An inspiring letter from Starbucks’ Howard Shultz on race in Amercia

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Everyone in marketing talks about brand purpose. The role of brand purpose only becomes powerful when are you prepared to make decisions that stand by your purpose. Today’s letter from Howard Shultz is a great example of standing for what you believe in. He speaks very honestly about what he wanted Starbucks to be, where it fell short, and what he sees its role in race relations in America.

When the incidents at the Starbucks in Philadelphia took place, I’m sure it shocked a lot of people. It was wrong. It seemed against the values of Starbucks. I kept thinking how many times I’ve sat in a Starbucks waiting for a friend. It’s only natural not to order, until your friend gets there. Especially, if it is a business meeting. I thought the CEO did a great job in flying across the country to meet face-to-face with the two gentlemen.

Here is the full letter from Howard Shultz to customers of Starbucks

This afternoon Starbucks will close more than 8,000 stores and begin a new chapter in our history.

In 1983 I took my first trip to Italy. As I walked the streets of Milan, I saw cafés and espresso bars on every street. When I ventured inside I experienced something powerful: a sense of community and human connection.

I returned home determined to create a similar experience in America—a new “third place” between home and work—and build a different kind of company. I wanted our stores to be comfortable, safe spaces where everyone had the opportunity to enjoy a coffee, sit, read, write, host a meeting, date, debate, discuss or just relax.

Today 100 million customers enter Starbucks® stores each week. In an ever-changing society, we still aspire to be a place where everyone feels welcome.

Sometimes, however, we fall short, disappointing ourselves and all of you.

Recently, a Starbucks manager in Philadelphia called the police a few minutes after two black men arrived at a store and sat waiting for a friend. They had not yet purchased anything when the police were called. After police arrived they arrested the two men. The situation was reprehensible and does not represent our company’s mission and enduring values.

After investigating what happened, we determined that insufficient support and training, a company policy that defined customers as paying patrons—versus anyone who enters a store—and bias led to the decision to call the police. Our ceo, Kevin Johnson, met with the two men to express our deepest apologies, reconcile and commit to ongoing actions to reaffirm our guiding principles.

The incident has prompted us to reflect more deeply on all forms of bias, the role of our stores in communities and our responsibility to ensure that nothing like this happens again at Starbucks. The reflection has led to a long-term commitment to reform systemwide policies, while elevating inclusion and equity in all we do.

Today we take another step to ensure we live up to our mission:

FOR SEVERAL HOURS THIS AFTERNOON, STARBUCKS WILL CLOSE STORES AND OFFICES TO DISCUSS HOW TO MAKE STARBUCKS A PLACE WHERE ALL PEOPLE FEEL WELCOME.

What will we be doing? More than 175,000 Starbucks partners (that’s what we call our employees) will be sharing life experiences, hearing from others, listening to experts, reflecting on the realities of bias in our society and talking about how all of us create public spaces where everyone feels like they belong—because they do. This conversation will continue at our company and become part of how we train all of our partners.

Discussing racism and discrimination is not easy, and various people have helped us create a learning experience that we hope will be educational, participatory and make us a better company. We want this to be an open and honest conversation starting with our partners. We will also make the curriculum available to the public.

To our Starbucks partners: I want to thank you for your participation today and for the wonderful work you do every day to make Starbucks a third place for millions of customers.

To our customers: I want to thank you for your patience and support as we renew our promise to make Starbucks what I envisioned it could be nearly 40 years ago—an inclusive gathering place for all.

We’ll see you tomorrow.

With deep respect,

Howard

 

 

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Graham Robertson

Graham spent 20 years in Brand Management leading some of the world’s most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, General Mills and Coke, rising up to VP Marketing. In his career, he has won numerous Advertising, Innovation and Leadership awards. Graham played a major role in helping J&J win Marketing Magazine’s prestigious “Marketer of the Year” award. Graham brings a reputation for challenging brand leaders to think differently and to be more strategically focused. Graham founded Beloved Brands in 2010, to help brands find growth and make brand leaders smarter. He leads workshops to help define your Brand Positioning, build your brand’s Big Idea, and write strategic Brand Plans that motivate and focus everyone that works on the brand. Our Beloved Brands training programs will help your team, produce exceptionally smart work work that drives stronger brand growth and profits. We cover everything a brand leader needs to know including strategic thinking, planning, positioning, execution and analytics. Our robust client roster has included the NFL Players Association, Reebok, the NBA, Acura, Shell, Miller Lite, 3M, Jack Link’s and Pfizer. His weekly brand stories have generated over 5 million views.

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