From CSU to CEO: The Executive MBA
James Iacino’s rise to CEO of Seattle Fish Co. was set in motion by his enterprising grandfather nearly a century ago in downtown Denver.
It was then that 16-year-old Mose Iacino began sourcing seafood off trains coming to the city from Seattle, selling oysters out of a push-cart.
After building the business, Mose Iacino opened a retail shop and started Seattle Fish Co. on its path toward becoming one of the largest seafood distributors in the western U.S., still headquartered in Denver.
Since the early days, the company has changed dramatically, growing from a fledgling operation to a business that now employs over 225 people and imports products from all over the world.
After James Iacino completed his undergraduate studies at Colorado State University – receiving dual degrees in business and political science – he returned to Denver to work at Seattle Fish Co., learning the ins and outs of the family business.
“This company is so established – and it’s had such a great history – that we almost got to a mature standpoint,” Iacino said.
For some, that stage in a business life cycle, with slow growth and a steady cash flow, might be their end goal, but Iacino saw things differently.
“When you’re not growing, you’re dying.”
As a sales manager at the time, Iacino was looking for a bigger role to play in the company.
So he began to search for MBA programs that could build on his current business skills, sharpen what he’d learned as an undergraduate student, and help him take new expertise into a leadership role.
Iacino was looking for a degree that could connect him with other business leaders throughout Colorado and provide him with a rigorous and engaging education.
Turning back to his alma mater, he found what he needed in the Executive MBA at Colorado State University’s College of Business. The program provided the flexibility for him to continue working at Seattle Fish Co. while studying, and the cohort experience offered a challenging and supportive group of classmates to work alongside.
“It allowed me to work full time and bring ideas that we were working on at the company to the classroom, and ideas in the classroom back to the company,” said Iacino. “When I looked at the MBA, I looked for the practical analytical tools that I could use at my business immediately. So, less theoretical and more analytical, and that’s what the program provided for me.”
And the demands he faced at the company weren’t simple, because with fresh seafood the clock is always ticking.
“Most of our fish comes from around the world. We need to get that fish cold, keep it cold, keep it moving, get it to us, cut it, pack it, put it on trucks, distribute it,” said Iacino. “The supply chain complexities are enormous in our business.”
As Iacino progressed through the MBA he began to gather more resources to affect positive change in the company.
He found that by combining his on-the-job experience with the Executive MBA’s deep dive into management, supply chain, marketing, and the day-to-day operations of running a business, he was able to leave CSU equipped with the knowledge to run a company.
“We had access to the best professors in the supply chain program and were able to go and tour companies that had similar complex problems and talk about how to solve those, and what are the solutions, and what are the cutting edge technologies that are being used to help advance businesses.”
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“For me it was important to have that skill set and that confidence to say, ‘OK, I really understand business well enough that I can take this business, that may be established … and transform it into something completely different,” Iacino said.
Learning about how to market – especially as a business-to-business company – also pushed his thinking as the program helped integrate messaging with other practices to help scale growth, like effective supply chain management and actionable financial analysis.
“You need to understand how businesses grow, how they operate, regardless of what industry you’re in, and that’s what the MBA program provides.”
And with that understanding, Iacino has been able to ignite his passions and rise above the bottom line to connect with a broader purpose.
“If we’re going to spend our time doing something, let’s have the largest impact we can,” he said.
That shared drive, from Iacino to his employees, has helped unite everybody throughout Seattle Fish Co. in the effort to promote and deliver a quality, sustainable product.
“When we are selling more fish we are feeding people, literally, the leanest, healthiest protein on the planet. We are having a positive impact on the planet, and having a positive impact on the community.”