Artie Starrs // GDYO Class of 1994

2019 GDYO Alumni of Note Recipient

While many people now know Artie Starrs as the lauded CEO of Pizza Hut, the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra remembers him as the young, rising violinist-then-violist who joined the Dallas String Ensemble in 1987. Born a fan of music, Starrs loved music and spent the next seven years moving up the ranks of the GDYO – from DSE to the Philharmonic to the GDYO under the direction of Maestro Richard Giangiulio from 1992-1994.
Starrs recalls his experience learning from esteemed musical directors, including Giangiulio, as being life-changing. “Anyone who had the opportunity to participate in GDYO and to learn from a world-class human being and talent like Maestro Giangiulio should be forever grateful – we have to pay it forward so other young people can have this life-changing experience.”

What was one of your favorite memories from participating in GDYO?

I have two very clear memories. The first is of touring Europe – to be able to play alongside great musicians and experience Europe from a musical perspective was an incredible experience. The second memory is one that I regularly think about – even now. In May 1993, Mr. Giangiulio told us we were going to play the challenging, beautiful Camille Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony #3. The catch was that GDYO didn’t have an organ, so while rehearsing over the next few months, every time we reached the part where the organ plays in the last movement, Mr. Giangiulio would sing “CCCC” for the C chord instead. The first time we actually heard the C chord played was when we moved to the Meyerson for dress rehearsals…and you really can’t be prepared for the power of that sound. I actually cried. It impacted me so much, I wrote my college essay on it. A chord like this hits your beating heart.

Tell us about your education after you graduated from GDYO? Schools/pursuits?

After high school, I went to Princeton for college majoring in economics. I didn’t want to lose tough with my passion for music, so I took a few music classes in college and loved them. I just wasn’t sure, however, if I was talented enough or wanted to work hard enough to become a professional musician. I ended up sticking with economics, but always stayed connected to music. In fact, I fell in love with opera in college.

Tell us about your career – what are you currently up to?

I began my career in investment banking at Wasserstein Perella & Co./Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. After that, I joined Rave Cinemas as Chief Financial Officer and helped lead the sale to Cinemark in 2013. From there, I joined Pizza Hut U.S. where I served as General Manger, Chief Financial Officer and then President from 2016-19. Now, my role is Chief Executive Officer of Pizza Hut since this past summer. My passion is enhancing the customer experience and driving growth; I’m fortunate to be supported by a terrific team helping me drive my vision forward.

Do you feel that GDYO had an impact on your career? How so?

Absolutely. I’d highlight three specific impact areas. First, it fostered a love for music and culture, and that pays massive dividends as I travel and interact with people, as it gives me a place “to go” to that is a universal language. I find myself at any business encounter speaking about music because of my GDYO experience. Second, it taught me how to be part of a team. Playing in an orchestra is the consummate team experience. That experience plays a meaningful role now in how I think about team building at Pizza Hut; it is a key element of my leadership platform. Finally, just watching and being around Mr. Giangiulio and Mr. Coren who have such love for what they do left a huge imprint on me – I think about it all the time. They were put on this earth to do what they’re doing, and they had such an impact on all of us.

Who or what inspires you?

My wife, Elizabeth, does an amazing job as an advocate and coach to me, and as a mother to our children. She’s the straw that stirs the drink in our family.

Favorite achievements in your career? Why?

We built a team at Pizza Hut in recent years that is high-performing and truly cares for each other’s personal and professional development, and while it’s a tough gig, we love it. I’ve used the experiences I had in the GDYO growing up many times since. Constantly being around people that were better than me was an invaluable experience. That’s how I structure my team now. My role is how I keep this team of great people running.

What advice would you give to current kids in GDYO?

Enjoy the present. It’s an incredible blessing to have talented, experienced coaches working with you every day in the orchestra. Cherish and recognize that you have people who are the best in the world sharing their time and gifts with you. And never be afraid of being in a group where there are people who are better at something than you are – you’ll grow from that experience.

Thank you to Artie for being a part of GDYO’s Alumni Spotlight!