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Vito Van Dunk

From the minute Vito Van Dunk set foot on the Saint Rose campus in 2015, he was immersed – defending the oft-derided-as-too-far Brubacher Hall. (“It’s only two blocks, people! Besides, what’s wrong with a little walk?”) and mapping out plans. One by one, he checked them off: Student Association president, Student Events Board president, resident assistant, along with leadership roles with ALANA and Identity. The New Jersey native saw not just Saint Rose, but Albany, as his home, taking part in cultural activities and a good deal of service work.

Van Dunk, who earned a marketing degree, is every bit as enthusiastic about the academics at the Huether School of Business; crediting the strategic leadership skills he learned for helping him gain a foothold at Enterprise, JP Morgan Chase, and now, McDonald’s Corp.

Then and now, he’s far from shy. Van Dunk shared his experiences from his first year, when he blogged about college life, to graduation when he looked back on his time at Saint Rose in this video. Today, a member of the McDonald’s leadership team,  he will also soon earn a master’s degree from George Washington University in education and human development organizational leadership and learning. Here, he discusses a life that is not only successful, and busy, but also meaningful.

You just received a promotion – congratulations! – to field learning and development consultant at McDonald’s (and will soon return to the Capital Region from Covington, Kentucky).  What is is your new role about?

Thank you! In this new role, I will be supporting restaurant teams, McDonald’s owner-operators, and our field service teams within the realm of training and leadership development. My duties range from teaching restaurant leadership courses across the Northeast, to creating curriculum for in-person and virtual learning, and partnering with HR to lower turnover and increase training levels across the board.

You moved up from another position at McDonald’s where you helped achieve high-functioning restaurants. What is a high-functioning restaurant?  

A high-functioning restaurant is one that demonstrates optimal performance from their people practices to their general restaurant operations. When you go to a McDonald’s, you want it to be quick, friendly, and fresh—so I helped teams close some opportunity gaps and grow overall sales and satisfaction.

This is your third chapter with McDonald’s. Please discuss.

As a high school student who desperately wanted money, I got a job at my local McDonald’s which over the years grew into more professional experience than I’d imagined. I worked in various manager roles and then went into training supervision, which I continued throughout my time at Saint Rose.

I loved being in the restaurants and delivering great experiences to our guests, but I needed a change to refresh and recharge myself. After graduation, I went to Chase Bank when they expanded into the Albany market. However, I missed the fast-paced environment, where every day had a new, different challenge ahead.

McDonald’s was not only familiar to me, but it has always been good to me. McDonald’s has a great culture, benefits, and has all the challenges I was seeking, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back, to be honest. They had launched a leadership development program which piqued my interest, which also has thousands of applicants each year. I was fortunate enough to be selected for it. I’ve loved it since.

What do you like?

Well, in addition to the environment I mentioned before, I enjoy being able to work with diverse teams across a large geographic footprint and supporting their development. I walk away every day knowing that I’m making a difference not only in their restaurants, but that also trickles into their communities.

How did Saint Rose prepare you?

Saint Rose gave me the opportunity to take on several leadership roles, which provided hands-on experience. Additionally, the strong relevance of our coursework prepared me with a strategic mindset, which is so valuable in the field.

How does the College continue to play a role in your life?

I currently serve as the governance chair for the Alumni Association Board of Directors and am actively involved, helping out wherever I can. Recently, I assisted in the planning of the centennial celebrations and the 100 Hours of Service Campaign. The relationships built there continue to be beneficial for me, too.

You are good at setting goals. Can you name some?

I live by the rule of three and try to think in both short and long term. That means I have one personal, one professional, and one communal goal for both the short and long term, and that helps ground me. Professionally, my next step is moving into a role where I can have impact over direct reports within the learning or people side of the industry. Personally, I would like to start traveling internationally and see more of the world by visiting a new country every year—hopefully as the pandemic gets under control and it is safe to do so.

You seem to be “on” the communal part, working in LGBTQ+ advocacy and with Ronald McDonald House. How do you have time?

I try to give back whenever possible, but it does become challenging at times. Throughout this pandemic, we have been forced to change our mindset and ways of thinking, which expanded my idea of how you can serve your community. It doesn’t need to take eight hours of your day or involve contributing large sums of money.

Finally, you’ve spoken about the importance of calling out racism and homophobia. I wonder how you do this in corporate America, and what you might suggest?

I think we all have an obligation to create safe and respectful workplaces for everyone, and that begins with addressing the inequities present. I should say, the first step is realizing your own biases based on your experiences, because we all have them, and then making an effort to do, and be, better.

In these situations you need to be direct, transparent, and seek to understand — like why do you think these behaviors are appropriate and how can I help you grow out of them? Approaching these situations without being condescending or with anger helps mitigate and move us forward.

By Jane Gottlieb