Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul by Howard Schultz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It was eight years after the founder of Starbucks Howard Schultz had resigned from the position of CEO when the company that he had sown with the wind and reaped in whirlwind was at stake amid the catalytic financial crisis in 2008. The perilous state of Starbucks called for its creator’s return to take the helm of a distressed ship on the verge of sinking into the abyss of obscurity with all its hopeful expectations, respectful achievements, not to speak of all of its shipmates from the management down to the store employees. Schultz could not let all of it happen. He accepted the calling in the capacity of CEO to save the ship and continued sailing onward, which forms the basis of this book.
What might be considered as an autobiography of a business tycoon at first blush of the title of the book will lead the reader to an interesting peek-a-boo of a successful enterprise that is armed to the teeth with its unique philosophy of practicality and idealism rooted in operational rigor and accountability striving for a healthy balance of profit and social conscience to provide customers with prime quality coffee proprietary to the brand. Schultz’s ambition to perfect the art of making fine espresso as the company’s distinguishing attitudinal value of coffee-making from the competitors is akin to that of craftsmanship of a seasoned artisan of a medieval guild. For example, in the afternoon of one Tuesday in February 2008, Schultz closed all of the US stores to improve the making of espresso because pouring espresso was something of an art, and therefore required a barista to attend to the quality of the beverage even though it meant the huge loss of profits for closing the stores just for one day. To Schultz, taking the ordinary to elevate it to an art also relates to a business principle of putting the sincerest endeavors to the foundation and innovation of the company; it is a right way to win as he believes, “Coffee can’t lie,” which is also reminiscent of what Theodore Roosevelt commented on his favorite coffee as being “good to the last drop.”
In addition, Schultz offers many more interesting tidbits of the company without disclosing its trade secrets in an informative way: That Starbucks is company-owned and not franchised is something new to learn. Unlike William Rosenberg, the founder of Dunkin’ Donuts, who was a fervent believer of a franchise, Schultz adamantly opposes the idea of franchising Starbucks because ceding ownership of stores to individuals will most likely to mar the enterprising spirit of the company and loosen the cohesiveness of esprit de corps, let alone the principles of providing a customer with the best quality beverage in a social yet personal environment between one’s house and job. Besides, the company’s provision of full health care benefits to all employees, ranging from the corporate heads to part-time attendants in stores points to the veracity of Schultz fostering of social conscience in the course of making profits, withal.
Onward is a testament to the steadfast adherence to cardinal principles of playing a good clean competition in a business world without becoming a tainted soul. That is, achieving success in promoting its entrepreneurial profit growth and humanistic idealism is all over but the shouting. It might make the reader wonder if Schultz has heard the adage of Ralph Waldo Emerson during his lecture to the audience in the height of the Lyceum Movement: “Knowledge, plus moral character, promotes business success.” All in all, Schultz’s touchy-feely narrative surprisingly devoid of self-aggrandizement or ostentatious display of his lifetime achievement, relates a tale of a man whose ambitious but admirable philosophy of entrepreneurship rigorously kept against the insurmountable odds with the heart of a man responsible for his legion of employees and their families appertains to the reader in one way or another. Upon reading the book, the reader will feel a bit privy to his/her regular Starbucks on a next visit in a nice sort of way.