Roasting in Mongolia
February 3, 2020
Kenan-Flagler Business School
Katie Munch Ramos (BSBA ’17) is leading a life that is the stuff of dreams – in Mongolia, a country where few Tar Heels run a business.
Opportunity called: Ramos is the owner of UBean Coffee House and Roasterie in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. It serves breakfast, lunch and baked goods, including some American-style favorites, and sells the 100% Arabica coffee beans they roast.
Ramos is passionate about athletics and her accomplishments are impressive. She broke UNC records in multiple events and competed in the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials in two events. She was a runner-up in the 2016 U.S.A. Swimming Winter National Championships in the 400-medley relay, competed at the 2015 NCAA championships – earning All-American honors – and placed in the top eight in the Atlantic Coast Conference championships in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
She credits swimming with developing time-management skills to stay focused on achieving long-term goals and pushing herself beyond what is expected. “Joining Carolina’s team as a walk-on to attaining All-American honors at the Division 1 level was a life-changing adventure that made me the person I am today,” she says.
Applying business basics
Ramos balanced intensive training, national competitions and with her rigorous UNC Kenan-Flagler course load. After graduating, she worked at Red Hat as a market development representative, helping small and medium businesses adopt more efficient IT infrastructures.
Then in January 2019, the Ramoses moved across the globe to begin their adventure in Mongolia. They purchased UBean from its first owners, who founded it in 2010. Ethan – now a professional wrestler – is also in training as an Olympic hopeful, competing under the Puerto Rican flag.
“I didn’t know a whole lot about coffee, but I had a lot of skills from UNC Kenan-Flagler I’ve called on working in Mongolia,” she says. “A roaster from Counter Culture Coffee taught me roasting,” she says of the company founded by Brett Smith (MBA ’94).
Her liberal arts business education gave her a diverse set of skills that serve her well. For example, she learned to listen to different viewpoints and understand the impact she can have in her community. Armed with teamwork and collaboration skills, she gained an appreciation for working cross-culturally and in diverse groups, including with the manager she hired – he counts English as his third language – as well as other employees and customers.
Financial accounting forced her to confront the challenge of working with numbers, she says. “Case studies in numerous courses also pushed me out of my comfort zone in a great way,” she adds. “They helped me develop public speaking, analytical and presentation skills.”
She applies all those lessons running her coffee shop. Communication and leadership skills are evident when she works with her manager, who helps her communicate with Mongolian-speaking staff, and when motivating them.
“I want to drive change and inspire employees,” says Ramos, “to live out the company values and share our faith.”
She has redefined the company values, measures of success and determined quality and sanitary standards. “I still ensure the coffee shop is running smoothly, but my focus is on our strategic marketing positioning, improving the customer experience and growing our place in the market.”
Starting the roasting business has taken longer than expected, working with the legal system and changing importing laws. “We try our best to be socially responsible and import our beans with the necessary legal documents from farmers and workers with fair living conditions,” she says.
What does the future hold? Well, this family business has grown in a significant way with the birth of their son. She returned to her native Virginia for his birth and is excited about beginning his life in Mongolia.
As Ramos navigates her new world, she is enjoying burgeoning relationships with the “welcoming Mongolian people.” She’s developed a passion for intercultural business, managing different viewpoints and understanding the impact she can have in Mongolia.
“We’re becoming excellent at what we do,” Ramos says. “Financial measurements are important, but we measure success by how we serve the community and love others.”