Onward is a memoir written by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz about how the company recalibrated itself after getting too big too fast. I have incredibly mixed opinions about the coffee company. On one hand, I resent the fact that many of their products epitomize the excesses of American culture. After I went to Haiti last year and witnessed its poverty, I vowed never to purchase a beverage from Starbucks again. I have held true to that promise and have only bought their drinks through a gift card I was given by one of my clients. (I can’t pick on Starbucks too much because I’ve wasted money on other luxury items since returning from Haiti.) On the flip side I recognize and appreciate Starbucks efforts to conduct its business in sustainable ways that have set the bar high for the food service industry (even if it has run mom and pop coffee shops out of business in the process). The point is that Starbucks has found ways to do things efficiently without sacrificing quality which I commend.
Onward explores Starbucks’ efforts to achieve that balance between efficiency and quality after realizing how its rapid expansion that characterized the 1990’s and most of the 2000’s was not as brilliant as they previously thought. It starts with Schultz recounting the period between 2006 and 2008 when Starbucks stock plummeted and came to rest embarrassingly short of investor expectations. Schultz would then step back into the CEO role he left a number of years ago to focus on his role as chairman.
Howard Schultz then reflects on the weeks and months that followed his return including the skepticism, anger, and pain that came with trying to guide the company on the path to regaining its true identity. The book is littered with stories of the individual pieces that were put together to help rebuild the brand. These stories, such as the time in 2008 when Starbucks closed every single one of its North American stores to retrain employees in making espresso or the time when Starbucks instant coffee, VIA was launched, provide interesting insights into just how difficult running a global company can be.
Although I am sure there are people out there who would say that the book is a lie and Howard Schultz is a piece of you-know-what, I think its informative and educational enough to be a good read for people interested in leadership and business. Schultz has certainly done quite well for himself and Starbucks has emerged from its difficulties quite nicely, so I wouldn’t discredit this memoir in the least. Pick up a copy for yourself if your a non-fiction, business book junkie like me or just a Starbucks super fan.
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