What Starbucks did for New Orleans…

Currently, I’m reading “Onward” by Howard Schultz with Joanne Gordon.  This book is (mostly) about how Mr. Schultz ended up back in the position of CEO of Starbucks and is an account of all the many initiatives, changes, etc. that he had to lead Starbucks through to bring the company that had become obsessed with rampant growth through massive cuts and tough years of declining sales, even periods of monetary loss, back to its core values and profitability.

Traditionally, Starbucks holds its leadership conference in Seattle, its home, but in 2008, they took it on the road…to New Orleans…a city that was still trying to recover from hurricane Katrina, a city that represented, to a certain extent, Starbucks struggle to course correct, rebuild itself, and get back to focus on what mattered:  providing the perfect cup of coffee every time and helping build and foster a sense of community in each store.

I am a huge fan of Starbucks and Howard Schultz.  I’ve told my wife that if we strike it rich, I’m going to work for Starbucks.  I think she thinks I’m kidding.  😉

Excerpt from Onward:

“Each day of the conference, from Monday through Thursday, about 2,000 partners joined one of six organizations for five hours to do whatever needed doing in New Orleans.  In City Park–a 1,300-acre public sanctuary that had suffered millions of dollars in landscaping damages from Katrina and had to reduce its 260-person staff to just more than 30–our partners planted 6,500 plugs of coastal grasses, installed 10 picnic tables, and laid four dump truck load of mulch.  At Tad Gormley Stadium, a popular venue for high school football games, partners scraped and painted 1,296 steps, 12 entrance ramps, hundreds of yards of railing, and a half-mile-long fence.  In the Gentilly neighborhood, two playgrounds were constructed.  In Broadmoor, 22 city blocks of street and storm drains were cleaned.  In Hollygrove, partners did construction and leveled dirt for New Orleans’ first urban farm.  We collaborated with the Crescent City Art Project to paint, in one day, 1,350 murals at 25 public school grounds, and with Hike for KaTREEna, we planted 1,040 trees.

“I spent my volunteer hours helping more than a dozen store managers whom I’d never met paint a house, one of the 86 homes our volunteers repaired that week so families could move back in after three years of displacement.  While there was laughter and a sense of camaraderie as we climbed ladders, painted front stoops, and caulked and raked and planted and dug and drilled and sawed and hammered and fixed doors and laid down floors, there was also a heartwrenching pang.  Many of us spent time talking with men and women who had lived through Katrina, and we heard stories of not only individual sacrifice and loss, but also of neighbors taking care of neighbors.  The power of community was so evident in New Orleans, and when people’s appreciation of out efforts was tough for them to put into words or a smile was not enough, they expressed themselves with quiet tears or a hug.  Incredibly emotional.

“‘When you give up,’ said a slim older man whose home we rebuilt, ‘you might as well lay down and die.’  It was obvious that we weren’t just giving people back their homes, but also restoring a sense of dignity.  No doubt, our community contribution reinforced what it meant to work for Starbucks, and I knew that the experience would be difficult to adequately describe to people who were unable to attend.”

Here’s a short version (about 6 minutes) of a 20 minute video that shows some of what happened at the 2008 Leadership Conference

Here’s the link to the (approx.) 20 minute highlight video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBop1BuWqRU


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