☕ Coffee Journey - Howard

Welcome back to 2022's A- Z / Ultimate Blogging Challenge. Since I'm talking about all things (Starbucks) Coffee, it's only fair I used H for Howard, as in Howard Schultz. 

Some also like to affectionately call him Uncle Howie. 

When I joined Starbucks in January 2004, I was told I was going to be sent to "Immersion" in February. I had no idea what this meant, other than I was going through some orientation program for managers and above. It included a trip to Seattle, that was reason enough for me to be looking forward to it.

Had I known what was expecting me, I would have been even more excited. 

I arrived on a rainy Saturday evening after flying via Copenhagen, Denmark for a total of 12 hours, so to say I was exhausted would be an understatement. I was hungry, too, because I had experienced the worst airplane food ever. Add to that the nine hours' time difference, so I arrived at 7pm local time, and my body thought it was 4am the next morning. It took a while until the hotel shuttle picked me up, and when I was done checking in, all I wanted was to collapse on a nice warm bed.

On said bed there was a brown paper bag waiting for me. 

What could that be?

It was a goodie bag full of nice things: A hand written note from Gina, welcoming me and asking me to be ready for pickup on Monday at (insert time), a bag of whole beans (they smelled so delicious), bottled water and what was going to become my favourite Starbucks treat: chocolate covered cherries! 

Gina, as I was going to learn, was the most important person looking after us everywhere we went. She was the immersion program coordinator and our tour guide for the week. 


Yes, I wasn't alone. We were a group of about a dozen people from the Asian/Pacific and European markets who had recently joined the company and needed to learn everything about the Starbucks world, its culture and its coffee. Gina did a fantastic job facilitating exactly that. 

We got to visit many coffeeshops, also competitors', and we learned how to properly cup and taste a coffee and describe aroma, acidity, body and flavor.

Have I mentioned I joined Starbucks as a non-coffee drinker? My fears prior to my first job interview is a story for another day, but yes, it's true. I loved the smell and the social aspect about having coffee but not the beverage that had been served to me as coffee.

I quickly found out why and learned to appreciate my dark roast varieties :-)

Speaking of roast, part of our week was visiting the roasting plant in Kent, WA. What an experience this was!

In this post let's focus on Howard though.

During my looong flight I was reading his first (of what was going to become four) book "Pour your heart into it", in which he described his journey. He grew up a poor jewish boy in Brooklyn whose Dad, a WW II veteran, got injured in his job as a truck driver, lost his job over it, and as a result, the family found themselves without an income and healthcare. 

Young Howard was only seven years old when this happened, but he said to himself "how can this be, this isn't right?" 

So he grew up to become Starbucks' boss - more about his journey later in this blog series - , created generous benefits for his employees he considers partners, supported coffee farmers, made tons of money in the process and lived happily ever after.

When I got to meet him for the first time in 2004, I imagined him exactly that: a busy corporate leader. 

At the time he had stepped down as CEO and assumed a role in international business development, which was taking care of us!

At the time there were about 8,500 stores in 34 countries - a pretty impressive empire.

Cleary he must have had more important things to do than to have coffee with a few new hires? If he even showed up, he'd probably get a phone call urging him to take care of important business.

I was wrong. 

Not only did Howie show up, he shook hands, sat down, shared a cup of coffee and answered our questions, I think he even posed for pictures with some of us. Remember there were no smart phones yet, you needed to have an actual camera with you.

Most importantly, he was a person like you and me. I perceived him as super down to earth, humble, almost shy, and he interacted with us as if it was an honor to meet us. 

Well, after spending some time in this wonderful, fuzzy and warm bubble that Starbucks Seattle was, I realized that he was probably thanking us in advance for the super hard job that was expecting us in our new and struggling markets!

I was mentioning store tours we took throughout the Seattle area. Of course we went to Pike Place, the one that is celebrated to be the first Starbucks store, and we went to a number of different stores that were relevant for us to get to know, like a typical financial district store, a mall store, a hotel lobby store, a drive thru store, you get the picture. 

Our bus also took us to a posh neighborhood called Madison Park. What was the purpose of that trip? 

"Howard lives here" Gina told us. 

Oh cool, do we get to see his house?

"No, we're just going to the store and meet Martin, the manager. He's got something to tell you."

This was Martin's story:

One morning before 6am, I came to the store and noticed I was the first one. A coworker was scheduled to join me for the opening. 

Opening tasks at Starbucks include receiving goods that may have been delivered earlier, stock the pantry and fridge, fill the pastry case, turn on equipment like the espresso machine and the oven, brew drip coffee, put change into the cash register, take the chairs off the table, and many more.

