Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Howard Schultz

Today's hero is Howard Schultz, CEO and founder of the modern-day Starbucks. Starbucks started out in early 1970's Seattle as a coffee roaster and retailer for enthusiasts. Schultz managed to land a marketing job with the company in 1982 after he came across them in his job as an appliance salesman. Schultz was inspired by Italian-style espresso bars and wanted Starbucks to offer coffee drinks, but the company's founders weren't interested. After starting his own chain of cafes, Schultz raised money to buy out the owners of Starbucks and consolidated his stores under the Starbucks name. His concept was, risking understatement, very successful.

Starbucks caught on quickly in the US and internationally. While espresso drinking has long been popular in southern Europe, Latin America, and various urban centers, the emergence of Starbucks has changed popular coffee consumption around the world. First, Starbucks helped to internationalize the espresso. Coffee houses spread from urban to the suburban. From the above-mentioned regions to areas without a coffee tradition. Snobs of every variety like to chide Starbucks for being commoditized and pedestrian, but what they often forget is that Starbucks raised the floor for everyone. Everyday Americans drink better coffee, and more coffee from coffee shops, than they did twenty years ago. The increased interest in espresso has been a boon to the independent coffee shops, but I imagine some of those shops would lose their cachet admitting as much.

Starbucks has been around long enough to experience growing pains as well as over-reach, and Schultz will be the first to say that the chain lost its edge as stores appeared on every corner. But that doesn't matter for this purpose of honoring an innovator. Many commercial chains come and go, but Starbucks has already left a mark worth noting. You don't have to like Starbucks to join me in appreciating Howard Schultz's role in developing coffee culture, particularly in the United States.

Wikipedia Entry
BusinessWeek Profile
Condé Nast Portfolio Profile
Slate.com on Starbucks and Independent Coffee Shops
Starbucks Company History

4 comments:

Clay said...

"First, Starbucks helped to internationalize the espresso."

What does this mean exactly?

"Snobs of every variety like to chide Starbucks for being commoditized and pedestrian, but what they often forget is that Starbucks raised the floor for everyone. Everyday Americans drink better coffee, and more coffee from coffee shops, than they did twenty years ago."

Really.. that's funny.. all the snobs that I hear criticizing them, including myself, are criticizing them for having over-roasted coffee which tastes that way(burnt). I suppose that by installing "super-automatic" espresso makers in their stores that they have 'commoditized' espresso, if by commoditize you mean trading potential upside quality for mediocre consistency.

Having said this, they have certainly created a market for coffee that did not exist before which must be regarded as a good thing. And their acquisition of the Clover company may prove to be a huge boon for brew coffee lovers if they choose to install this stunning bit of technology in some or all of their stores.

David said...

Well perhaps not snobs of every variety, but honestly I've never before heard a quality critique of Starbucks that was not augmented by anti-corporate bias. Usually it's not that their coffee is over-roasted, it's that they're "taking over the world."

I'm not a coffee snob by anyone's definition so I can't judge their quality vs someone else. I do know that I like their coffee, and that millions of other people do too. Because of that, and because the chain was transformative, I consider Mr. Schultz a hero.

Clay said...

It has been my experience that Starbuck's is coffee for people who don't like coffee.

Most of their customers seem to dress their drinks up with so much syrup that they never have to actually taste the coffee.

I tip my hat to Howard Schultz b/c without his contribution many better coffee shops would not have the market to sell in.

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He was a brilliant man who had graduated from the University of Edinburgh, could speak all of the romantic languages, and set up a medical practice

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