Rose Marie del Rio ’87
Rose Marie del Rio ’87

Rose Marie del Rio ’87, of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, never actually applied to Colby. But she spent her youth in a series of business ventures (“I was always selling stuff around the neighborhood,” she said), planned on studying business in college. The fact that Colby didn’t have a business major turned out to be a very good thing.

Del Rio flunked out of her first accounting class and graduated with a major in economics, much preferring sweeping macro systems to balance sheets. After two years working in the public sector (first for the Bolivian Ministry of Finance, then for the International Monetary Fund) and a few more years as a loan officer in a commercial bank (where, industry culture being what it was, she says, there was little room for advancement), del Rio was ready to return to the United States and take another shot at accounting.

She applied to Harvard Business School and again to USAID for funding. Out of the blue came a call from the U.S. Embassy. Ambassador Robert Gelbard ’64 was so excited to see another Colby grad cross his desk that he wanted to give her the good news in person.

Harvard gave her more than a degree. It turned del Rio on to kettle-fried potato chips in Massachusetts via reading a case study on Cape Cod Chips. Looking back, she said, “It seemed so simple. It’s just a little machine, and you fry your chips, and you brand your chips, and you sell ’em.” 

Del Rio returned to Santa Cruz, used her experience as a loan officer to secure start-up capital, bought her kettle fryers, and hasn’t looked back. The first bag of her company’s Chippitas brand potato chips sold on April 12, 1994, and they’ve been selling steadily ever since. “People here still question the fact that I am not an engineer,” she said, describing all of the machinery that goes into making a bag of chips. “But my education in the liberal arts—it’s like, you can do anything.”

Some weeks are better than others, but kettle frying gives her workers (the Chippitas factory has 16 employees) enough control to make a consistent product out of inconsistent materials—and her customers tend to like the heavier chips better, anyway.

Del Rio says she didn’t go to Colby to become the potato chip queen of Santa Cruz. But, she says, “What I got from Colby is that you’re always learning stuff, and everything you learn is useful sometime.”

Even accounting.

—Martin Connelly ’08