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Reputation Musings: Daddy Starbucks


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Written by: John Gilfeather

I’m a tea drinker, so the whole Starbucks experience is a bit of a mystery to me.  I have never learned SSL (Starbucks as a Second Language) and I still ask for a small or medium tea, because I don’t know the difference between tall and grande.  The only concession I’ve made to SSL is to order Awake tea in the morning because, if you ask for black tea or breakfast tea, you are likely to get Earl Grey – which, to me, is an afternoon tea. (I can be as fussy as the coffee drinkers.) 

Starbucks also does a good job with muffins and scones, although it is best not to look at the nutritional information on the scones.  Like spaghetti carbonara, blueberry scones are a once a year indulgence.

Although I am not a frequent Starbucks customer, I am an avid Starbucks fan because Howard Schultz, founder and CEO, is very smart as a marketer and as an employer.  The latest evidence is in this article in the Atlantic, which Lilah Koski shared with me. 

To make a (very long) story short, Starbucks and the Arizona State University have created a program to help Starbucks employees finish college.  Schultz realizes than being a barista is not a lifelong ambition.  Through solid research among his employees, he discovered that many had started college, but most had not – for a multitude of reasons – been able to finish.  The program offers discounts for employees to get started or continue in college and provides free tuition for the final two years.

And there is ample financial and educational counseling available, along with learning coaches, to provide support. 

Is this paternalistic?  Is this a publicity stunt? 

Read the article and make up your mind.  My take is that this program is yet another big visionary idea from Howard Schultz.  But don’t ask me if it is tall or grande.


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