A $1.4 million company, Flyer Enterprises at the University of Dayton is one of the largest student-run enterprises in the country, with seven divisions and 180 employees. Jessi Neff, the new CEO of Flyer Enterprises, manages a lot more money than most college seniors have even dreamed about. Writer Cara Bruce spoke with Jessi about her success.
Young Money: Tell me about yourself and your background.
Jessi Neff: Next year, I will be completing my 5th year at the University of Dayton. I am currently enrolled in their 5-year MBA program and will graduate in May with my bachelors in Accounting and an M.B.A. I am from St. Louis, Missouri. I started with Flyer Enterprises at the end of my freshman year as a sales associate at Stuart’s Landing, our convenience store. My junior year I worked as Financial Manager at ArtStreet Cafe. After that, I moved to the corporate side of things, working as Vice President of Accounting my senior year. In this position, I created income statements for three of our independently owned divisions, helped with budgeting for all of our divisions, and income statement compilation for our annual report.
YM: Tell me about Flyer Enterprises.
JN: Flyer Enterprises is one of the national leaders in experiential business education. We currently have seven divisions: two coffee shops, a panini cafe, a convenience store, an ice cream/snack bar, a smoothie bar, and a spirit shop. Everything about the company is student run, from sales associate level up to the CEO. We do report to a Board of Directors composed of many key people within the university four times a year and they help us to keep on track strategically and assist with any major investments. They also help to provide a source of consistency, which is essential since the turnover of student leaders is ongoing.
YM: How has this hands-on business experience helped you? Do you recommend this way of learning?
JN: Absolutely!!! Being able to take what you are learning in a classroom one day and the next day apply it to a real world business situation is really priceless. The FE experience has really drove home academic concepts like operational efficiency and reaching our target markets because these are things that our divisions are constantly striving to perfect. I am constantly learning so much on the job, that I sometimes have to remind myself that I am still a student and classes to attend!
YM: What is the most important thing that you’ve learned?
JN: Even though I have learned so much about how a business runs and the decisions involved in the day to day operations and long-term strategic planning, the most important lesson I think I have learned from this experience is how to interact with people in a business setting. I’ve learned how to hold a meeting, how to have a difficult conversation, how to delegate, and how to assist someone who might have too much on their plate. I have really learned the importance of communication and the benefits of making sure that I keep other people updated on things that affect them, both directly and indirectly. I think respect and honesty in any situation is the best recipe for a successful relationship with your co-workers. I’ve also learned that I will never know everything, but there will always be people around me that do have knowledge in a specific area and that I can reach out to for help.
YM: How did you help Flyer Enterprises grow?
JN: As CEO, one of my main priorities is to look into plausible ideas for future growth. In the last few years, FE has grown exponentially and we really had to take a step back this past year and work on improving our internal processes. Now that we have greatly improved our internal structure and processes, we are at a point where we are ready to grow again. We have been in discussions about expanding our catering services at each of the divisions to become it’s own entity united in our customers’ minds, and will also continue to pursue other opportunities for growth.
YM: What are your plans for the future?
JN: After school, I hope to go into public accounting and receive my CPA certification. I’m currently interning at one of the Big Four accounting firms this summer and hoping to get a job offer from them at the end of the internship. I would love to stay involved with FE as an alumni. That’s also something we are working on this year, increasing our communication with alumni and finding ways to get feedback and advice from them and also keeping them updated on what the company is up to. Our alumni are some of our biggest cheerleaders and can provide great insight into current challenges or opportunities that FE is facing, having both FE and career experience.
YM: Tell me anything else you would like me and my audience to know.
JN: I highly recommend getting involved in something like this if it is available at the college they attend or if they are evaluating potential college choicess. Even if there isn’t a program established at your school yet, you can definitely start one. In the past year, we have received many emails from students and professors at colleges around the country who are trying to start up a similar program at their college or university. This experience has been absolutely wonderful!