By Leah Ball
Photo by Derrick L. Turner
Bill Kost, associate director of retail food services, was awarded the Jack Breslin Distinguished Staff Award May 15. In his nearly 30 years working at the university, he has demonstrated a commitment to enhancing the Culinary Services retail team and transforming into a dynamic leader.
The award, created in 1978, presents $2,500 to six university support staff members in honor of the late Jack Breslin, a student leader and athlete and former university vice president.
Many colleagues and family members took part in the surprise announcement to Kost that he was one of this year’s recipients. Before the retail leadership meeting on March 9, Kost received word that representatives from the Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) human resources team were interested in speaking to the group about the Office of Institutional Equity and reporting responsibilities. Jennifer Roberts, RHS employee relations manager, and Lauren Marinez, RHS director of human resources, began the presentation, and then Teresa Janecke, East Neighborhood dining CT, joined, sharing that she had arranged an activity for the group.
Cards were handed out and everyone was asked to read them in order. The message revealed that someone on the team was chosen to receive the award. Kost was surprised when his wife walked in with the last card to unveil the honoree. His parents and brother were also in attendance, along with colleagues and friends, to celebrate this special recognition. “They had me hook, line and sinker on this one; I was speechless and very humbled,” Kost shared. “It’s a special feeling to be nominated by members of your team.”
After graduating from MSU in 1985 with a Bachelor of Science degree in public affairs management from the College of Agricultural and Natural Resources, Kost began his career at the university in 1988 with MSU Concessions, excelling in all facets of the business. He started in a temporary position, serving as a concessions attendant, and became full time during his second 90 days of employment.
Throughout his 20-year tenure in concessions, Kost advanced from a front-line position to interim concessions manager. Event set-up and operational improvements are among his most memorable experiences, including preparing for and working at Spartan Stadium during football games. “When you take on the responsibility of getting the stadium ready for a football game, for example, it’s pretty dynamic,” Kost recalls. “Working in the concessions industry is for a special type of person, certainly one that enjoys being active and working directly with students.” Over the years, the influence on students has been evident for Kost. Seeing them take advantage of leadership opportunities and thrive in the department is an impactful experience.
When RHS went through a reorganization, Kost had the chance to take on a new challenge and assume the role of associate director of retail food services, overseeing Sparty’s, Starbucks, the MSU Union Food Court, Crossroads Food Court at the International Center, concessions and vending. Since 2009, he has led the retail team through a variety of initiatives such as the rebranding of Sparty’s; the introduction of the Combo-X-Change program that drives traffic to retail locations; and the enhancement of concessions operations with self-branded and self-operated venues, including current renovations at the Breslin Center.
Several of his colleagues, including Laura King, human resources manager for Culinary Services retail operations; Alan Wilkinson, MSU Concessions manager; and Michelle Pell, retail branded concepts manager, shared examples and comments in their nominations that speak to Kost’s commitment to strengthening his team. “I know I can rely on him,” King stressed. “He is always willing to talk through the challenge and work together to produce an active solution.” His thoughtfulness resonates with Pell, too, who also touched on his inspiring nature.
Kost has led his managers through an organizational development and team alignment process that focuses on emotional wellness, providing valuable feedback, developing organizational values and exhibiting effective people skills. “Bill has kept those values and lessons alive in how he models his behavior as our leader,” Pell stated. “It’s remarkable; I have been so inspired watching the vulnerability that he has presented in his quest to work harder on himself in order to be a better leader for his team.”
Wilkinson worked closely with Kost throughout his tenure with concessions, witnessing him live the RHS divisional values every day. “When I think of my career path at MSU, I feel very privileged to have had Bill there for nearly all of it,” he said. “He continues to attend the annual National Association of Collegiate Concessionaires (NACC) conference and is always interested in helping to move our operation forward.” A past president of NACC, Kost was recognized with the NACC Ron Athey Achievement Award in 2014 for his outstanding leadership and service to the collegiate concessions industry.
Beyond his working relationships and influence on the Culinary Services department, like Jack Breslin, Kost represented MSU on an athletic team. While studying at the university, he was a member of the men’s golf team, attending on a scholarship after earning a state championship with his teammates at Lansing Eastern High School.
Although he’s modest about his accomplishments, Kost is honored to represent the division in this light and proud to embody what Jack Breslin meant to the university. As the retail team prepares to open the urban-style grocery store Sparty’s Market and an additional full-service Starbucks location at 1855 Place, he will continue to support their efforts and reinforce values that were crafted during their organizational development. “Throughout that process, I recognized where I needed to grow as a leader and I’ve become better for my team, but, more importantly, we’ve improved as a group and we’re a family,” he expressed. “Our group has a lot of great work ethic and commitment to delivering outstanding Spartan experiences; they’re all about providing good energy and I’m really proud of each and every one of them.”
Kost received the award at the 40th annual Jack Breslin Distinguished Staff Awards reception May 15 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center.