Howard Schultz visits ASU, shares his life story, encourages bipartisanship

Howard Schultz, former Starbucks CEO, brought his From the Ground Up book tour to Arizona State University Jan. 30.

Schultz released his book a year after transitioning from Starbucks CEO to executive chairman in order to shift “his full-time focus to the company’s social impact initiatives.”

Recently making headlines for considering a run for president as a “centrist independent,” Schultz told the crowd at ASU that we are in a fragile time in American history.

“Regardless of party, geography, upbringing, we can all agree that there’s something not quite right and what is it?” he asked. “It’s the fact that, for some reason, there’s division and divisiveness in the country and there’s so much hatred and fear.”

He attributes his dedication to the country’s ideals to his upbringing.

According to Schultz, he is proof of the American Dream by being able to get out of his home in a public housing project of Brooklyn, New York.

“There was chaos, there was trauma, there was rage,” he remembered. “I did have a gift and the gift was not an inheritance of money, it was the fact that my mother [had] this belief in America. I think if it wasn’t for her, I was not going to be able to escape what happened in my daily life.”

After graduating from college, he got a job as a door-to-door salesman. Eventually working his way up until he was an employee at a European company that made housewares. One of the company’s customers was “a small coffee company in Seattle, Washington, named Starbucks.”

Schultz then became Starbucks’s head of marketing and moved to Seattle.

“In 1983, I was on a business trip to Italy when I walked into an Italian café and tasted my very first espresso. I was captivated by the beverage, the barista who prepared it and the romance of the café atmosphere,” he wrote. “At the time Starbucks stores only sold whole bean coffee and had no seating. I had a vision of creating specialty coffee stores that integrated the romance of espresso and provided a place for community.”

His trip led him to leave Starbucks and open his own specialty coffee store, Il Giornale, when the owner of Starbucks came to Schultz offering to sell him the company.

Schultz approached being CEO with compassion, saying “love, humanity, compassion, [and] empathy” were needed when building a company based on people.

Starbucks was one of the first companies in the U.S. to give all its employees – including part-time – health insurance; to give stock ownership to all its employees – called “Bean Stock” –; and partnered with ASU for the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, a first-of-its-kind program that gave employees a tuition-free college education.

According to Schultz, by spring of 2019, more than 3,000 Starbucks employees will have graduated.

“I’m better today, not because of my success. I’m better today because of what I’ve learned along the way,” he said. “The importance of recognizing that we must pay it forward, every one of us has an opportunity to advance and help one person. Just think about what we could do if we did that every day and were not as divisive, and there wasn’t so much hate and fear.”

Emily Richardson

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