Leigh Gower talks about the role technology will play as the newly-public coffee company expands
On Dec. 1, Leigh Gower became Dutch Bros Coffee’s first chief technology officer. The announcement came less than three months after the company released an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange.
As the Dutch Bros expands to new markets, Gower says her role at the company is to use technology in a way that enhances the user and employee experience and deliver the same company culture no matter where the Dutch Bros expands.
Right before stepping into her role at Dutch Bros, Gower did a 13-month stint as technology vice president at online jewelry retailer Blue Nile. Prior to that, Gower served as senior director of product & technology at T-Mobile, and as a management consultant at Slalom Consulting.
Gower spoke with Oregon Business about her new role, how tech fits into the company’s plans for expansion — and how Dutch Bros can protect its customer and employee data against cybercrime.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. “Broistas” is not a typo.
Your position was created shortly after Dutch Bros launched its IPO. As Dutch Bros’ first CTO, what will be your role as the company expands?
You can’t go public as a company unless technology is at the core of what you’re doing.
As we anticipate our growth going forward, technology needs to play a bigger role to ensure experiences are frictionless and communication is seamless. What I am chartered with is protecting and preserving our culture as we get bigger, and growing our technology ecosystem around our employees.
A cornerstone of our culture is that we like to have fun. When you come to a shop there’s music playing and the broistas actually come up to you, talk to you, and ask you about your day. What we’ve found is that the reason a lot of people come back to Dutch Bros is because of the opportunity to interact with our broistas.
What role does technology play?
It’s my job to empower our team members to do what they do best. There's technology in the shop that we can make more efficient and automate within that tiny space so our team members can spend more time focusing on the customer.
There’s also technology in HR that employees use to manage their benefits and their company information. All of these things can be made to have less friction for the end-user.
If you’ve ever been an Apple customer, they are very good at the interface and how to use apps so you can do whatever it is you want to do. They really nail the simplistic end-user experience. You switch from that to Android or Windows and you struggle.
We want to leverage technology whenever possible, but do so in a way that it’s never laborious for our end-user.
How has Dutch Bros grown technologically during the pandemic, and where do you see the company innovating?
The Dutch Bros app is a great example of how we’ve grown as a company during the pandemic. We went from having a punch card to a digital solution.
There’s a laundry list of innovations we’re hoping to do with the app to improve the richness of the user experience. There is a lot in the works and a lot of plans. After we’ve tested it to see what works, then we’ll roll it out.
The last two years have shown companies must deal with the increasing threat, prevalence and sophistication of cyberattacks and cybercrime. How can Dutch Bros defend its customer and employee information against hackers?
It’s both studying the bad actors to see what they are doing so you can stay a step ahead of them and making sure you always have good defenses and parameters. At the same time we have to make sure we aren’t doing that in a way that interferes with the customer experience.
Every time there’s a major incident, companies are always looking at what was happening behind the scenes. Where was the door open that let the bad actor in? We learn from every incident, but at the same time we have to innovate and anticipate. And that means we have to always be testing ourselves to see where our vulnerabilities are.
We have experts in our department who are constantly looking at ways bad actors could get in through internet ports or anywhere else.
There have been multiple reports of labor shortages across the tech sector. How has this impacted you?
When it comes to tech workers there’s a great degree of constraint in the labor supply. We need to be more thoughtful about being a culture and a space where people want to come to work.
Thankfully, we have some really great partners so if we need to go out and create some more capacity we don’t necessarily have to do that all by ourselves.
How did you realize you wanted to work with technology?
I started off on the business side of things. I was really working closely with technology through e-commerce and e-service — helping customers manage their own accounts without having to contact someone or call. People who wanted to improve the customer experience had to work more closely with technology to bring that technology to life. As I moved towards supporting customers I kept taking on more and more tech responsibilities.
I had a lot of experience helping companies transform their technology stacks. Dutch Bros reached out and they have a great culture so I thought it was a phenomenal opportunity to help a brand.
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