A career in project management – which spans every industry – can leverage skills you already have and enable you to work in the field where your passion lies.

Working for 12 years as a director in the food services industry, James Currier was a project manager long before he took a single formal project management course or earned his online MBA in project management.

James was an expert at running large food service operations. Creating schedules. Identifying food and labor costs and developing budgets. Hiring and managing employees. Analyzing numbers. Projecting performance. Maintaining quality service.

"My job in the food service industry, in essence, was a project management job," says James. "I was responsible for communicating to staff, clients and customers. I had to keep everyone on point guaranteeing that they would create a quality product for the client and customers on a daily basis."

Finding career inspiration in the kitchen

Today, James is an enrollment counselor for Saint Leo University's Center for Online Learning. He guides prospective students through the process of identifying their career goals and selecting the online degree programs that will help them achieve those goals and pursue their passions at the same time.

Just as he did.

For James, food was his passion – a love affair that ignited while he was washing dishes for a small restaurant on Cape Cod. Lured by the sights, sounds and smells of the kitchen, as soon an opportunity opened for him to move from the sink to the stove, he took it.

From there, James enrolled in Johnson and Wales University's culinary arts program. "I experienced the full spectrum of culinary arts," he says, "American, French and German cuisines. I learned about herbs, veggies, sauces, breads, and plate presentation, and earned an associate degree in culinary arts."

By junior year, James was working as a teacher's assistant instructing future chefs in knife skills and other culinary fundamentals. He earned a bachelor's degree in food service management and was offered his first position before he graduated.

"I progressed quickly in the food service industry because I possessed a lot of knowledge about customer service and also was able to train new employees on the basics of culinary arts," says James. "Within 16 months, I was a food service director at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. That was the first promotion that had led to many more."

Project management skills at work

Over time, James became responsible for 90 employees and a $5.5 million account. But the responsibilities in his personal life were increasing, as well. Married, he missed spending time with his growing family.

"I grew tired of working late nights. The time I was missing with my boys made me said and I longed to be more involved in their lives. Saint Leo was an outstanding opportunity because it offered me the chance to learn a new industry and to reconnect with my beautiful wife and three sons."

Now James shares his career and project management experience with adults looking to enroll in one of Saint Leo's online degree programs – just as he did with Saint Leo's online MBA-Project Management – and now with the university's online B.S. in computer information systems.

With a graduate business degree in project management under his belt, James is able to advise students considering Saint Leo's online B.A. Business Administration with a specialization in project management.

Here, James shares some insight into project management and how it can apply to any industry, such as food services.

For additional information, check out the webinar James presented titled, "What You're Doing is Project Management," by clicking here.

Why did you choose to enter the food service industry?

James: Working in the food service industry was a gateway into kitchen and restaurant management. I learned about food preparation, ordering food, inventorying food, inventorying equipment, people management, motiving people, client management, contract negotiations, marketing, staff training, forecasting, projecting, SOCS audits, managerial accounting, and so much more.

What were some of your responsibilities?

James: I did schedules, operated on a budget, handled hiring and terminating staff as well as performance reviews and employee engagement. I had to analyze all of our numbers and know when we were most busy. I had to ensure all of our food was serviced in a sanitary manner and was presented in an appealing and professional manner. And I projected our performance to upper management.

Why did you earn an MBA in project management?

James: Heading back to school was an amazing opportunity. Project management was an area that I would be able to apply many of the skill that I had learned in the food service industry.

Why do you consider your job in the food service industry a project management job?

James: My job was in the food service industry was, in essence, a project management job, because I was responsible for communicating to the entire staff, client, and customers. As a food service director, I had to keep everyone on point guaranteeing that they would show up to create a quality product for the client and customers on a daily basis, which is the bottomline for both industries.

What project management skills did you use?

James: The complete spectrum of project management knowledge areas: communication management, stakeholder management, procurement management, risk management, integration management, cost management, time management, quality management, human resource management, and scope management.

What skills may people already have and not realize are project management skills?

James: Most people in business know how to communicate, organize, motivate, and ensure that a job will be done to specification. But they probably don't realize that all of those tasks are included in project management because their boss has never said "for three weeks you are a project manager." But if you step back and look at your job and what you do on a daily basis, many special tasks and programs are, indeed, project management. 

Why do you recommend getting a degree in project management? 

James: Absolutely. Getting the degree had a significant impact on my life. It propelled me to the top of the job pool and created comprehensive skills on my resume that were not there before. It has taught me to think critically and given me a methodology for my daily work that enables me to keep my eye on long-term goals. Working though my project management degree has been one of the best accomplishments of my life.

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