Starbucks’ Schultz Urges Business Authenticity, Transparency, and Humanity
Despite the economic challenges facing the nation—and the world—business operators can prevail by staying authentic and transparent and managing their companies through a “lens of humanity,” said IFT Keynote Speaker Howard Schultz, Starbucks president, chairman & chief executive officer. Speaking to an attentive crowd at Tuesday morning’s Keynote Session in the convention center, Schultz reflected on the essential principles that have guided the company he took public 20 years ago.
After leaving the role of Stabucks ceo more than a decade ago, Schultz returned to lead the company in 2008 at a time when the nation was in the midst of a financial crisis and Starbucks was in danger of losing $25 million in market capitalization. For the first time in its history, Starbucks had negative comp store sales, and the company was confronted with an economic climate in which consumers were cutting back on discretionary spending. “We were facing a situation in which, literally, we were on a collision course with financial failure,” Schultz said.
Returning to lead his company, Schultz was committed to operating transparently and keeping employees fully informed. “I believe that at a time like that you have to be 100% honest and transparent,” said Schultz. “You can’t ask people to follow and believe in you without 100% honesty and transparency.”
Recognizing the value of your employees is essential, said Schultz. While everyone says that their employees are their most important resource, Schultz said that he truly believes it. “What has been the key to our success, without question, has been valuing our people. I don’t believe that you can build a great organization of any kind without having people aligned in their vision,” he added.
The Starbucks ceo, who grew up in a lower middle-income family, believes that being successful requires staying firmly committed to your dreams. “The worst thing that can happen is that you give up on the things you believe in and settle for mediocrity,” he said.
The vision Schultz had when Starbucks went public two decades ago was to “create a national company around a different business philosophy—to create a company that would balance profitability and a social conscience,” Schultz said.
Schultz devoted part of his Keynote presentation to discussing the commitment he feels to encouraging entrepreneurial innovation even at a time when national political leaders have become gridlocked over solving the nation’s economic challenges. To support entrepreneurialism in the United States, Starbucks launched the Create Jobs for USA initiative, which helps provide loans to deserving small businesses.
“Your businesses and your respective careers cannot and will not be isolated from what is going on in our country,” said Schultz. “I can speak to that, having grown up in the projects in a blue collar family. I ask a question: Are those kids that are growing up on the other side of the tracks like I did, are they going to have the same opportunities?
“We in America are facing a crucible, a test,” Schultz continued. “We as Americans cannot continue to ignore the elements that are challenging and threatening the aspirations, the dreams, and the values that have made this country great.’
Above all, Schultz emphasized the importance of dreaming big—and sticking to those dreams. “The true greatness of America is not about policies, it’s not about ideology, it’s about people and giving them hope and opportunities to believe in the American dream. Our parents, our grandparents, gave us this foundation. It’s up to us. It’s up to you to preserve it and enhance it.”