Find Work You Love and Make a Difference

Starbucks Ethics Officer participates in AGSM Graduate Ambassadors' virtual speaker series
By Darin Estep |

For every student wondering how they are going to find their place in the world, Tyson Avery ’96 wants them to know they have a superpower available to them as they pursue their degrees. 

“The one power you have that you don't know you have—or at least most don't think you have—is the power to ask,” said Avery, senior vice president, deputy general counsel and chief ethics and compliance officer at Starbucks. 

Tyson Avery, Starbucks Ethics Officer
Tyson Avery, senior vice president, deputy general counsel and chief ethics and compliance officer at Starbucks

Urging students to reach out to professionals to learn about career paths, Avery said: “While you are still in school, use every opportunity to ask someone innocently, naively, and vulnerably, ‘What do you do?’ And you know what? People will be so willing to share with you.” 

Avery demonstrated his own willingness to share during part of a recent virtual speaker series with AGSM graduate student ambassadors. And, he had a wide range of professional experiences he had to share. 

He grew up in a small town, Paso Robles, the son of a carpenter and a secretary, and the first in his family to attend college. (UCR proved to be, he said, “absolutely, unequivocally, the best choice for me.”) After earning a degree in business administration, he attended University of Kansas Law School, then promptly put his new law degree to work in a place he had never imagined but came to love: the United States Marine Corps. 

This led to 10 years as active-duty officer and judge advocate, including serving as a Geneva Convention magistrate in Iraq and in the White House Counsel’s Office. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service during Operation Iraqi Freedom and retired as a lieutenant colonel with 23 years of active and reserve service. 

He joined CBRE Inc. as senior vice president, chief ethics and compliance officer, and director of internal audit, before assuming his current role at Starbucks. 

That journey began with a look in the mirror—literally—and asking himself what he wanted to do with his life, Avery said. 

Knowing ‘you have found your spot’ 

“My entire career has been about finding what I love, pouring myself into it, and being able to look back and recognizing that what I do matters,” he told the student ambassadors. 

“I don't care if you are in the medical industry, in law, in business, or if you're a barista. If you love sincerely what you do and see how it contributes to the overall good, you have found your spot.” 

As might be expected for someone who oversees ethics and compliance, Avery advised the students to hold onto their values throughout their careers. 

“Have passion and be able to look back at your work and believe that it matters—but also that you did it the right way,” he said. “Starting from a place of values will always get you to the right place. It can be hard at times, but ultimately that will garner respect, and that will help you move up in your career.” 

Accomplishments will accumulate steadily over time, he assured the students, advising them to read The Millionaire Next Door. Although authors Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko focus on wealth building, Avery said the same lessons apply to career progression: “You chip at it little by little.” 

Most successful people “started small and found their passion and they loved it,” he said. “And they started out as a brand-new graduate, just as you guys will. So, you have to find a passion and build slowly but surely.” 

Students take advice to heart 

Avery’s advice resonated with students participating on the call. More than two dozen sent thank you notes afterward. 

“I truly appreciate your valuable advice, which helps me navigate through the process I am experiencing right now,” wrote Chia Hui Ko ’22, who is pursuing a master’s degree in finance. “Also, thank you for encouraging us to ask—the most influential power we have! I am so inspired and feel motivated now!” 

Caspar Gaviria ’22, vice chief-professional development for the Graduate Student Ambassadors, described Avery as “arguably one of the best speakers I’ve ever listened to.” 

“Your advice and extensive knowledge of not only professional development, but life as a whole, is truly phenomenal,” said Gaviria, who is pursuing a professional MBA degree. “I definitely left the event feeling incredibly inspired and can’t wait to grow as a person. Thank you for all that you do.” 

“His candor, enthusiasm, and genuine care for the ambassadors stood out most,” said Tamra Johnson, associate director of graduate admissions for the School of Business and adviser to the Graduate Student Ambassadors, noting that the event reflected Avery’s ongoing dedication to engaging with students, faculty, and staff. 

One of the ways Avery has remained engaged with the School of Business was delivering the keynote address for the 2018 commencement. He told the student ambassadors that his message then was just as true today, “You know everything you need to do to graduate,” he said. “But once you graduate, once you have that diploma, the next morning there's no script. You get to define everything you're going to do. You get to define your passion and where you’re going to go in life.” 

View a recording of Avery’s discussion with the Graduate Student Ambassadors.