Carrie Will’s Slice of Life

If you visit the Pizza Hut in Charlevoix, Michigan, make sure you order a pie with ham and pineapple. That’s Carrie Will’s favorite. She’s the Restaurant General Manager and recent graduate of Excelsior College with a Bachelor of Professional Studies in Business and Management through Pizza Hut’s Life Unboxed educational partnership.

It’s immediately apparent that with her 16 years of experience at Pizza Hut, Will runs a tight ship. She can instantly tell you what her store’s sales were on this day last year and what the average guest check amount was during the past four weeks. She can tell you, at any given time, who is on her team, what they should be doing, and if they should be offering more breadsticks to customers. She’s also impressively fluent in regional pizza preferences (Charlevoix prefers BBQ Chicken and Pan Pizzas® while residents of Gladwin, Michigan, go for Meat Lover’s® Pizza and Supreme Pizzas, in case you were wondering.)

Even more impressive, given her encyclopedic restaurant industry knowledge is that Will never considered herself a “business-minded” person before earning her degree. With her associate degree in biology, Will was on track to finish her training as a veterinary technician. However, a meeting with Ted Freiburger, Vice President of The Daland Corporation, a franchise organization of Pizza Hut, prompted her to change course after Will asked him about his own educational path. Freiburger recommended she pursue her bachelor’s through Excelsior College and Pizza Hut’s partnership. “He told me Excelsior and Pizza Hut partnered together and between the degree I had, and the Learning Zone training [on-the-job internal training], I could actually get the bachelor’s degree done in half the time,” Will remembers. This advice sealed the deal and with two weeks remaining in her vet tech training, she left to pursue her bachelor’s degree at Excelsior, a move that left many people in her life surprised. “They didn’t understand why I would just drop everything and get a bachelor’s in business, but I said that if my career with Pizza Hut is going to go on further, I might as well do something with that, so I just went through,” Will declared.

Applying Learning Zone training credit as well as transferring in credit from her associate degree meant Will was able to complete her bachelor’s degree in two years. Going to school online while working full time required discipline and sacrifice, but her family and team at Pizza Hut encouraged her along the way with frequent check-ins on her progress. “Ted [Freiburger], when I would see him, would ask me ‘how much time do you have?’ or ‘how are you doing?’ He pushed me a lot and I think that’s what helped. Dan Rich, my district manager, did the same thing. There were days when I would take my laptop to the store and I would show him what I was doing.”

The time proved well spent as Will became the first RGM in her region to have earned her bachelor’s degree through the partnership program. Being an RGM means that she must combine analytical and problem-solving skills with a keen ability to manage and motivate people.  Recently, Will was transferred to Charlevoix, making the two-hour plus commute each way from her home in Gladwin, to turn around a store with slow sales. She’s been successful, too, in no small part due to her knack for motivating staff, and the team leadership skills she honed while attaining her degree at Excelsior College. “I have customers coming in and telling me the store has a totally different atmosphere,” she says. She credits her Learning Zone training with equipping her with the practical, everyday knowledge needed to run a store and manage employees and through her classes at Excelsior, she was able to see how that experience could be applied: “I took problems that I solved within Pizza Hut and that’s what I based my projects through the school on…That was one thing that was nice with Excelsior partnering with Pizza Hut, you can tie a lot of stuff in together.

“To get my bachelor’s in business is still like a dream to me,” Will says, noting her education hasn’t stopped with her degree. “I’m still learning stuff every day and I didn’t realize how much I like to look at the different store’s numbers and see how they’re doing. Eventually down the road I do want to move up and do something more with corporate.” In five years, she’d like to be district manager and she has long-term goal of owning her own store. Now that she’s graduated, this budding vintner is reading up on wine making and has plans to try her hand at crafting blueberry wine and elderberry syrup from the bushes in her own backyard.

Giving advice to prospective students, Will counsels that having the ability to visualize your future is key. “It’s going to take a lot of dedication. If you deep down want to do it, you can do it,” says Will and adds, “My personality is to be one step ahead of everybody else. That’s the one thing that pushed me to get my bachelor’s was that I didn’t know anybody else that had this.” Though he might be slightly biased, Carrie’s dad, Eldon Will, agrees. “She’s a person that is dedicated to what she’s doing…She’s a hard worker and she’s dedicated to it and that’s what you don’t find today in a lot of businesses. She’s doing good.”

With her professional star on the rise, there’s no question that whatever Carrie Will’s goals are, she’ll find a way to reach them. In the meantime, Will and her team will be working hard in Charlevoix waiting to take your order. She’ll make sure to start you out with some breadsticks.