SFSU Magazine Fall/Winter '04 Alumni and Friends: Sweet Success


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Alumni & Friends

Alumnus Andrew Ly, the CEO of Sugar Bowl Bakery, smiles next to several wedding cakesSweet Success
Atkins-shmatkins, says Andrew Ly (B.S., '86), the CEO of Sugar Bowl Bakery. "You might sell fat-free, low-carb items for the first day and maybe the second, but it won't last. People who come into a bakery are looking for taste."

For the past 20 years, the owner of one of the largest family-owned and operated bakeries in Northern California has delivered just that. Sugar Bowl sweets line the shelves of Bay Area retail stores, restaurants and coffee shops, as well as Sam's Clubs and Costcos across the country.

Ly's recipe for success? "Work hard and intelligently, treat people right and support the community."

Among the latter efforts, Sugar Bowl is a partnering company in SFSU's new Family Business Center. Operated by the College of Business, the center offers classes, workshops and retreats for those in family-owned businesses. Sugar Bowl is providing financial support, advising and suggestions concerning program planning.

Starting a business is never easy, but Ly had more than his share of challenges. In 1975, he, his parents, four brothers and a sister made their first of several unsuccessful attempts to flee their native Vietnam by boat, witnessing the fatal shooting of a companion in the process. Thanks to assistance from a Catholic charity, the Lys arrived in San Francisco safely in 1979.

Sugar Bowl was born five years later when Ly and his brothers pooled their savings to purchase a doughnut shop in San Francisco's Richmond District. Ly was a bus boy, doughnut roller and delivery man. "I did it all," he says.

While pursuing his degree in business administration at SFSU, Ly met his future wife, Cindy, when they were assigned to work together on a class project. Today they have two sons, ages 6 and 14.

Ly's four brothers hold key management positions in the bakery's six retail stores. Among Sugar Bowl's 250 employees, you'll also find their wives, a niece and nephew-in-law, and four nephews including Mark Ly (B.S., '01), the director of sales and marketing.

Working with family is always challenging, says the CEO: "We all have different philosophies. Most of the decisions are made without consensus." Ly has found that communication and consideration of personal feelings are the keys to avoiding meltdowns.

Although he envisions taking the company public someday, he'd like to keep the business in the family. With nearly $36 million in sales this year alone, this is likely one area where all the Lys can agree.

For more information on SFSU's Family Business Center: cob.sfsu.edu/fbc