People Like Us Do Things Like This.

Given the company’s size today, it can be hard to imagine that Starbucks was once a small retailer with a handful of locations that most people did not believe would grow beyond Seattle. Founder and CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz was inspired by his first experience of an espresso bar in Milan while on a trade show trip to the city in 1983. He could see the emotional relationship that Italians had with coffee and how they had built a culture around it, elevating a commodity into an art form and creating warm, welcoming spaces where baristas and others knew your name. He saw for the first time how coffee could bring people together in a place. These gathering places were part of people’s routines – spaces for simple, improvised, familiar comfort and community. This was Howard Schultz’s epiphany moment. It reminds me of my own epiphanies that I experienced on my first trips to Milan, Paris and Munich in 2004 when my first practice was nothing more than a glimmer of an idea in my head and my friend’s head. 

Lesson numero uno today: Coffee is a commodity. Glasses are a commodity. So what is your business really about? What are you really doing? What is it all about? 

 Shultz wanted to build his business around the core idea of community in his stores. And for that to happen, he knew a sense of human connection had to exist in his organisation. He surrounded himself with people who felt passionate about the products they sold, who were ambitious and kindhearted.  Lesson two right there! 

 He wanted to create a workplace and jobs that nourished people.  

 “I was trying to build the kind of company that my father never got the chance to work for. Or, as I would phrase it in later years, to try to balance profitability with a social conscience. Our values were human values. Ethics, integrity, sharing, support, teamwork, caring, respect, and loyalty were all ideals I included in that first mission statement. I also wanted to instill a sense of ambitious camaraderie: “We will set aggressive goals and drive ourselves to achieve them,” the mission statement said. “It’s an adventure, and we’re in it together.” 

 The first place to show your values is of course with your own employees. In building Starbucks, Schultz never shook off the image from his childhood of his father laying immobile on the couch after he slipped on ice, and was left helpless, unemployed and abandoned by the company he was working for when the accident occurred. Like Schultz, I believe that workers deserve a different relationship to the companies they help to build, one based on trust, mutual care and honesty.  

 These things must be mutual. Trust. Care. Honesty. Respect. Support. Sharing. None of these things can be a one-way street. Lesson three: What kind of company do you want to be? How will you treat your people? How will they treat you, their co-workers, and your clients?  

 As Seth Godin says “People like us do things like this.”  

 Define your culture. Defend your culture.  

 To get clarity on the kind of company you want to be, and how to define and defend your culture while building your team make sure you have your tickets for OSA Live in Manchester happening on 11-13 September. Details here