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The Midweek Motivator – About Face

In late 2007 global companies were watching a developing crisis. Sitting in a hotel room in Hawaii ostensibly on a family vacation, the cold arithmetic was undeniable. Howard Schultz found it difficult to fathom what he was seeing. Negative daily comps (daily sales figures compared to the same date for the previous year) were in double-digits. Schultz stared at the truth: incredibly, Starbucks sales were in free fall. 

Just days before 2007 melted into 2008, only a handful of people knew Schultz would return as Starbucks’ CEO, a position he had vacated eight years earlier. Drafted by his board, Schultz knew it would now be his crisis in a desperate a time of economic disequilibrium. In the pre-dawn hours of 7 January 2008, sparing his global partners orotund rhetoric, Howard Schultz scripted the following: 

If you’re really honest with yourself, as I have tried to be with myself, along the way in building the company, there has been something we have lost. And it’s no one’s fault and there’s no punishment or blame. We are what we are…but the question is, what are we going to do about it and how are we going to fix it?

In the blur of days that followed, Schultz went against company tradition hiring strategic consultants SY Partners to help his team see what they couldn’t see. In their initial meeting Beatles posters were spread out everywhere as a prelude to SY Partners’ opening question:

What did John, Paul, George and Ringo do about the art of reinvention? Responses flowed:”The band took risks,” “they took us on a journey when the world needed cultural leaders,” “they didn’t compromise,” and “they believed.” If you believe, you can change anything. 

Howard Schultz Starbucks’ team turned to iconic behavior; Nike, Gucci, and Apple as examples. Then they began to sculpt a short list of parallels to inspirit Starbuck’s own challenges: 

Icons make sense of the tension of the times, offering hope and mending a culture in turmoil much as the Beatles did in their generation. 

Icons don’t confuse history with heritage, and always protect and project their values. 

Icons disrupt themselves before others disrupt them. 

Enduring icons are willing to sacrifice near-term popularity for longer-term relevance. 

This profound inventory could not be accomplished in a few meetings or even a few months but Starbucks had already begun their turnaround process, involving thousands of partners in thousands of stores around the world.  

Schultz roared back with a passion and a plan as described in his outstanding book, Onward.

And in the course of two years, even in the face of internal strife, painful revelations and a worsening economy,

Starbucks accomplished their historic return to the highly profitable growth we see today. 

Be it Starbucks or Media, sometimes it’s not enough to “do your best.” You have to do what’s required.