Making a Fresh Start: Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on the Art of Transforming a Company

April 14, 2016 - Article reads in
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks onstage in front of the Target team.

No one knows transformation like Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz. In his book, “Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul,” Howard tells the story of his return to the position of CEO back in 2008 after signs had begun to show that Starbucks was losing its way. What followed was an uphill battle during tough economic times to restore the company’s financial health and return to its roots and core values. Through it all, Howard and his team overcame challenges—fixing tech and supply chain woes, training their baristas with new skills, honing products and experiences, and recreating their signature coffeehouse atmosphere.

Starbucks and Target have been partners since 1999. Today, we have more than 1,300 Starbucks cafés in our stores across the country, a popular stop for guests on their Target runs. As part of our series of innovation speakers, Howard visited the Target team in Minneapolis this week to share his thoughts on leading a team through times of change, and some advice as Target continues its own transformation. Our team found a lot of inspiration to take away—here are five important lessons from Howard’s talk:

Build your work on respect and humility. “I’m always inspired when I meet people who are doing work that honors the generations that came before them, and leaving behind a legacy of their own. With Starbucks, I dreamed of building a national brand and different kind of company, achieving balance between profit and conscience, bringing people along on the journey, and impacting the communities we serve. The kind of company my parents never got the chance to work for. I keep that in mind with every decision I make.”

Don’t forget to measure and reward the right things. “Of course, we’re responsible for making our numbers and growing the business, but Starbucks is ultimately a company founded on experiences. Our brand comes to life by uplifting our people. So when I stopped hearing my team having conversations about the people and the coffee, and only focusing on the numbers and getting bigger, faster … that’s when I realized something was wrong. We needed to get back to basics, the values that our customers fell in love with in the first place.”

Being a leader isn’t always easy, but weathering uncertain times will show you how resilient you really are. “The real test of character is when you’re facing the wind, when you have to lead people at all odds and convince them what’s important. Insecurity and fear of failure have shaped me. I love Starbucks and would do anything for the company. But I had to learn what it means to love something, and the responsibility that goes with it. For me, it’s the importance of leading through the lens of humanity.”

We’re all a work in progress. “As individuals, and together as representatives of our teams and companies, we’re all trying to figure things out, every day. We’re going to make mistakes, and there will always be people who don’t believe in us. The important thing is to always act with character and stick to your principles—especially when the camera’s not rolling—and work to be the kind of company our guests love and trust.”

Remember your reason for being. “As a team, it’s important to work toward common goals and values, and to never lose sight of what’s really important. For the Starbucks team, it all comes back to one personone cup, one community, and getting the details right. The key is understanding how a single person can make such a powerful difference toward that mission, and in the lives of others every day.”

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