen. I had a friend who was like, hey, I’m working at this really cool place called Pizza Hut, you should come and get a job here. Obviously I never intended it to be my lifetime career, it was just for fun—in fact, my parents were super strict and told me I could only work 12 hours a week while I was going to school. I loved the job and really just had a lot of fun—it was a great time with friends.
As soon as I turned 18, my manager asked me if I would become a shift manager, and I began my progression into management. Again, I was still going to school—I went to college after high school and was planning on making the transition into my “real job” eventually. At some point I realized along the way—probably when I became an assistant manager—that this could be my real job. Working at Pizza Hut was something that I really enjoyed. I decided to stay, and became a Restaurant General manager, then a Regional Training Leader, and then later an Area Coach. I loved the field but I always knew that I kind of wanted to do something more in the training space. When I got the opportunity to come to the CORE and work in The Academy with Jen Weber [Senior Director of Training and Development], I was totally excited for it.
What was it like trying to juggle working at Pizza Hut with your commitment to high school and college?
You know, in high school I never really felt like it was a huge struggle because, well number one my parents were super strict around the twelve hours a week rule, and two I think I had a really great manager who was willing to work around that schedule. I think it helped to have a great manager who was always willing to work with me. When it came to college, there were times when it was tough. I actually didn’t finish college the first time; I put college on hold to go full forward into my career, and then when I was 30 and an Area Coach, I decided to go back to college and finish my degree. So yeah, there’s definitely been some challenges, but I think the great thing about working for Pizza Hut is there’s ways to work your schedule. You have some flexibility so that you don’t always have to work days, or always work nights: you can mix it up however you need in order to make it work.
You mentioned that at some point working at Pizza Hut changed for you from being just a job to being a full blown career. Do you remember how that switch came about?
I think some of it was self-reflection, but also looking at some of the folks around me and seeing that they had college degrees, but weren’t making as much money as me at the time. Part of it was certainly financial, as even though I hadn’t finished my degree yet, I was doing just as well financially—or even better—than friends who had finished college and were working in their respective fields. I would also hear friends complain about how boring their job was, and I loved coming to work at Pizza Hut every day. I genuinely enjoyed everything I was doing. So at some point, I thought “wow, I love coming to work every day, I really enjoy everything that I do, AND I’m making the money.” What was there to question? That was my bold moment, if you will.
If you could go back 22 years ago and give yourself some advice, what would you say?
I think that I would say, don’t think the mountain is too high to climb. I would ask myself to realize that Pizza Hut is such a large company, and there are SO many things that you can do in this company that maybe you just don’t realize. Do your best job, be your best self, and keep raising your hand—always volunteer for every opportunity presented to you, and don’t think of Pizza Hut as a part-time, “until I get my real job” kind of job.
Was there anyone in particular who inspired or mentored you during your career?
Definitely! When I was an Area Coach, I had a Region Coach who really believed in me, and struck a great balance as a mentor. He was a really great coach, but he was also really great at getting me to consider growth opportunities with Pizza Hut. He wasn’t just about giving support and cheering me on, but also offered advice on how to be more effective. He was a straight shooter, yet I always knew he was coming at me with care. I’ve always tried to—as best I could—model his coaching style, because I felt like he was a really great role model for me.
How has your career translated into your work with the Academy? What kind of feedback do you get?
I feel like it’s so much more impactful when we can talk about our experience in the restaurants, some of the mistakes we’ve made, and how to do better. When I teach at the Academy, I offer some insight into some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
I think a lot of folks really enjoy the fact that we at the Academy are all former operators. We speak the same language, we speak to our real life experiences, and we’re able to make that connection with them. Not only are they learning from their peers—we bring in a bunch of participants from different parts of the country—but also from the Academy team, because we do know what it’s like, and we are able to let down our defenses and admit that perhaps we were not the perfect Area Coach or we were not the perfect RGM, but here’s what I would do differently now if I were in that same position. If I can pass the lessons I’ve learned along to somebody— a mistake I’ve made and how I overcame it—it’s really valuable.
What’s next for you?
We just piloted our first ever Restaurant General Manager (RGM) PHD program, a big accomplishment for the Academy! This year I was really excited to pilot our first class of the new curriculum, which I’ve been helping to craft for a while now. It’s also exciting to know that our next Area Coach PHD class is going to be our twentieth group!
I’m just really excited to see what we’re going to do with our next training facility as we continue to get bigger and start to take some of our training modules on the road. We’re hoping to continue to make it better and better and to continue to find out what the field teams need so we can create something that they’ll value. What’s great about the Academy is that it is not a requirement to attend our training program: we don’t force people to attend our classes, but instead our philosophy has always been to build a curriculum so good that people can’t afford not to come.