Employee Spotlight: Mary Lusajo

Note: This is the fifth in the Godfather’s Pizza Franchisee/Employee Spotlight series. Read previous spotlights: David Crowdus, Kristina Denfeld, Dave Gartlan, and Wendy Allen.

Mary Lusajo always knew she wanted to teach.

“I’ve always had a passion for learning and developing others,” she says.

Her calm, friendly confidence makes for the characteristics of an ideal teacher – but being patient also helps. Perhaps it is a result of being raised by a farmer in small-town Imogene, Iowa (2010 population: 72). It was a quiet, safe and ideal childhood on the farm but Mary liked to stay busy in neighboring city Shenandoah, where she attended high school.

After pursuing her dream of teaching at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she taught Spanish at Millard West High School. But four years later, realizing her passion for adult education and business, she made the switch to Iowa Western Community College as an advisor and online instructor while working on her Masters of Business Administration.

“I knew that I needed to transition from the secondary educational setting to one where people shared the same passion for education combined with business and family. I really wanted to transition to adult education.”

The right fit
Today, Mary is an Instructional Designer on the Training team at the Godfather’s Pizza corporate headquarters, her “day job.” At night, she’s the “stereotypical sports mom” to three beautiful children – Elijah, Isaiah, and Malaika – and wife to husband, John. Finding Godfather’s Pizza was “fate” for Mary.

She wasn’t actively seeking a new job, but ran across an opening at Godfather’s Pizza, so she inquired and quickly landed an interview.

“As soon as I interviewed, I knew this was the fit,” she says. “The pieces fit together. It was a match.”

Mary discovered that the people who interviewed her shared the same values – passion for family and business. She knew working for Godfather’s Pizza meant she could be a “really good mother while working” and no other company could ever meet her expectations for the work-life balance she desired.

“I’m allowed to be a mom – the leaders are OK with that. This is my day job, but I know I give 110 percent to this job because I’m allowed to have that balance. There’s never been a time where I’ve had to choose or sacrifice being a mom,” she says.

“I think that I can have it all, as a female in the business world.”

Mary feels lucky to have Senior Vice President Kathy Johnson as her boss. As a mother herself, Kathy understands working and parenting full-time.

“She’s really a mentor and takes the time to provide that day-to-day feedback and focus on the overall big picture,” Mary says.

She believes finding a mentor is not all that unusual in the company, “I really see every day how they live the values that they stand for. It’s not just on paper – it’s absolutely in every aspect of what we do. We live by those values.”

“[There’s] amazing leadership, unmatched by anyone. I don’t think you’ll find better leaders.”

An unexpected family
You may not be able to find better leaders than those at Godfather’s Pizza, but you might be able to accidentally find a family member, like Mary did. She discovered it in the least expected place – the break room of the national corporate headquarters.

One afternoon, Operations Manager Pat Olsen was discussing how he liked to eat cottage cheese with peaches on top. Immediately Mary teasingly asked if he was Danish (her Danish grandma liked to do the same) and soon the conversation evolved to talking about relatives.

A few days later, after talking to her mom, Mary found out Pat wasn’t just a colleague – he was family, literally. He’s her third cousin, to be exact.

“It’s conversations like that that you’re allowed to have a relationship with coworkers, and know who you’re working with on a personal level,” Mary says smiling.

Learning is forever
Loving the actual job itself – coordinating and facilitating training in-person and out in the field – also confirmed to Mary that she was meant to be at Godfather’s Pizza. As an instructional designer, she develops the materials and manuals to teach new trainers, managers and crew members how to do their jobs consistently. She also ensures everything is executed in the right way and assesses the end results to improve and update company procedures.

She’s also in charge of The Informant, the newly launched “Godfather’s Pizza University,” online learning management system, accessible for all Godfather’s Pizza employees. The internal site includes training materials to learn the basics and a discussion board to build upon “social learning” – the theory that learning is a cognitive process through observation, direct instruction, and most importantly, interaction with peers.

The company recognized her as Employee of the Year for 2012, in part due to her efforts toward implementing The Informant. The honor – voted on by her peers – was unexpected and caught her off guard.

“It was very emotional. The acknowledgment - that appreciation for my hard work - that was a very special moment for me,” she says. “For me, I was proud of our team and accepted the award for the training department. It took the whole family to support me to that moment – both my work family and my husband and kids. Forty plus members in the office and at home had to support me through a lot.”

“They set really high standards and how to achieve those goals. There’s an expectation that you are an extremely integral role in success. Doesn’t matter what level you’re on - you’re part of the team, to learn and develop and succeed.”

“They were very proud of me in that moment.”

Mary is “very, very proud” of the online system. She believes it puts Godfather’s Pizza ahead of competitors and consistency will show, thanks to a focus on social learning. “It shows how we won’t compromise the investment in employees by implementing this system.”

The chance to succeed (and fail)
Investment in its employees has given Mary the freedom to take chances.

“I’m allowed to fail. Failing is treated as an area of opportunity. I have the opportunity to succeed and have failures and learn from it and grow. I’ve been given a tremendous amount of trust and I am respected for the knowledge and what I can bring to company.”

It is the respect and trust that can help an employee take off and become a leader. And as a teacher and trainer, Mary understands the importance of using mistakes as a learning experience.

In fact, one of Mary’s favorite memories during her 3 ½ years at Godfather’s Pizza involved a 16-year-old boy at his first job in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was evident he was really nervous about learning and mastering all the skills, and by the end of the second day, he knew the classroom portion was over – he would learn how to make the dough and pizzas next.

Concerned about making a mistake, he raised his hand and very seriously asked, “Will I get fired if I mess up a pizza?”

It tugged at Mary’s heart strings.

“We do fail. And sometimes kids aren’t allowed to fail and learn and be ok with that. We have a tremendous opportunity in the corporate setting, even for supervisors or managers in the field, to use those mistakes - that are inevitable - to grow their employees,” she says. “One of the cool things about adult education and corporate education is it’s not a big red mark on a paper like in high school or college – if you make a mistake, you learn from it and it is part of who you are. Mistakes are part of training and learning.”

A teacher to the core, Mary reflects, “All those moments when it clicks for a learner, when you’re training or having discussion and the light bulb go on…those are the moments when you make a difference in someone’s life.”

To apply for open positions at Godfather’s Pizza, Inc. please visit our website.


Mary's son, Isaiah, was in a recent Godfather's Pizza commercial for the Big Cookie Combo.