Newsletter #458 – Reviving Starbucks

Several years ago I read a book by Howard Schultz describing his early days of building a little coffee company into the Starbucks that we know today. Beginning in 1971 Starbucks expanded to roughly 16,000 stores in 54 countries but in 2008 the whole Starbucks empire almost collapsed. Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul is a new book in which Schultz describes his efforts to transform the company “by refocusing on core values and reigniting the innovation required” to survive and thrive in an unstable economy and shifting marketplace “all the while fending off harsh critics and huge competitors.” This is a business book but its message extends to anyone interested in building people or impacting lives. Onward is a great story told by a man whose determination and humble-spirit kept the company going, largely because they held values that showed respect for people and for the world where we live. I was impressed with the emphasis on:

  • Self-examination. This involved acknowledging their blemishes, not embracing the status quo, and undertaking transformation even when change was disruptive.
  • Quality. In pursuing excellence, the company never sacrificed its commitment to purchasing and using quality coffee beans and other products – even though cutting quality could have saved money.
  • Affirming people. The company determined to take care of its employees and customers but also its suppliers like the farmers in Africa who deserve to be paid fairly.
  • Meeting social needs. A company conference was held in New Orleans shortly after Katrina. Working in the community every day was a part of the conference agenda. This week Starbucks began raising money for a program to create and sustain jobs for underserved communities.
  • Communication. In addition to honesty with the media and employees ponder this Schultz perspective on their conference: “If the week felt like a rah-rah, feel-good corporate party, it would fail. If it was a self-indulgent trade show, a tense lecture, or a boring training seminar led by talking heads, it would fail. It had to be visceral. Interactive. Genuine. Emotional. Intelligent.”

Have you ever tried to revive a class, business, coaching practice, or organization? What worked? What is your reaction to the Starbucks story?


  1. Gary – I have to admit that I really struggle with Howard’s leadership credibility after his decision to back out of the Leadership Summit based on a few hundred mis-guided signatures. All of the items listed above are worthwhile but seem a bit empty based on his actions.

    Did this bother you or anyone else?


  2. Rob and Gary,

    I, too, struggle with Howard’s personal credibility. However, ideas or truths often rise above the people who espouse them. Self-examination, investing in people, meeting needs, affirming. Those are all worthwhile concepts, no matter who holds them. For me, it was helpful to see them listed, again, in a concise and clear format. Loved the post.



    1. Ken and Rob,

      Yes I was bothered by the Schultz decision to back out of the summit. I was impressed with how Hybel’s responded. I suspect Schultz and his board made a business decision based on what was potential for a big hit at Starbucks. On the other hand I read the book because Hybels recommended it and I have been impressed at some of the actions that Schultz has taken recently to care for people in need – even when this is at a loss for the company in terms of finances. Have any of you heard the rumors (maybe without fact) that Schultz claimed some things for himself that really came from others? That would bother me as much or more but I don’t know if it is true. Thanks for your responses.


  3. I like the core values that remains in Schultz’s perspective. He keeps generating a transformation of people and is willing to practice long-suffering. Such a model comforts my heart that I believe in perseverance for being God’s image.


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