Archives for May 2011
'Onward' is a brisk 300 plus pages beginning with the story of how Howard Schultz, a boy from a poor background, wanted to build the kind of company his father never had a chance to work in. He is proud that Starbucks in the States offers health insurance to all its employees, even those who work part time. He describes how his father, who never earned more than $20,000 a year all his life, was sacked one winter after falling on ice and breaking his hip. The family was destitute. He was inspired to set up Starbucks to recreate the experience of drinking coffee in bars in Italy where people meet and socialise and the staff are friends. He quickly moves on to his main subject, how in 2008 - after eight years away from the helm - he re-took control of the company, convinced that it was losing its romance and magic in a relentless drive for growth.
What to ask? As a journalist interviewing Howard Schultz, you have to be aware that millions of people love Starbucks and wouldn't buy their coffee anywhere else. But because of the rapid expansion of the company - the very thing he returned to curtail - Starbucks to some is as insidious and the McDonalds Golden Arches, ubiquitous, uniform, unwanted. A couple of years ago on You and Yours we featured cases where the company had opened on small high streets, applied for planning permission retrospectively and met with sustained resistance from local people.
I really enjoyed the book. It provides - for a business outsider - a fascinating analysis of how a company can appear on paper to be doing everything right, increasing share price and growing profits and sales, and yet at the same time be undermining the very thing that made it a success; in Howard Schultz's terms, the romance of a custom-built coffee shop.
What I found hard to swallow though was the almost religious fervour with which Howard Schultz describes his work. The book is on sale in Starbucks branches with proceeds going to charity, so please have a read and let me know what you think. I decided to rib him gently about it (or so I thought) careful to point out that his lack of any trace of irony is probably what makes him a multi millionaire while I am not. I asked him to read what for me was a particularly schmaltzy bit, a collapsed into laughter as he finished reading it and it observed that the tone felt 'un-British' to me. I had eight emails telling me off for being so rude. I replied to them all in person. Tone is a very hard thing to judge in these encounters. I don't always get it right...The book is on sale in Starbucks branches with proceeds going to charity, so please have a read, have a listen and let me know what you think.