Message from Howard: Looking Back to Look Forward
Over the last few weeks some of my peers have reminded me that Tuesday, September 4, marks my 30th year with Starbucks Coffee Company. I've been asked if Starbucks should celebrate this milestone in some way, and while I do not think that’s necessary, I do see this moment as an opportunity to reach out to you, my partners at Starbucks, and say thank you. I am well aware that I wouldn’t be here today if it was not for all that you, and those who came before all of us, accomplished.
I was only 29 when I walked into the roasting plant on Airport Way (which also served as the company’s office) on my first day at Starbucks in 1982. I was in awe of the passion and commitment of the small group of people building the foundation of the Starbucks we know today. At the time, there were only four stores selling whole bean coffee, tea, and spices, and everyone was getting ready to open store number five, with a few wondering if they were being too ambitious.
Then as now, the company was driven by uncompromising standards of quality and a set of guiding principles that we were determined to maintain, values that have stayed intact, serving us well for 40-plus years.
Although we often track Starbucks history by store count, there are other milestones along our journey that really speak to our evolution as a company, and to who we are at our core. As you know, we became one of the few companies in America to provide comprehensive health care and stock options (Bean Stock) to all of our employees, including part-time workers, making us “partners” because our success was truly shared. Yet I don’t know if, back then, anyone honestly imagined the magnitude of people this would so positively affect. Thus far in 2012 alone, Starbucks partners have benefited by a record total of more than $200 million in realized gains from Bean Stock—another milestone that is truly among the most gratifying of my career.
As I write this letter to you, I can feel the emotion welling up inside of me as I am reminded of just what it’s taken for us to achieve the position that Starbucks has in the world. Over the years we’ve been through a lot, celebrations as well as challenges, and for a time nothing short of a crucible, when our very existence was threatened. These more painful milestones are humbling, but make me no less proud because we learned from our errors and worked together to find a way forward.
Whenever we question ourselves, or others question us, we dig deep inside our hearts and minds for answers, ultimately embracing three things that have long defined who we are, and what we stand for: the quality of our people, the quality of our coffee, and our responsibility to the communities we serve. Proof of our resurgence always comes in the exceptional experience we create in our stores, and the unsurpassed quality and consistency of what is in the cup. Those measures of our success are as true today as they were when Pike Place first opened in 1971. When we stay true to our values, pride and growth follow.
Many people ask me what I think Starbucks will look like 10 to 20 years, and I tell them without doubt that Starbucks will ALWAYS be a coffee company, committed to ethically sourcing and roasting the finest arabica coffees in the world. But I also know, because history tells me so, that there will be degrees of success that we cannot even imagine today, triumphs that will come about because we continue to maintain our entrepreneurial DNA.
It’s been said that “the best way to create the future is to invent it,” which is why we must continue to push for innovations that reflect and support our core values. Coffee, tea, food, juice, partner benefits, health and wellness, digital and social media, mobile commerce, serving and speaking up for our communities—these are just some of the areas where we will continue to concentrate our energies. And just as we have entered new countries, at times amid skepticism, we will continue to welcome new businesses into ours via strategic acquisitions that will provide synergies as well as new opportunities. And, yes, there will be some mistakes. But there will never be a day when we look to the future without looking back on the heritage that built one of the most recognized and respected brands in the world.
When I ask myself if we are overreaching, I go back to this notion: coffee is our core, but Starbucks has always been about so much more. We have the responsibility as well as the authority to keep that tradition alive, to build a company with a conscience, always attempting to make decisions through the lens of humanity. I am unbelievably proud that we remain committed to living up to a promise that I made three decades ago, trying every day to achieve the fragile balance between profitability and benevolence. We do not always succeed to the degree we all wish, but we will never abandon the effort.
I send you this letter not to celebrate an individual milestone. I send you this letter to share that milestone with you, honoring all that we have accomplished together. You, and those who came before us, have already made history. Yet we are far from finished. I promise you, unequivocally, that the best is yet to come. Ours is not an easy task, our success is not an entitlement. We must and will earn it every day if we put our customers at the center of all that we do and if we lead with empathy for our fellow partners, because when we exceed each others’ expectations we will exceed the expectations of our customers.
As we close out yet another fiscal year, I have such high hopes for the next, highlighted by this holiday season. It will take our collective efforts to continue to achieve the greatness that Starbucks has experienced in the past—and, in turn, for all of us to achieve the dreams we have for ourselves and for our families. I urge you to keep believing in your own dreams, and please, do not let anyone tell you they cannot come true.
Thank you for allowing me to pursue my dreams, and for creating a company that we all can be proud to call our own.
With great respect and admiration,