business news in context, analysis with attitude

Last evening's 60 Minutes from CBS News offered a profile of Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz, who gave the program a guided tour of the corporate culture that has created a company with a unique position on the world's business landscape, as well as of the personal history that has brought him to the leadership of the company.

"One of our colleagues coined a phrase a long time ago and said, 'We're not in the business of filling bellies. We're in the business of filling souls,'" Schultz told correspondent Scott Pelley. And, he added, "You might say, 'OK, they're full of crap.' And you know, this is how we feel. We're in the business of human connection and humanity, creating communities in a third place between home and work…But it's not a cult, this is a corporation, it is a for-profit business. But our approach for 30-plus years has been unique and different, not better just different. Not better, just different," Schultz said.

According to Schultz, one of his central priorities - 60 Minutes termed it his "social agenda" – is to make sure that all his employees have access to affordable health care, and he is willing to raise prices on coffee to make sure they do. "They say never to say never," he said, "but I said never" when asked if these benefits ever would be reduced or eliminated.

Some of these feelings can be traced back to Schultz's personal history. He grew up in public housing in Brooklyn, New York, and 60 Minutes took him back to the building where he was raised and dreamed of getting out – dreams that seemed futile when his father was hurt while working.

"This is the hallway I walked down at the age of 7 and opened up that door and saw my father on a couch with a cast," Schultz said. "He broke his leg on the job. He was a delivery driver, picking up and delivering cloth diapers. Terrible job.

"When he fell on the job, he basically was turned loose. He was out of work. There was no hospitalization, no health insurance, no workman's compensation and we were done as a family and I saw the hopelessness, I saw the plight of a working class family, I saw the fracturing of the American dream first hand at the age of 7. That memory scarred me."

And, as Pelley noted in his narration, "Schultz has organized his company around that memory…and now Starbucks spends more on health care than it does on coffee."
KC's View:
The 60 Minutes piece was a terrific one, and it made us wonder how many executives either come from backgrounds where they were raised in public housing and/or allow their attitudes toward things like health care and benefits to shape their current behavior.

Anyone can feed stomachs. But feeding souls? That takes a different kind of dedication. And the really good retailers do that in a way that mediocre retailers never do. The list is familiar but bears repeating – Wegmans, Ukrops, Dorothy Lane, Apple Computer, and, of course, Starbucks. We all know the retailers that speak to our souls and not just to our wallets.

We've never met Howard Schultz (though we have met Starbucks CEO Jim Donald and admire him immensely), but our sense of the guy is that he is someone with a conscience, someone who is trying to do the right thing. He's also got a tiger by the tail, because Starbucks is far more than just a company with a fascinating culture.

And there is something else we like about Schultz: he looks like he is having a helluva time.

We should all be so lucky.