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Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul Hardcover – March 29, 2011
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, April 2011: Onward is not a puff piece. In just under 400 brisk pages, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz details the multitude of factors--the recession, new consumer behavior, overexpansion--that led to the company's downturn during 2007-2008. Obviously, Schultz was successful, and his book has plenty of valuable lessons about management and leadership--standard features for most business books. But the most interesting thing about Onward is Schultz's honesty about the whole process, from his determination to make difficult personnel changes to his admission that he considers it a personal failure when he sees someone with a competitor's cup of coffee. Schultz even makes the chapters about his agonies over the company's breakfast sandwiches a fascinating study in the minute decisions that go into running a multibillion-dollar company. Conflicts, raw emotions, high stakes: Onward is a business book that goes beyond feel-good maxims and actually has a story to tell. --Darryl Campbell
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In 2000, Starbuck's founder and CEO Schultz (Pour Your Heart into It) stepped down from daily oversight of the company and assumed the role of chairman. Eight years later, in the midst of the recession and a period of decline unprecedented in the company's recent history, Schultz-feeling that the soul of his brand was at risk-returned to the CEO post. In this personal, suspenseful, and surprisingly open account, Schultz traces his own journey to help Starbucks reclaim its original customer-centric values and mission while aggressively innovating and embracing the changing landscape of technology. From the famous leaked memo that exposed his criticisms of Starbucks to new product strategies and rollouts, Schultz bares all about the painful yet often exhilarating steps he had to take to turn the company around. Peppered with stories from his childhood in tough Canarsie, N.Y., neighborhoods, his sequel to the founding of Starbucks is grittier, more gripping, and dramatic, and his voice is winning and authentic. This is a must-read for anyone interested in leadership, management, or the quest to connect a brand with the consumer. (Mar.)
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For example, NOT blaming employees who do not have the tools or training to function at their highest potential. Hard work in a circle is not going to help the customers have a better experience, but when you have high turnover rates and an untrained retail staff, it is precisely what happens. Instead of blaming the employees, Howard's solution is to provide them with the training and tools needed to make them better at their jobs.
The idea of being a responsible corporate entity and ensuring that the public is aware of it not only so that the company gets credit for its good deeds, but to raise interest in those good deeds.
In many ways, Howard reminds me of Jiro from the movie, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. You can tell that Howard has a passion for his company and coffee and it is ways of preparing it and how best to do that.
Onward is a fascinating look at one company and how it suffered from rapid growth that took it out of its intended purpose back to that goal.
With that said, the book was still interesting in seeing the difficulty of micro-focusing on each individual customer experience while simultaneously macro-focusing on growth. There are definitely advantages to being on every street corner, but the more spread out the company becomes the harder it is to make that experience unique but consistent for those who want the same product and experience in any location, fast but leisurely for those who aren't in a hurry, and successful for the company that can't help but focus on growth when opening multiple stores every day. Schultz effectively describes all the variables he considered through this time period to "thread the needle" to get the best of this small and big focus.
While it's hard to recognize that the successful companies we depend upon are typically short-lived, this book does a good job of showing why. A founder's focus and commitment to the original vision for a company is difficult to pass on to successors who have to be equally if not more committed to pushing it forward and adapting to changing customer tastes and competitive threats. As Schultz points out here, his successors couldn't accomplish that even though they were good people. Like Michael Dell of Dell Computer, Schultz cared and resolved to come back and make the necessary adjustments to carry Starbucks through. The average CEO probably wouldn't do that. And--as other reviewers have observed--what will happen the next time Schultz retires. It's why so many businesses don't last over extended periods and inevitably submit to competitors who come up with better ideas.
Even several years after it was published, this book is a good read to understand these long-term challenges that all businesses face. Today--as Sears, J.C. Penney and (gasp) even Walmart--seem destined to fail, "Onward" helps to explain why killer business models must be constantly tweaked or else they will eventually stagger and then fail.