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May 2011
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TD Magazine

Honing Your Craft

"Let's do it." That was the reaction of Howard Schultz, chairman, president, and CEO of Starbucks, to the recommendation that the company close all of its U.S. stores - at the same time for several hours - to quickly retrain 135,000 baristas on how to pour the perfect shot of espresso.

If you're a regular Starbucks customer or looked at the headlines, you may remember that Tuesday afternoon in February 2008. A note posted on the doors of 7,100 U.S. stores said: "We're taking time to perfect our espresso. Great espresso requires practice. That's why we're dedicating ourselves to honing our craft."

As Schultz recounts in Onward, no retailer had ever made such a bold move. Despite losing $6 million in sales and labor costs, competitors' attempts to poach customers, and plenty of criticism, he said he knew it was the right decision: "How could it be wrong to invest in our people?"

Onward details Schultz's quest to build what he calls a "great, enduring company which has always meant to strike a balance between profit and social conscience." From the company's humble beginning in 1971 with a single store in Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle to where it is today - $10 billion in revenue with 17,000 stores in more than 50 countries - Onward provides an inside view of the difficult decisions and leadership transformation that were necessary to turn around a company in crisis.

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One of these decisions was to close 600 stores, a move that sent critics, customers, partners (Starbucks employees are referred to as partners), and the media into a tailspin. The combination of economic turmoil and inadequate store operations resulted in the company's continued state of decline. Following layoffs and massive pressure to dramatically slash costs - even suggestions of selling the company - Schultz knew he had to communicate and inspire confidence, resolve, and focus.

Schultz realized he must surround himself with "strong talent who would bring in new ideas, and with courage, challenge the old as well as challenge me." In making changes to the ranks

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of his leadership team, Schultz's goal was to find individuals whose accomplishments were matched by their values, with a strong sense of the company's culture.

Throughout this book, readers get a very intimate look at the conviction that drives leaders, the resiliency of employees, the passion that customers feel about a brand, and the global community that one brand can inspire. Whether or not you are a coffee lover or have a fondness for the Starbucks experience, Onward details tremendous leadership lessons from which everyone can learn.

I give this book four tall skim lattes - a favorite order of mine.

About the Author

Jennifer joined ATD in 1999 to lead the Public Relations function. Jennifer continues to lead communication efforts to members and customers, the media, and public policy makers. She also leads ATD’s awards programs and governance functions. In her volunteer work, Jennifer served a two-year term on the executive board of directors for the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and was president of the IABC Washington, D.C. chapter. She holds IABC’s Accredited Business Communicator credential. Jennifer was an adjunct professor at Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland where she taught Public Relations Writing in 2009.  

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