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2022 Foster School of Business Commencement Address

By Scott Svenson, Co-Founder and CEO of Mod Pizza

Kirkland Lifestyle is proud to share this abridged version of the 2022 UW Foster School of Business Commencement Address by Eastside resident Scott Svenson, Co-Founder and CEO of Mod Pizza.  

“When Dean Hodge invited me, I thought “What in the world do I have to offer this incredible group of graduates?” So, I did what I always do when I am lost… I asked my wife Ally. We are incredibly lucky to have four young men: Tristan, Dillon, Caspian and Jasper. Ally’s advice to me was to share what I would want our boys to know.


When I graduated from college in 1988 I had two thoughts. I thought I would live forever, and two, how the hell am I going to repay my student loans? I chose to move to NY City and take a job on Wall St. After a few years, I was asked to move to London which turned into an 11 year, life-changing adventure.

The first thing I did after landing in London was to go to work convincing Ally, my best friend and high school sweetheart, to join me. That easily rates as the best decision I have made since I graduated.  Once Ally arrived, she immediately went to work identifying all the things that London was missing. At the top of the list was a Starbucks style coffee experience. The overall standard of coffee was dire. We weren’t looking to start a company, it just had to be done. So we quit our jobs and set about creating Seattle Coffee Company. It was a magical 3 year period, during which, we built 80 stores and became the largest gourmet coffee brand outside of North America.

We had a simple mantra; failure wasn’t an option. To be clear – we “failed” all the time – we were young and inexperienced and made all types of mistakes. But failure, giving up, simply wasn’t an option. We ultimately sold the business to Starbucks.

About this time, I decided to go back to school.  One evening, a professor shared his experience watching brilliant students leave business school and become captains of industry. Time and again, as they returned to campus for their reunions, he found far too many of them were deeply unhappy.  He observed that instead of investing time to clarify what was truly important to them, they jumped into the game, anxious to get ahead. He shared that people who are driven to ‘win the race, often over-invest in their careers, which provides plenty of short-term gratification, but often results in an underinvestment in family and relationships. 

Graduates, my question to you today is the same my professor challenged me with: As the CEO of your life, what is your plan?  How will you measure your life?


When Ally and I moved back to Seattle we had put little thought into that question.  We were fortunate though, life provided us with a pause from the race. We used this time to think deeply about how we would spend the rest of our lives. We asked ourselves when had we felt the most content, joyful and happy? For Ally and me, the moments that stood out most revolved around people, and the experiences we shared. Professionally, the most gratifying memories were all connected to when we had made a positive impact in someone’s life. We decided that was a feeling worth pursuing.

Our search for meaning in our journey and the growing challenges we face in society, collided during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009.  So Ally and I decided it was a perfect time to start a new way of enjoying pizza that we called MOD. People seriously questioned our judgment.

Two beliefs have always guided MOD. First, everyone deserves an equal opportunity to pursue their dreams. Second, companies can and should play a role in leveling the playing field. We didn’t know exactly how our purpose of serving people would come to life until Ally and I met Kory.

We were in the early days when he applied for a job. He had multiple felonies, and had just been released from his 3rd trip to prison. In the brief periods between his time behind bars, he found it impossible to find a job.  What we learned about Kory, and so many others in his position, is he just needed someone to believe in him, to give him a chance.  At MOD, he finally found a place that accepted him, a place he felt he belonged.

We paid attention to Kory… and he truly astonished us. Within a year, he was promoted to General Manager of one of our stores. I’ll never forget sitting with him as our head of operations offered him the job. This big, tough dude just broke down and started bawling.  We told Kory we needed to talk about his compensation – with his new role, he would be getting a raise. Kory raised his hand to stop us, and said, “It doesn’t matter. You have given me something that money can’t buy. You trust me, and I won’t let you down.” As we grew, Kory brought in others who had spent time in prison. They flourished as well.  We have learned your past may describe you, but it doesn’t need to define you.  Today, over 40% of our 10,000+ Squad members are enjoying a fresh start at MOD. 

So, what have we learned over the past 34 years that I wish I understood when I was graduating?

First, the most important decision you will ever make is who you choose to share the journey with – so choose wisely.

Second, practice gratitude. People often assume that if they are successful, they will be happy, which will then lead to gratitude. Research confirms this is totally backwards.

Third, channel the profound wisdom of the modern-day philosopher Ted Lasso. Always strive to be curious, not judgmental. 

Fourth, the quality of your life and how you experience your journey is not a matter of luck; it’s a decision that you control. You don’t control what happens to you, but no one can take away your ability to control how you respond. And in that decision lies your fate.

And finally, when I graduated, I thought I would live forever. I now know I won’t.  Reflecting on the reality now provides me with incredible motivation. Life is precious, so don’t waste it.


Graduates, take time to think deeply about the question: How will you measure your life? Answering this question is not an event. It is about starting a conversation with yourself that will last a lifetime.

Borrowing from the poet Mary Oliver; Graduates “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” As you answer, remember you are part of a broader community, a community that needs you now more than ever. So as part of your journey, please include a commitment to serving others. If you do, I am confident it will make you happy…

Congratulations to the Class of 2022!”

  • Scott and Ally Svenson
  • Mod Pizza Squad