To say that coffee runs through Michael Gaviña’s veins is not a complete exaggeration. He represents the fourth generation of the coffee roasting family legacy known as F. Gaviña & Sons, Inc. As the company’s purchasing director, Michael is responsible for overseeing the pricing of raw materials and managing inventory levels. He first joined the company in 2002 as a buyer in the Purchasing Department and received his Q Grader License in 2008, a professional accreditation by the Coffee Quality Institute involving a rigorous three-day exam on tasting, cupping and evaluating coffee.
The only thing more important to Michael than the quality of his family’s coffee is his actual family. The Gaviñas have a very rich history in coffee that’s filled with pride and tradition. It all began in 1870 when Michael’s great grandfather, José Maria Gaviña, left Spain to start a coffee business in Cuba. Nearly a century later, the family fled Cuba in 1961 to escape Castro’s regime, moved to Los Angeles in 1964, and relaunched their coffee business in 1967 under the name F. Gaviña & Sons, Inc. Today, F. Gaviña & Sons, Inc. continues to operate in Vernon and is the roaster of several brands, including Gaviña Gourmet Coffee, Don Francisco's Gourmet Coffee, Cafe La Llave and Jose’s Gourmet Coffee.
“So many sacrifices have been made over the years and the amount of passion for this family business is what really fuels me,” says Michael.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Michael holds both a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an MBA from LMU. As a core member of the family business, he promotes sustainability in the coffee industry as a member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the Roasters Guild, the National Coffee Association (NCA) and the City of Vernon’s CommUNITY Fund and Green Commission. He also serves as a board member for the LMU Latino Alumni Association and the Rio Vista YMCA.
Did you always know you would go into the family business?
It wasn’t something I thought about because it was such a natural way of life. I discovered a passion for coffee while spending summers working for the family business alongside my father, Pedro Gaviña. I would go to coffee events and conventions with him so it was sort of a seamless transition. It really is an amazing business – coffee brings people together. So many people around the world are involved in some way.
Why did you pursue both your undergraduate degree and MBA at LMU?
My older brother and younger sister are LMU alums so it’s kind of a family tradition. Honestly, I had such a great time at LMU the first time that I just had to go back! As for why I decided to get my MBA, I wanted to challenge myself. Even though you don’t necessarily need an MBA for a family business, we’re a very entrepreneurial organization and I wanted to learn more about entrepreneurship in order to maintain the company spirit and not get too corporate. My family has always been very vocal about the importance of an education and I’m actually the first in my generation to go to graduate school.
How has having an MBA helped your career?
Beyond the knowledge and network I established, I think it was the challenge. I worked full time and went to class at night. The mix of business and academia really enhanced my MBA experience. I participated in Bonn and CMS and learned so much in my entrepreneurship classes. The program challenged me to grow and gave me more confidence as a professional.
Working in the coffee business sounds like a lot of fun. What do you enjoy most about it?
I’m in a unique position to get my hands in different parts of the business and learn how they’re interconnected. I really love the purchasing of coffee, the art of blending and of course tasting it. I’m one of seven Q Graders in the company which is basically the coffee industry’s version of a sommelier. I also get to travel to all regions of the world.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Coffee is the second most traded commodity behind oil so managing volatility can be extremely difficult. As a family business, you have to wear multiple hats – I have a stakeholder hat, an employee hat and a family hat. Juggling all three can be challenging at times.
In your expert opinion, what regions of the world produce the best coffee beans?
There are several regions that produce amazing coffee – Central America, Indonesia and Africa are a few. East African coffee beans are my favorite because they’re the most unique. Ethiopian beans have fruity notes while Kenyan beans have citric notes.
Why do you and your family stay involved in the community and give back?
I like to give back because it’s the values that were instilled in me at a young age. My parents were immigrants and my family has been blessed with many opportunities. Most of our philanthropic work has been education driven. We have several scholarships at LMU and we’ve renovated schools in Mexico, Nicaragua and El Salvador. We also do a lot of volunteer work in Vernon – we love serving the community because at the end of the day it’s your backyard.
What would you say is the secret to running a successful family business?
The secret is passion. Once you’re passionate about something, you’re willing to give 110 percent and make sacrifices. It’s the passion that inspires people and results in a great product. You have to believe in your business wholeheartedly to truly be successful.