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Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul Paperback – March 27, 2012
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
However, this is not another airbrushed account of a company’s spectacular success. This is an account of a company’s fall, and how it rose again. This is a detailed account of the glory, but also of the failures and misdirected initiatives.
For years Starbucks had been delivering exciting returns to shareholders, and their employees (called partners, ) shared in this success. It was the first US company to offer part-time employees the unusual benefit of medical aid and a share in the company in the form of stock options. It was considered “a great place to work.”
The founder, Howard Schultz had been running the company as CEO until 2000 and then assumed the role of Chairman. The company’s share price rose, it grew in size and profitability each quarter - until it didn’t.
In the pursuit of growth, the company has lost its way, not suddenly, but slowly and steadily.
At the heart of the problem was focus. The task of partners, the Starbucks name for employees, had always been to “deliver on the unexpected” for customers. The atmosphere of the stores was to be warm and friendly, the coffee customised, the service fast and friendly. Shultz had created what he called the “third place”; there is your home, there is your office, and there is your coffee shop. At the third place, one paused to read, or meet, or think, or simply to grab a cup on your way to or from work or during work.
The company was opening as many as six stores each day! Every quarter Wall Street and Starbucks’ executives expected shops to exceed past performance by showing increased revenue. For the past 16 years they had achieved 5% quarterly growth. This unsustainable achievement has two requirements: To achieve it you have to give it your full attention, and other matters cannot get your attention.
As Schultz visited Starbucks stores he recalls noticing that they were no longer “celebrating coffee,” and focusing on the customer experience. They were focused on serving Wall Street, and as he puts it: “Our customers deserved better.”
The act of returning as CEO requires many changes at many levels, and the book describes these pain filled implications in detail. Decent, hard-working executive have to go. The company’s staff have to continue to trust the company with their livelihoods at the same as they are facing some hard and painful truths. Those who have invested their money in the company have to trust it with their wealth, which they can so easily withdraw.
Shultz had spent the two years before returning to run Starbucks observing and talking about what was wrong with Starbucks. The dominating idea at the centre of his thinking was to reignite Starbucks connection with its customers and its love for coffee.
The manner in which he returned to head the deeply troubled, wide spread, huge company would be critical to the success. Unlike the descriptions of this type of planning in other accounts of turnarounds, this has a human, authentic feel, not a clinical and ‘professional’ one. It is told from the perspective of a man who is passionate about his company, the icon he had built, and the revolution in coffee drinking he was so proud of.
To make matters worse, his return was after the company’s worst three-month performance in its history as a public company and during a national economic meltdown.
The book does not describe his solution; he didn’t have one. It describes only his road map and commitment to create long-term value. “I felt as if the team and I were racing to fix a sinking ship while at the same time charting its course and setting sail. And it didn’t help that the economic waters were getting rougher.”
The roadmap was founded on his aspiration: To become an enduring, great company with one of the most recognized and respected brands in the world, known for inspiring and nurturing the human spirit.
The turnabout had seven goals, many of which would mutate as more of the company’s woes revealed themselves.
The first goal was to get back to the origins of the company’s journey by focusing on the product and becoming the “undisputed coffee authority.” It was Schultz’s love of coffee and coffee shops that started the journey, not a quest for wealth, or spotting an opportunity. He was able to assert with pride that through their history only 3% of the world’s highest-quality Arabica beans were ever good enough to make it into their stores.
The second goal was to engage and inspire the staff, so often overlooked as a company lurches from one failure to the next. Starbucks had always believed that they were a people business that sold coffee and needed to reinforce this.
The third goal was to focus on the emotional attachment their customers have with the shops. This subtle, way off balance sheet issue, is always at the heart of a retailer’s success. The depth of this emotional attachment surfaced when the decision had to be taken to close 600 shops in the US that were underperforming and could never perform. 70% of these had been opened in the previous two years when the company lost its way as it focused on Wall Street. Customers of those shops wrote, called and petitioned Starbucks not to close “their Starbucks,” such is the connection people have to Starbucks.
The book is not a text book on how to fix a deeply troubled business. No two failing business are ever the same. It is definitely the best book on the subject I have found, and one that will inspire those charged with a turnaround with its thought provoking approaches.
Readability Light --+-- Serious
Insights High -+---- Low
Practical High ---+- Low
Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy
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.
Very interesting to read how new products came to be and others went by the wayside. Would have liked more details into how some of the decisions were made but how often do we get a CEO writing this frank about a company he dearly loves. What really comes across is how what can only be viewed as a self indulgent commodity can generate so much profit worldwide. Although the economy forced many people to cut back on their trips to Starbucks, those people were the first to go back when their situations improved. That ultimately is what continues to drive Starbucks "Onward".
I use to be a regular customer until my local Starbucks quit serving their Blonde roast after 11am. As Mr. Schultz points out it is the Partners at the local level that makes Starbucks thrive as a whole. Keep the store comps up by selling what the demand is for.
Most recent customer reviews
He should run for President!!