Nov 3, 2010

How a poor kid became famous business leader - CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz saves my day

I admit, I am a sucker for stories about people who were at disadvantage/underdogs/broke/broken/poor/had difficulty/were disrespected /were –‘’nobodies’’/did not have rich dad but achieved something in life, let alone - legendary success.

At the same time, I am hesitant to label certain people ‘’successful’’, as it might sound the rest of us aren’t, and frankly just staying normal, happy, doing anything, not giving up on life nowadays seems like success to me.

Still, I can’t help but get inspired by story of a poor kid from Brooklyn who built a company employing 200 000 people, and became one of the world’s great leaders.

These are stories that can make me cry, and seem more romantic than Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella together. If these are kind of things that interest you continue reading as I am taking a close look at what inspired and helped poor kid beat all the odds of being where he is today. He also said, ‘’my chances of being here today were one in trillion’’.

I can’t stop my curiosity not only from management consultant’s or leadership coach’s perspective, but from human perspective. Isn’t it fun to know where these people are coming from, what their values are, what drives them to do what they do, how they do it, what they consider instrumental for their success, and what management style and leadership they demonstrate?

I can’t help looking for examples of what worked for them and what of that, if anything, we can make work for us.

‘’I never imagined to build a company employing 200 000 people, working in 66 000 stores, in 44 countries.’’ Schultz said in his interview with UCLA Dean in 2008., I watched again today.

From this, and recent interview in New York Times I tried to learn what drove him to create a company, insisting on values that became foundation of a famous company culture - from the day one.

Howard Schultz grew up as a poor kid in Federal subsidized housing in Brooklyn. His dad was earning hardly 20 000 USD a year as a truck driver.

Schultz’s first job was a paper route at the age of 10. He later had every kind of job you can imagine as a young kid.

In high school, he would take subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan (after school) and worked for his friend’s family - stretching fox skin with his hands.

‘’It just teaches you at a young age what it takes to make money.’’ said Schultz. Oh.My.God.

He also worked for garment company in Queens. He described that job in New York Times.

‘’It must have been 100 degrees in the summer, and I was steaming curtains. There was no air-conditioning. It was death, just death, but it was the only job I could get.’’

(Do you still think your job is awful?)

At the age of 7 he came home and his father was spread on the couch with a cast from hip to his ankle. As a delivery driver, he fell on ice, broke hip and ankle, and was out of work and the whole family was left without help or benefits.

This early experiences influenced him and his leadership style and company values so-called company culture.

‘’My experience as a young child and growing up in Brooklyn, where my dreams were beyond my station in life, made me want to build a different kind of company that perhaps my father never got a chance to work for. It came from seeing firsthand that if you were not a highly educated or a very successful person — that perhaps as a blue-collar worker or lower-middle-class person, as my parents were — that the work environment didn’t treat you with a level of respect.’’ Schultz explained.

In 1991. Starbucks became first company who gave health benefits and stock options to part time employees.

Here is what Schultz said to New York Times reporter when asked what other lessons he has learned over the course of his life that have shaped the way he leads:

‘’I was insecure about being a poor kid, but with that came tremendous motivation and a sense of values and sensitivity about those people who didn’t get respect and had low self-esteem because of that.

So in the early days of Starbucks, my office was in the roasting plant. And I ended every day by walking the plant floor and thanking people who were the unsung heroes of the company. For many people, that demonstrated that I wasn’t sitting in some ivory tower. I was one of them. And I think the leadership style I have is that I’ve never put myself above anyone else, and I’ve never asked more of anyone than I was willing to do myself.’’

Don’t know about you but for me this is poetry. Although I had a very bad day when nothing seemed to work for me, reading and thinking about this made me get over it, and do more things today than I could imagine or felt like.

I thought, ‘’When a poor kid from Brooklyn (without business degree) can build 20 billion market cap company, what is my excuse of not doing my best today?’’

In the next blog posts I will discuss importance of good leadership teams and HR, insecurities of CEO’s, hiring practices of Howard Schultz, and I will throw in some of his advice for young entrepreneurs.

I am looking forward to know what drives and motivate you to succeed, and what values are most important to you, so you have to base everything you do on them. What makes you give your best?


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