Tabor College business prof learning entry-level lessons

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS

Some may say David Kroeker is over-qualified for his summer job at the local Pizza Hut.

Kroeker, assistant professor of business administration, head track coach and assistant football coach at Tabor College, has an undergraduate degree in business administration from Tabor and an MBA from Kansas University.

But those were the educational qualifications he put on his resume when he applied for a job as a waiter at Pizza Hut.

His fellow professors recently gathered outside his Tabor office and asked him what kind of tips he’s getting this summer at his part-time job.

He may be getting 10-percent to 20-percent tips for his table-waiting skills, but Kroeker said he’s also gaining insight into the very things he teaches his students in his business classes.

“There are all kinds of things that happen every day (at Pizza Hut),” Kroeker said. “All that stuff will find its way into my classroom-it’s been real interesting from that perspective.”

But Kroeker was quick to point out that gaining insight into the subjects he teaches was not the reason he applied for a job at the restaurant.

“I don’t want to make it sound like I took the job so I could have material (for the classroom),” he said. “That’s a secondary thing.

“I took a job just like everybody else takes a job-because I want to make some money and because I want to do something.”

Kroeker, 46, has enjoyed a number of different jobs in his lifetime. He’s worked for his father at the family lumberyard and grain elevator.

“I’ve done grunt work,” Kroeker said. “I’ve been in the dirt and the dust.”

In his undergraduate years at college, he worked at jobs requiring his accounting skills.

“And I’ve been here five years in Hillsboro,” he said. “I’ve done a number of different things during the summer as school teachers do.”

He’s spent summers painting houses for local independent contractors and even plied the paintbrush on his own home.

“Our home right now-things are pretty much done,” Kroeker said.

But the question still lingers in the air during a conversation with this professor, who admits he’s a people person-why apply for this particular job?

“One of my track guys had been working at Pizza Hut during the school year,” Kroeker said.

“He quit and told me there were a bunch of people that had quit at Pizza Hut at the same time, and they might be looking for somebody.”

Kroeker called about the job, but personnel thought he was inquiring about jobs for his teen-age children.

When he showed up a week later and asked for an application, Pizza Hut manager Toni Williams was surprised he was there, he said.

Kroeker filled in his educational background on the application form, including the answer to the question, “Where are you working?”

“I’m working at Tabor College,” Kroeker wrote down.

“When did you leave your present job?” the application questions continued.

“Well, I haven’t left my present job,” Kroeker penciled in.

Kroeker said he is a person who likes to do different things.

“And so far, it’s been fun.”

The corporate training program at Pizza Hut surprised Kroeker, he said, because it involved eight hours of oral and video training.

And his on-site trainer was a student who will be a senior at Hillsboro High School in the fall.

“Which was really interesting that I was being trained by somebody who wasn’t out of high school yet,” Kroeker said. “The training was excellent.”

But he doesn’t have a name tag yet.

“I’m so low on the totem pole, I don’t know if I’m going to get one or not,” Kroeker said.

“As soon as I get good enough, maybe they’ll give me one-earn my little bar.”

But he did get his red apron.

“And I was pretty pumped about that,” he said. “And I got a hat and wore that. So they’re kind of breaking me in slowly.”

Kroeker told Williams he was willing to do whatever she wanted him to do this summer.

“I was just looking for a job and was willing to be a cook, wash dishes, sweep the floor or whatever.”

Because he’s a people person, waiting tables made the most sense, he said. But that meant fewer hours.

“So I don’t think I’ve ever worked more than 5 to 51/2 hours in a day, and I’ve been working almost all evenings.”

“Right now, I’m like every other employee-I’m always bucking for more hours. So I’m probably working 15 to 20 hours a week.”

Kroeker said he’s learned quite a few things that will probably be valuable in the classroom when school starts.

One area he teaches is management issues involved in a business, Kroeker said.

“You talk about training and talk about hiring good employees.”

At Pizza Hut, there are things that happen every day, and they are making him more aware of the reality of what he’s been teaching, he said.

“I pay attention and I read current things, but it’s different than actually working a job-to see that training is actually going on,” Kroeker said.

“You can spend a lot of time training poor hires, but the most important thing is to hire good people. That’s what I teach in the classroom, and now I’m seeing it. And yes, it’s not just something out of a book.”

Kroeker said his competitive nature in the athletic arena has surfaced at his summer job, too.

“I measure myself by how much tips I get,” he said.

“So being able to be competitive and compete against myself to provide service, I think that’s what business is about. It’s providing a product or service that people want in a way that they like to receive it.

“I’m seeing that firsthand now.”

And another lesson he said he’s learned is the value of tipping.

“I’m only making $3.35 an hour,” Kroeker said.

“I don’t think people should tip for bad service-‘You didn’t keep my drink glass full, the food was bad, you dumped water on me.’

“But you need to realize that someone is making way less than minimum wage. And in order to make that up-and if they’re hustling and providing good service-you pay for the food and you pay for the service.

“I tell kids in this department at Tabor, you get what you pay for.”

Kroeker said the best part of his job is being involved with people and talking to them.

And the part he likes the least?

“Cleaning the bathrooms,” he said. “Even though you’re a waiter, there’s only about a two-hour block of time (serving customers). And in the evening certain people close, and I help them get everything done.

“But if there are customers there, you wait on them and take care of their needs first.”

He keeps all the things he’s learned at his summer job in proper perspective, Kroeker said.

One Tabor student, Jared Hefley, who relies on Kroeker as his adviser during the school year, also works at Pizza Hut. And he’s Kroeker’s boss during the summer.

“And another student (Ernest Garza) who’s an athlete at Tabor and ran track for me two years ago, he’s my boss part of the time, too.” Kroeker said.

“It’s humbling. They know more than I do about this particular thing, so they should be my boss.”

Kroeker said he’s glad he has the opportunity to work at Pizza Hut for the summer.

“They’ve treated me really good, and I want them to know that I’m happy they hired me,” he said. “And I’d like to have the opportunity to do it again next summer if that opportunity comes up.”

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