Alex Ozaki-McNeil: Putting Business Lessons to Work for the Community

Jan, 2017
Alex McNeill-Ozaki

Raised in Arcata and educated at Humboldt and in France, Alex Ozaki-McNeill (‘15, French & Francophone Studies) is using her love of community to help bring big business to one of Arcata’s most popular eateries.

Ozaki-McNeill is the investment manager at Arcata’s Brio Baking Incorporated. Known for producing artisanal breads and its bustling café, the company is in the midst of a direct public offering as a way to solicit financial support among the community as the business expands.

“It’s pretty incredible to land a job at a French-style café, working on a direct public offering for a business in my hometown,” say Ozaki-McNeill.

Ozaki-McNeill attended Arcata High School before spending a year abroad in France. After returning, she spent time at College of the Redwoods before settling into French/Francophone Studies and Business at HSU.

Reflecting on her education at Humboldt State, she appreciates the depth of her French studies under Professor Joseph Diémé. She also recalls businesses courses with professors Nancy Vizenor and Kate Lancaster that helped her see the advantages of working with businesses that are focused on making a positive impact in their communities. “Nancy’s had great passion and enthusiasm and Kate helped me see the benefits of a sustainable business. Now I think, ‘How can you help the community, the environment, and your bottom line?’”

Ozaki-McNeill’s connection to Brio began more than six years ago at the café. She credits her employer’s willingness to work with student schedules and its focus on building on its staff’s talents with their high retention. “My boss was considering the direct public offering and he was able to get me in on this project on the ground level. He wants to keep strong workers in the business as long as possible,” she says.

Asked what a typical day at work looks like, Ozaki-McNeill doesn’t hesitate. “Communications. I spend all day communicating with our lawyers, our board of directors and our marketing team, and of course our investors.”

When the business recently reorganized its structure, its owner, Serge Scherbatskoy, was excited to pursue “Benefit Corporation” status. To do so, for-profit businesses must consider the environmental and social impacts of their business while also seeking profit.

To HSU alumni, this sounds indeed similar to the Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility. For Ozaki-McNeill, it means working closely with community partners in a way that benefits everyone. “We’re passionate about buying local, buying organic, supporting local farmers, and traditional methods. The farmers who walk through the back door to drop off produce are people I’ve known my whole life and it’s really satisfying knowing that the money staying in the community.”