That morning, the second person did not show up, and I could not reach them. Who showed up, however, were the first guests. 

Photo Credit: Well Naves

Martin was working his butt off to serve them, but he only had two hands, and the lines of coffee seeking customers grew longer and longer. 

Among these guests was Howard Schultz, on his way to work.

Now in a regular company, this would have triggered even more stress. 

OMG, I'm gonna get fired. I'm incompetent, I'm disorganized, I'm not efficient enough, I'm a bad leader because my team members don't come to work. At the very least I'm gonna get written up or demoted.

Howard observed the situation for a moment, then he took off his jacket, approached Martin and said 

"You're alone, huh? Let me help, what do you need me to do?"

Martin was too desperate to argue or reject the offer. He gladly accepted the helping hands and instructed Howard to (insert tasks) until the other team members arrived.

I love that story, and I often remembered it when I came into a store in my own market that looked chaotic and understaffed, and I would usually ask for a lobby tray and clear tables. Y'all know I'm useless as a barista, but I can at least make sure the tables look accommodating. 

That way I hoped to carry on a tiny piece of Howard's legacy.

He was going to visit Switzerland a handful of times over the course of my tenure, and it was always kind of magical having him around. 

I was lucky enough to attend the worldwide leadership conference in Seattle twice. In his speeches or workshops I would always soak up his message and try and implement it back home. 

2008, during the financial crisis that also hit Starbucks, he returned as CEO and had to take some tough decisions that included closing stores and letting go partners. He wrote about it in his seconds book Onwards, and upon reading it, you can tell he didn't take it lightly. 

One of the notable actions he took was to close all Starbucks stores in the U.S. for a couple of hours in order to retrain and re-instill coffee passion into partners. 

He had been feeling that SBUX had lost its touch for a while, and he told his team in a memo that was later leaked:

Howard stayed on as CEO until December 2016, and in June 2018, he announced to retire from active management altogether. One of his projects was to consider running for president. I am actually sad he ended up not doing so. Just imagine every guest at his inauguration holding a Starbucks cup. ;-)

So interestingly, however, not surprisingly, as the pandemic is winding down, and the economic consequences are being painfully felt, who has been stepping up yet again to try and save the day just last month?


While critics claim one of his motives to return was to prevent Starbucks from getting "unionized", I believe he'll do good. 

Speaking of... Did you know he and his wife Sheri co-founded the Schultz Family Foundation to support charitable organizations in the area of young adults, veterans, and COVID response?

Thank you for bearing with me for over a week! I hope you're having a wonderful weekend. Enjoy your coffee knowing what goes into making a delicious cup of coffee!

PS: Read about what Howard and his fellow executives used to do to entertain and delight us when it comes to the letter Y.


  1. Omg! That was a great story/stories...now i understand ur coffeee passion properly. I didn't kno prior! Howard seems like gem of a guy. An actual leader is some one who leads by example. He seems to be the one....felt good to read and know the details of s bucks

    Good day
    Dropping by from a to z http://afshan-shaik.blogspot.com/

  2. What an amazing trip! You have so many cool opportunities! One of these days hope to make it to your side of the world!

  3. Sounds like you had a wonderful time during your Starbucks tenure, Tamara! It's rare to have such a caring, hands-on CEO. Do you miss working there?

  4. What an awesome blog and so interesting! I especially love your goodie bag that was waiting for you!

  5. That's a great story. Usually the higher ups will just complain about the lack of staff. I did not have a good experience with a corporate retail job (not Starbucks).

  6. Loved everything about this story - heartwarming, beautifully told, and hits all the right spots.
    It is so very wonderful to know that leaders like Howard do exist...

  7. That's great that you have such fond memories of your experiences meeting him. What a wonderful trip. Weekends In Maine

  8. Tamara, this post was such an enjoyable read for me for many reasons. Thank you for writing it. You may not like it, but I've never been a Starbucks fan--somehow my socialist spirit felt uncomfortable about this 'privileged' hangout (based purely on images I've seen on TV etc--never bothered to read up and find out--my bad)--but after reading about Howard Schultz, thanks to you, I stand corrected about my prejudice.
    In fact, I visited Pike Place last year and refused to stand in line to pay homage to the first Starbucks! This is why I like these blogging challenges. Reading posts such as these open us up to our blind spots. Hope to read about your job- interview as a non-coffee drinker, one day soon. Enjoy your Sunday:)

  9. Interesting story. I remember reading that he had interest in becoming President.

  10. Love this...miss the Starbucks Campaign so much.


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