Becky Neal celebrates grand opening as Purdue’s inaugural Saxbys student CEO

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa,

Confetti falls as a woman cuts a red ribbon with large scissors

Becky Neal, Purdue University sophomore and Saxbys student cafe executive officer, cuts the ribbon at the Saxbys grand opening March 6.(Purdue University photo/Tim Brouk)

Over the course of a year, Becky Neal, a sophomore in the Purdue University College of Health and Human Sciences, went from being new to campus to being hired as the spring 2024 student café executive officer (SCEO) for the new Saxbys location, which had its grand opening March 6, in the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering.

The Saxbys SCEO program is part of the Saxbys Experiential Learning Platform, a network of cafés designed for and run by college students. The Purdue location will be the first Saxbys café in Indiana, allowing Purdue students to grow their entrepreneurial skills in a real business each semester. As the inaugural SCEO for the Saxbys Purdue location, Neal has overseen all aspects of opening the coffee shop, from building a team to placing orders to developing plans for sharing the news with the community.

Two women look closely at a coffee cup as they serve guests behind a service counter.

Becky Neal (right) works alongside her team members on Saxbys’ opening day.(Purdue University photo/Tim Brouk)

“I’ve gotten a little bit of a different experience than some of the other student CEOs,” Neal said. “Instead of taking over a business that’s already operating, I’ve gotten the experience of opening up a business. I’ve gotten a lot of behind-the-scenes work, legal work, contracting work, and a lot of the set-up work and grand opening planning that has been really exciting.”

Neal is majoring in hospitality and tourism management in the White Lodging-J.W. Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM). Maggy Leitch, director of industry engagement and professional development for HTM, noted that although this experience is open to all Purdue students, the Saxbys company culture pairs well with the service innovation mindset of HTM. HTM students have the option to complete the SCEO program for 12 credit hours or as a co-op program, where they can complete the experience without incurring extra tuition cost.

“This is going to give students the opportunity to take that entrepreneurial spirit of wanting to operate their own restaurant or start their own coffee shop and give them the real-world opportunity to learn,” Leitch said. “All the discussions that are going to happen at the corporate level are on the student for the whole semester to run with. This is the vision we have for our hospitality students; we want them to take what’s happening in the classroom and connect it with real-world opportunities, and Saxbys gives us another way for students to have an opportunity to do that.”

Neal’s first encounter with Saxbys began when she heard Nick Bayer, Saxbys founder and CEO, speak in her HTM 10010 (Introduction to the Hospitality and Tourism Industry) class. She sent him a follow-up email after the talk with some questions, and roughly six months later, one of Saxbys recruiters got in touch with Neal to coordinate an interview for the SCEO position, sharing that Bayer remembered their email encounter months before.

“Just learning about Saxbys and really getting involved in how they’re so hospitality-driven, I just realized I think I’m the person to be able to open this and to be able to really bring my own experience to it as well,” Neal said. “It really helps that I’m from Lafayette, Indiana. I know the area, so I think I have a unique experience that can add to a new business on campus as well.”

While Neal hasn’t determined exactly what she wants to do in the hospitality industry after graduation, she feels confident her position at Saxbys will set her up for success.

“Most student CEOs go on to do amazing things,” Neal said. “A lot of them own and run their own businesses. On average, the postgrad gets their chosen leadership role in their chosen industry seven years after they graduate. Usually, Saxbys student CEOs get that role within one to two years, which is a huge advantage in their careers. It’s a really great resume-builder for whatever I end up going into.”

Leitch mentioned the Saxbys SCEO experience is simply another opportunity of many in HTM’s efforts to prepare students to enter the workforce as experienced leaders in hospitality, retail, sales, financial counseling and planning, and more.

“The White Lodging-J.W. Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, no matter which one of the four majors you’re looking at, we do a lot of experiential learning,” Leitch said. “Whenever we can find partners or practitioners to say, ‘We have this real-world experience’ or ‘We have an opportunity to have the student dive into something that’s next-level,’ we want to engage in those discussions. Our partnership with Saxbys, with the Union Club Hotel, with all of our partners in our selling and sales program for internships, these are opportunities for students to better dive into the company or industry that they’re interested in. They can network and create connections, but they can also practice their management styles.”