For a long time I worked in places that made me very very unhappy. So I developed an interest in finding out about companies that had really great corporate cultures. How did they do it? What made them work? What kind of people were in charge?
Starbucks has also been a part of my daily ritual on and off for many years. During some of my darker working days, the thought of getting my Starbucks was the only thing that even made it possible to get out of bed.
So when I was in my Starbucks one morning and saw Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul, I was intrigued.
Not intrigued enough to buy it then, but it made it onto my list and I recently, finally, picked up a copy for myself.
It was an incredibly enlightening read.
In 2007 after years of unstoppable growth all of a sudden Starbucks wasn’t doing well anymore. Howard Schultz had stepped down from his position of ceo (they do not capitalize their titles) a few years earlier but was still a member of the board and was keeping a close eye on things. When it became apparent that things were not going to improve, he felt that he needed to step back in.
The first thing you will notice about the book is that Howard Schultz loves what he does and his passion is contagious.
I should maybe stop here and just say that I am not a cynical person. I pretty much believe what people tell me because I don’t see how someone could be lying. So maybe other people would read Onward and think “wow, Starbucks propaganda much?” but I read it and was inspired. I thought it was a wonderful example of how corporate culture can be. You can love what you do, do good things for your community or the world and still be making money. Throughout the whole 2-3 year struggle to right the course for Starbucks, when they were losing money and there didn’t seem to be an end in sight, Schultz still refused to scrap the benefits program for the partners (employees). I think that says a lot about him.
It was an unexpectedly moving book too. The conference for 10,000 partners in New Orleans, still cleaning up after Katrina, where everyone participated in a variety of volunteer projects to clean up the city (and infused a whole lot of cash into the local economy, causing one artist to tear up afterwards and tell a senior partner that Starbucks paid his mortgage that month); the moment when they came up with the right name for their new instant coffee, VIA, and Schultz realized that it evoked the name of his dear friend Don Valencia, who had spent his life perfecting the process only to pass away before seeing it come to fruition.
Oh man, Rwanda. I don’t even want to ruin the Rwanda moment in case you read this book. But the thing with the cow? Tissues please.
I will say that it was next to impossible not to want a Starbucks drink while I was reading this which sucked because I’m trying to give it up (I’m sorry, Howard Schultz). But I also know that on the occasions when I treat myself, I don’t need to feel ashamed for ‘splurging’ on my drink because Starbucks does a lot of good things for a lot of people.
And it’s delicious.
PS I should point out that while the book was told from Howard Schultz’s point of view, he had help with the actual writing. Joanne Gordon did an incredible job translating his voice to the page, making for a seamless read , more like having a conversation than reading a business book.