Chris Steffanci ’96: “Plymouth gave me everything I needed to be successful”

Chris Steffanci ’96 started building relationships as soon as he stepped on campus in the early 1990s.  

He connected easily with his lacrosse coach, advisor, and faculty members, and they helped him stay on track in a demanding world that found the formerly mediocre student earning good grades while playing lacrosse and competing successfully on the Waterville Valley freestyle ski team. Steffanci also bartended at night to help pay for his education. 

“I had such a regimented schedule, and I had to stay on it,” he says. “It taught me incredible discipline. I developed a work ethic.” 

These experiences propelled Steffanci into almost instant success in the business world. “Plymouth gave me everything I needed to be successful,” he says, adding, “I never got an MBA. Turns out, I just needed a degree in economics from Plymouth State.” 

After entering the beverage industry because he liked drinking beer—“That’s my little joke,” he says—he worked in sales and management for companies like Heineken, E. & J. Gallo Winery, and Guinness-Diageo.  

In his 30s, Steffanci was Heineken’s youngest-ever regional vice president. For the past decade, he’s been president and CEO of Columbia Distributing and is now also a minority owner. The firm is the fifth largest beverage distributer in the United States with locations on the West Coast, where Steffanci lives in Seattle. Columbia distributes beer, wine, spirits, and non-alcoholic beverages and has 2,800 employees at 13 different locations. On any given day, the company has 750 delivery trucks on the road. 

Steffanci says he develops leaders in his company and has built a very strong team. He likes the culture because, “People enjoy coming to work every day.” 

Growing up, Steffanci struggled with learning disabilities that made academics tough, so the small class sizes and deep interactions at Plymouth State were a huge benefit. “Professors were positive. They cared.” 

Right after graduation, Steffanci began donating to the University, even though he wasn’t making a lot of money. Over the years, though, his campus connections diminished until recently, when his 20-year-old son, Jake, began applying to college. Steffanci reminisced and hoped to reconnect to PSU when he serendipitously heard from Joe Lines ’87 in University Advancement. Lines rekindled Steffanci’s alma mater ties. 

While visiting his mom on the East Coast this summer, Steffanci took a trip to campus. He had a campus tour with University Advancement, connected with the current LAX coach, and had lunch at Biederman’s. “I had the same feeling of having such a connection still,” he says. “Everyone was gracious.”  

Steffanci plans to begin donating to the University again and is in discussion about funding scholarships. “The most challenging thing kids must deal with coming out of school is debt,” he says “It’s tough. That’s why I really like the idea of funding scholarships.” 

Steffanci’s son Jake and 15-year-old son, Gavin, were born in his first marriage. He and his wife, Jessica, have an 11-month-old, Bodhi, and they are expecting a fourth son in November.  

On the slopes, Steffanci still skis but has given up flips and tricks. He also surfs, snowboards, and loves playing golf and spending time with his two labs and his big family.  

He says success is found in knowing your priorities, having a good work ethic, and in socialization. “When you connect with people and bring positive energy, people want to do business with you,” he says. “I learned this at Plymouth.”