Alumni Spotlight: Alan Lundeen, '01
by Emily Czaplewski, Class of 2021
In 1971, American computer scientist Alan Kay famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
Today, nearly 50 years later, Alan Lundeen, ’01, continues to repeat this mantra as he reflects on his unique journey from a high school sophomore landing his first job at Cousins Subs to a seasoned professional stepping into a newly-created leadership role in the same Midwest company.
When Lundeen was 16, he was referred to work at Cousins Subs, a local sandwich shop which, at that time, had only seven locations. It was his first step into the workforce, and he experienced a supportive, family atmosphere at Cousins Subs that he still fondly remembers. After graduating high school, Lundeen opted to defer college until a later time and instead pursued the manager training program Cousins Subs offered him, spending six years with the company. After pursuing other opportunities out of state, Lundeen returned to the company in 1988 to assume a position as an area director. Ten years later, after being promoted into a role of greater leadership, Lundeen enrolled in Cardinal Stritch University’s adult undergraduate evening courses to earn his associate degree in business administration.
Working full time overseeing other area directors while attending college was not easy, but Lundeen knows he made the right choice. His Stritch classes, including a business case study course, allowed him to apply what he was experiencing in the field to what he was learning in the classroom.
“You could see that total connection between Stritch and my career,” said Lundeen.
He also took a course in oral communications, which helped to provide him with the skills and self-confidence necessary to sit in front of the company owners and present a proposal. Upon graduation, Lundeen explored career opportunities in Florida in a different realm of the food service industry.
“My degree opened up doors. They hired me because of my management experience and knew they could train me.”
The skills, experience and diploma were all essential elements of Lundeen’s Stritch experience, but he pointed out one other key takeaway: “The value of the personal relationships that you make going to school. Your classmates become a natural network for you.”
Attending business classes with other working professionals allowed Lundeen to network, share ideas and learn from his peers in the field. Even after leaving Wisconsin, Lundeen maintained those relationships with peers and coworkers and, 17 years later, he was able to come home to a company that he says exudes what it means to be family.
Back in Milwaukee and working with Cousins Subs for his third time, Lundeen was promoted to a brand new position in the company this past July. As the Senior Director of Talent Management, Lundeen is enthusiastic about bringing his years of experience to the company's first-ever people-focused leadership role. He has a passion for helping people develop themselves and get where they want to be, and he is excited to help members of the Cousins Subs family discover their strengths and become the best versions of themselves on the job.
“When you develop your strengths, it doesn’t seem so much like work,” he said.
Lundeen sees his own career through this lens.
When asked what fulfills him at his job, Lundeen replied, “Being able to go to work every day and do work that I’m passionate about and is my strength.”
When he learns about the strengths and passions that drive his colleagues, he asks, “How can we bring that to the next level and help you share that with others?”
But Lundeen’s work is not only about developing Cousins Subs employees through programs and support; it is also about cultivating the people-centric culture of the company and taking the time to intentionally see employees as people, first.
“The company already has a wonderful culture, so now it’s bringing that to the next level.”
Seeing people as people, first, and being attentive to their needs is something Lundeen has offered to employees at Cousins Subs, but it is also something he has received from his company, and from his professors at Stritch. Lundeen recalled the first night of his college creative writing class with Sister Collette Roy, OSF, ’60, ‘61. It had been a stressful drive in the snow, and he and his classmates were already tired from their long workdays.
“We hadn’t met her yet, and we came into class and the lights were already dimmed. She said, ‘I have a recording of another sister who plays the piano. Put your heads down for five minutes and de-stress.’ Another time we came in and she had a painting hanging in the class. She said, ‘Let’s just take five minutes to admire it. Enjoy it, together.’”
It was a simple gesture, but it made an impact that Lundeen remembers to this day.
In his own work, Lundeen is conscious of the big picture, but he also pays attention to the little details that color daily life, like celebrating successes, encouraging affirmations and allowing people to vent. At the end of the day, it is this focus on seeing people as individuals and responding to them with intentionality and care that Lundeen believes makes Cousins Subs an exceptional place to work and an important part of the community.
As he continues to pursue his own passion for helping people discover their strengths while shaping his new position, Lundeen emphasized the importance of lifelong learning and his philosophy of “Always training, always being trained.”
But, in addition to the more serious words of wisdom that Lundeen had to share, he had one other phrase that he feels defines his approach to work: “If it ain’t groovin’, fix it.”
No matter where the journey leads – be it a first job, a degree program, or an innovative leadership role – staying upbeat and positive while striving for greatness are within each person’s control.
From a high school student’s first job to the Senior Director of Talent Management, Lundeen’s journey to success has been unique, and his story shows that there is not one formula for achieving whatever it is that you aspire to. However, he believes that education can help get you there.
“I’ve seen the impact Stritch’s degree had on me. The degree was worth the time and investment, and there are many roles you won’t be considered for without that degree.”
Harkening back to Alan Kay, Lundeen had one final piece of inspiration to share: “You, too, can invent your future and understand your strengths and passion through education, and help other people do the same.”