Jeff Woodruff: 20 Years in the Making

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On a Friday night you can invariably find Jeff Woodruff, Pagliacci’s Vice-President of Operations, working the pizza line at one of the stores, not far from where he started with the company twenty years ago. Tall and long-limbed, with a quick smile, Jeff oversees operations at 24 stores employing about 650 people. But he is not one to spend his days pushing paper in an office. The stores are where it all happens. So he spends nearly half his time in the thick of the action, tossing, saucing, topping, baking, slicing, and washing dishes. “Ideally, I would be totally bored,” he says, the store running so smoothly he had nothing to do. After a pause he adds, “But I do hate to be bored.” Fortunately, the stores are almost always busy, and it’s rare there isn’t something he can do to be helpful. “He still has it,” says colleague John Clifford. “Jeff can bust out a rush, tossing pizzas or working the ovens. His back just feels it a bit more the next day.”

Founder Dorene Centioli-McTigue offered him a position as Associate Manager of the Queen Anne store on July 5th, 1995. A recent graduate of Central Washington University in Ellensburg with a degree in finance, Jeff thought of the new job as a short-term position, something to do for a couple of years before moving on. But he enjoyed the teamwork and the quality of the pizza, and when Pagliacci opened its delivery-only store in Magnolia, he accepted a promotion to General Manager of the store. He still couldn’t toss a pizza, a technique that he said “honestly took me a long time to master.” Jeff did soon learn to toss pizza as well as to manage a complex, fast-paced business. A testament to his determination to find and retain skilled and reliable employees, two of the drivers he hired at the Magnolia store are still driving for Pagliacci, nearly twenty years later.

From Magnolia, Jeff moved to the West Seattle store, which needed some help. Then it ran three drivers on a Friday night. Now it runs fourteen. In fact, just this week, Jeff is back at the West Seattle store helping it reopen after a major remodel. The store now has a slice bar and a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, as well as a refurbished dining room.

As the company grew through the late 90’s, expanding to the Eastside with new stores in Juanita, Bellevue, and Crossroads, Jeff took the lead opening new stores. At the time, the average manager stayed with the company for 18 months. Now the average is 13 years. One of the reasons for the incredible change is an effort to promote from within the company. At one time the company hired most new managers from outside the company. Jeff recalls a moment he experienced while training a new manager, “I was showing her around the kitchen and explaining the job when she interrupted to say she didn’t work the kitchen. She had the impression that our managers spent all their time in the office. I thanked her for her time.” Other factors Jeff cites for the success in retaining employees is the development of a positive culture, the company’s efforts to constantly improve, new store growth, which opens up more career opportunities, contest awards, and the company's investments in infrastructure, such as the remodeling of older stores and the addition of better equipment. But nothing helps, he says, more than getting to know the employees, listening to them, and working alongside them. Even Matt Galvin, an owner, can frequently be found delivering pizzas or working the line.

After five years with the company, already there longer than he’d ever imagined he would be, Jeff began to feel some burnout himself. Taking a step back from the front lines, Jeff earned a certificate as a Web Master from Seattle Visual Concepts, while building and managing the first Pagliacci website. It was during this time that Matt Galvin and Pat McDonald bought the company from Dorene. Matt immediately recognized Jeff’s talent for running a business, for managing people, and for his work ethic. While continuing to run the website Jeff resumed training associate managers. In 2003, he took on the responsibility of opening and operating the three new stores on the University of Washington campus. After a very busy three-year stint he was promoted to District Manager in 2006, then Director of Operations in 2007, and in 2011 he was promoted to Vice President of Operations.

John Clifford says, “Jeff is, largely out of job description, the biggest hard-ass at Pagliacci. He makes sure people are toeing the line. He will call anyone and everyone out. At the same time, he is most willing to jump in to help. He cares about all the employees and pays close attention to their needs, knowing when they need a morale boost or a helping hand.”

Jeff loves Pagliacci’s brand of teamwork. It gives them the flexibility to respond to customers needs of all kinds. Once they got a call from a large technology company around 5 PM asking if they could deliver 200 pizzas for lunch the next day, the equivalent of a four-alarm fire. Using four stores they got the job done. On another occasion, just after the birth of his third child in 2006, Seattle experienced an ice storm that knocked power out to much of the city. The one Pagliacci store that could operate was at Bellevue Square, where a large generator provided power. Again, everyone rallied, doing whatever it took. One of the few restaurants open, the store sold over 750 pizzas that day.

On his days off Jeff spends time with his three children and relaxes by playing the guitar. He has very long fingers, which John Clifford notes “can be intimidating when one of them is pointed at you,” but which also serve nicely for strumming and picking. Ryan Adams, especially his older stuff, and local band The Cave Singers, are two sounds that inspire him right now. Jeff’s fiancee Brie Moulton also plays guitar. Their nuptials are planned for August of 2016.

In twenty years Jeff has experienced much of the history of Pagliacci and witnessed extraordinary growth, but he is far from alone, as some employees have even more tenure than he does. He thought he was joining the team for only a short stint but after twenty years he has become one of its leaders.

A few years ago, in an ill-fated word combination while speaking at a meeting with all the general managers in attendance, Jeff referred to himself as a tool. He endured much good-natured ribbing all weekend, laughing at himself along with the team, enjoying the spirit of fun and hard work that he best exemplifies.