SUGAR GROVE—You may not know Waubonsee Community College alumnus Paul Sestak by name. You may not have heard of the international company in which he holds an ownership stake—Golden State Foods. But if you’ve eaten a hamburger from McDonald’s or added sauce to your taco at Taco Bell, you’re familiar with Golden State’s work.
For all of his accomplishments in the global food industry, Waubonsee is proud to recognize Sestak as its Featured Alumnus for March.
Before he was working on the international business stage, Sestak was a local boy, growing up in Aurora in a family that was committed to community service. His father, Dr. Michael Sestak, worked as the assistant superintendent for the East Aurora School District, and as such, was involved in the original feasibility study for and founding of Waubonsee.
It’s no wonder then that upon graduating from East Aurora High School, Sestak chose to start his collegiate career at Waubonsee, just as his mother and three of his four siblings had done.
“Using the two-year college experience as a stepping stone was perfect for me,” Sestak said. “It gave me time to adjust and grow.”
After earning his associate degree in 1984, Sestak headed to the University of Illinois with the plan of becoming a veterinarian.
“I had always been kind of a farm kid who liked animals,” Sestak said. “There were farms around where I grew up, and I worked at one up the street for a while.”
As luck would have it, on the other side of Sestak’s rented duplex in Champaign lived a woman whose son-in-law ran Eisner Food Stores, which would later become Jewel Food Stores. This man became a mentor to Sestak, so when veterinary school didn’t work out, he took his bachelor’s degree in animal science and put it to work as a buyer/merchandiser of poultry and perishables at Jewel.
After building up his skills and reputation on the retail side of the food business for 10 years, Sestak was recruited by a food supplier to McDonald’s. His work there eventually led to the unique opportunity of serving as a corporate strategic consultant to McDonald’s.
“That opportunity was like winning the lottery in terms of life experience and skill-building,” Sestak said. “I gave a ton, but I also gained a ton of knowledge in return.”
The strategy team dealt with everything from supply chain management—a special area of expertise for Sestak—to acquisitions.
Sestak’s combination of general industry knowledge and specialized knowledge about McDonald’s business practices helped him land a job at Golden State Foods, where he has worked for the past 10 years. The company handles food processing and distribution for more than 25,000 restaurants around the world, including McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell and KFC.
As the vice president of Compliance and Program Development/Distribution, Sestak deals with business processes, customer requirements, government regulations and safety issues.
“I assess, standardize, educate, measure and report,” Sestak said. “I drive the effort to put the systems in place to help others succeed in their roles.”
Sestak invests time in understanding not just the work, but the people who do the work, at Golden State.
“I’ll jump on a rig or work in a distribution facility,” Sestak said. “I really want to understand what each of our associates’ jobs entail and what it means to them.”
Golden State executives model a strong work ethic but also a strong commitment to philanthropy. The GSF Foundation was established in 2002 to help children and families in need in the areas where GSF associates live and work. Sestak and the other associates donate a portion of theirpaychecks to the Foundation and volunteer their time to help others in need in their local community. Donating to and being involved in the Foundation is obviously voluntary, but more than 80 percent of the company’s employees choose to help in some way. And every dollar of their contributions goes directly to help those in need.
Sestak helps the future generation of business leaders by guest lecturing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management and the Colleges of Business at Northern Illinois University and the University of Illinois. Sestak earned his Master of Business Administration Degree from Aurora University in 1996.
Committed to his local community, Sestak spent six years as chairman of the Planning Commission in Big Rock, where he and his wife Lisa and their three children live. His oldest son Michael currently attends Waubonsee as part of the prestigious Gustafson Scholarship Program.