Patrick O'Dea, B.S.'83

The Prince of Premium Coffee

By Daniel P. Smith

Patrick O'Dea, Peet's Coffee and Tea CEO

After earning a degree in business administration from UAlbany in 1983, Patrick O’Dea held a singular mission.

“I wanted to run a business,” the Mount Kisco, N.Y., native says.

Mission accomplished, as O’Dea enters his 10th year as the CEO of Peet’s Coffee and Tea, an Emeryville, Calif.-based company revered by coffee aficionados and gaining share in the ultra-competitive specialty-coffee world.

Fresh off going public in 2001, Peet’s management courted O’Dea and his consumer marketing experience from Mother’s Cookies. As O’Dea had never heard of Peet’s prior to moving to the Bay Area in 1997, he performed his own man-on-the-street research. At one Peet’s shop, he asked fellow customers why they ventured to Peet’s instead of that other coffee shop. After multiple customers pledged their unwavering devotion to Peet’s, O’Dea knew Peet’s was the spot for him.

“The customers’ loyalty fascinated me,” O’Dea says of Peet’s, which was founded in 1966 by Alfred Peet, the patriarch of specialty coffee in the U.S.

When O’Dea joined Peet’s in 2002, the company had 58 retail stores, a small e-commerce platform, product in about 100 niche grocery stores, and sales totaling $94 million.

Peet's Coffee & Tea cup of coffee and logo

Under O’Dea’s leadership, Peet’s has exploded alongside the entire specialty-coffee market. With a novel direct store delivery program and strategic expansion, O’Dea built the large-scale infrastructure necessary to make Peet’s a major nationwide player.

Today, the company claims 330 stores, robust Internet business, and a presence in 11,000 retail outlets. Sales in 2012 are expected to approach $400 million.

“I’m most proud that we’ve taken this small, distinctive, high-end, but West Coast-based brand and expanded it nationally in spite of some high-level, better-resourced competition,” O’Dea says.

The father of four credits UAlbany, and specifically a course in organizational structure and effectiveness, with introducing him to the magic of business management.

“It’s such a fascinating ecosystem to work all of the levers in an integrated way to produce a successful company,” he says.