Starbucks: A people’s business serving coffee

Scritto da il 28 Febbraio 2017

In the past few days, Starbucks has been the hot topic all over Italian media. One could think it was because of their decision to open a store in Italy, therefore posing a huge threat for local businesses. In such case, think again! Unfortunately, as a professor of mine would say, “all this blabla” revolved around the controversial garden in Piazza Duomo.
So relevant was the issue that politicians got engaged and even hashtags, and funny – kind of – terms were invented, such as “Milangeles”. Well, at least we got the creativity going!


However, this article is neither meant to defend nor criticize the garden gifting, rather to uncover the story that no media is talking about: a business is not just a business, Starbucks is not just a bunch of palms in Piazza Duomo. What we see, is just part of the story.


In February 27th, the Starbucks genius Howard Schultz held a conference (“A coffee with Howard Schultz”) at Bocconi University.
Speaking in front of a crowd of graduate students ready to hear his success story, as Leonardo di Caprio did in his Oscar acceptance speech, Shultz dedicated his 2 hours to something greater than success: responsibility. Indeed, a successful business model balances profit (hence, shareholder value) and benevolence (social impact).


While trying to stress the importance of the latter, he brings up anecdotes from his own life experience, and how this reflected also to his business dimension. He mentions (most of) the programs that his company has started and supported, such as: comprehensive life insurance for its employees; equity in the form of stock options which created an opportunity for everyone to become a shareholder; raising money for small businesses which couldn’t access it from banks; the “race together” campaign as a response to rising racism in America, and others, relating each one of them to a specific moment in history.
He talks about the world we currently live in, pointing out that we cannot rely on government for social responsibility. Then, quoting the speech by Robert Kennedy in Indianapolis, which focused on compassion, empathy and love, he defines the role that every single individual should play at the world stage at this point in time where the rules of responsibility have changed:
“This is not a time for indifference, you should all stand up for what you believe in. Build bridges and embrace our differences. Be mindful about the world you are living in, be up-standers, make a difference.”
All this led to the final statement that social responsibility must be an individual duty.


His speech works as a valuable lesson to every student walking out of a university’s doors and entering the real world. As he frequently says, profit is not the sole scope a business. The secret for success lies in the understanding of community, in the establishment of a culture of inclusion which aims at embracing diversity. “As a manager, not every decision is an economic one. Despite being bounded to financial performance, leadership is not about convenience. True leadership is about how you respond to hard times.

Ana Radi





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