Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul {BOOK REVIEW}

Author Background: Howard Schultz is the CEO (or as the company would say “ceo”) of Starbucks. He bought Starbucks in 1988 and helped grow it to become the largest coffeehouse in the world.

Who should add it to their reading list: Anyone interested in leadership, transformational business practices, and organizational culture. (Or anyone who loves coffee and Starbucks, of course!)

The Premise: A true leader, businessman, and innovator, Schultz shares his story of how he returned to Starbucks as ceo in 2008, facing the toughest economic times America has seen in decade, to recreate the Starbucks “experience” and people’s love affair with coffee.

The Cliff Notes

  • Everything matters. Throughout the book, Schultz makes one thing very clear: everything matters. It’s not just the flavor of the coffee. It’s the length of the line and the aroma when you walk in the store. It’s the attitude of the barista. It’s how the coffee is presented. (Did you know that the heightened countertop they put the coffee on is meant to be a stage for your coffee, and your coffee only?) “Starbucks has always cared about what the customer can and cannot see,” he says.
  • Everyone matters — employees, too. Schultz knows what the smartest business leaders know: it’s not all about your customers. It’s about your employees. The happiest employees are the best brand ambassadors and therefore happily serve customer’s needs. Call it what comes around goes around. Call it karma. Call it whatever you want. But, Schultz has cared always about his people in green aprons, offering healthcare for part-time employees even in the economic recession. He demonstrates that treating your employees well eventually percolates through every part of your organization.
  • The Starbucks Experience is personal connection. Despite being a huge, global company with thousands of stores thousands of miles apart, they are about people. And not just people, but a single person. Schultz says that Starbucks is not a coffee company that serves people but a people company that serves coffee.
  • Leaders need to know when to step back.  Schultz loved the company he helped create, and that love could easily blind him. Change was hard. However, in Onward, he recognizes that an outsider’s perspective can be extremely essential to a company’s survival and he knows when to bring an outsider in to help him see the things he can’t.
  • Knowledge breeds passion. It’s why Schultz insists on rigorous education and training programs for all of their “partners” (employees). The more employees know about coffee, the better they are able to talk to customers about the products they serve. 
Quotable Quotes
  • “A well-built brand is the culmination of intangibles that do not directly flow to the revenue or profitability of a company, but contribute to its texture.”
  • “We succeed in creating an experience that comes to life, in large part, because of how we treat our people, how we treat our farmers, our customers, and how we give back to our communities.”
  • “How could one imperfect cup of coffee, one unqualified manager, or one poorly located store matter when millions of cups of coffee were being served in tens of thousands of stores? We forgot that ‘ones’ add up.”
  • “For all the promise of digital media to bring people together, I still believe that the most sincere, lasting powers of human connection comes from looking directly into someone else’s eyes, with no screen in between.”
  • “Innovation…is not only about rethinking products, but also rethinking the nature of relationships.”

This is one book that will inform you, inspire you, and educate you — and is “beach read” worthy!


About Abby Ecker

PR pro and healthy living blogger in the First State
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2 Responses to Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul {BOOK REVIEW}

  1. That sounds like a great read! I wasn’t terribly interested before reading this post, but I’m going to try and get my hands on it.
    Thanks for the breakdown and recommendation!

  2. Pingback: Avoiding Unemployment: Read. | PR and Political Communication Commentary

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