St Ali discusses the growth of its people and culture

St Ali

St Ali is starting the year with new goals and new leadership roles. Lucy Ward explains how her new position will help the company focus on the growth of its people and culture.

When Lucy Ward first heard about St Ali, a Melbourne-based specialty coffee roaster, she considered it “an icon” of the industry.

The moment she finally got to experience the iconic place for itself, was when she opened the café door and walked in for her very first day of work.

“It was an ‘Oh my God’ moment. I did a few shifts on the bar, then I was put on the floor as a waitress. Then, shortly after, I was asked if I could manage the café, and I did. That was my first career highlight with St Ali,” Lucy says.

“The next, was the day I got asked to be the company’s green bean buyer, which was pretty special. Another was just recently at MICE (the Melbourne International Coffee Expo). I was so proud of the coffees we had on display and the incredible work of the producers of whose coffee we showcased. It’s something I hope we can share more of this year. And the long-term relationships I’ve helped foster with the company over the years is also something I’m passionate about.”

Lucy says it’s for these reasons and many more, that St Ali was and still is, an icon of the Australian specialty coffee scene.

It’s been a place she’s fostered a career in specialty coffee and has been given many opportunities for growth. This includes her new role as Head of Operations and Procurement at St Ali.

“St Ali is moving into a new phase. We’re a company between being a small roaster and becoming a large one. We’re cementing ourselves in a bigger space, and it results in pushing all eligible candidates forward in further growth and leadership opportunities. It’s an honour to have been offered this role,” Lucy says.

“For me, it means running the factory and the products going in and going out, and overseeing more of our management structure. The factory has organically grown over the year, and I’m leading lots of incredible people and fostering a strong and diverse team. So as much as I’m moving up the chain, it’s now part of my role to give people an opportunity to do the same and fly the flag for the company with the values and goals we have in place.”

Those goals, Lucy says, are ambitious but not unattainable.

“Our vision is to be one of the biggest and best specialty coffee roasters in the world. It’s the aim. We want to be a company that’s around for 100 years, and cemented in Melbourne’s coffee culture forever,” she says.

St Ali was established in 2005, and Lucy has been part of the business for nearly 11 of those 18 years in two different stints.

“It’s a company I’m really passionate about. St Ali has always provided me with opportunities and stretched and pushed me in a good way. It’s a company that’s also put a lot of trust in me. I really like that I’m given autonomy. I’m a creative person at heart. I think resourcefully, and they always push me to use those skills and strengths to benefit the business, which I enjoy,” Lucy says.

Part of that enjoyment comes from Lucy’s love of buying green beans for the company. While she will work with someone to manage the day-to-day tasks it entails, Lucy will still play an overarching role in the area in order to help maintain customer relationships and the long-term partnerships she’s fostered with producers.

“I really want to push our quality and ensure we maintain the connection and story behind the coffee. I want to celebrate our long-term relationships through our marketing, and ensure that as we grow, our product remains top quality at all times. We need to be constantly watching it like a hawk and not resting on our laurels,” Lucy says.

“Quality is one thing, but there’s also a market shift in customers really caring about what they’re buying, and that’s the thing about specialty coffee – we want people to care. Customers are more inquisitive and are asking about the ethics of the coffee. You only have to look at my inbox of emails to know that more people are thinking about where their coffee is coming from, rather than buying it just because the bag has pretty packaging.”

It’s a trend Lucy says stemmed from COVID-19, and it’s evident in St Ali’s relationship with Really Good People, another bow in the string of the company that distributes a carefully curated list of premium grocery products.

“The brand is going crazy. It’s been so successful coming out of COVID, and it’s all coming out of the one factory and our off-site storage, so we’re at full capacity,” Lucy says.

In addition to the growth of Really Good People is that of Dramanti Artisan Coffee Roasters, which St Ali acquired in 2022.

“We’re really happy with how Dramanti is going and the foothold we now have in the Queensland market. We’re giving it St Ali love to ensure it remains successful and it just means we can give more people a taste of who we are and what we love doing,” Lucy says.

Last year was about growth and recovery on the back of two COVID-19 years. This year, Lucy says will be a more “inward” approach and making sure the company has all its structures and processes in place.

“We’ve bounced back from COVID-19 tremendously well,” Lucy says. “Now, it’s about internal reflection and putting ourselves in a really good position with all our ducks in a row. We really want to invest in the culture of St Ali. Fostering a great culture is a massive goal of ours. We’re hospitality, so we need to retain our value of culture and ensure that St Ali is an enviable place to work. Whoever the best workplace in the world is – we want to be them.”

To create the desired culture, St Ali runs coffee competition committees for passionate baristas to train, compete in internal competitions, and have access to baristas like Jae Kim – 2022 Australian Specialty Coffee Association Southern Region Latte Art Championship – for support and guidance.

“We want people to want to come to work, feel excited about what they do, and feel valued. We want to find awesome people who we can push through the chain and give the same opportunities Lachlan [Ward, St Ali Co-CEO] and I have had.”

Both are great examples of staff that have endured longevity within the company, but have started from positions of being a barista and waitress respectfully, and now hold leadership roles within the company.

“Lachlan now runs the company and Tayt Bale, who started working at the same time as Lachlan, is our Creative Director and in charge of all our design and creative outputs. We’re all a bunch of hustlers who have fought to do better and mark our place in the world. We question the paradigm, and why we do things, put trust in people to make good decisions and be resourceful, and that’s what has led to our leadership roles,” Lucy says.

“You need people who can express the vision of the company to the rest of the team. We share a common goal, and when you’re a small company your mission and goal is just something you do. But when you have a big team and you’re all working towards that end goal of a quality product and brand, you need people guiding and leading from the top.”

Lucy is one such person who’s excited for what the future holds. She has 10 million goals and targets in mind, and a full plan for the next six to 12 months of what she wants to accomplish. That includes starting the path for St Ali to become B Corp Certified, driving significant lasting change in St Ali’s environmental impact, and in a feminised workplace.

“There’s so much I want to do, and so many great projects we value as a company, it’s just getting them started,” Lucy says. “But that’s the great thing about St Ali, it’s ambitious, it’s driven and it’s still iconic, and that’s why I love working here.”

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This article appears in the February 2023 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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