Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul by Howard Schultz
Memoir by the CEO of Starbucks about how he turned the company around during the financial crisis of 2007-2009. In 2007, there were lots of small things that indicated the company was losing its competitive edge: they prioritized opening as many stores as possible. Many stores were unprofitable and the company did not have a clear and coherent direction for the future. That’s when Howard Schultz stepped back in as CEO (after having stepped down some years before) to lead Starbucks back to profitability.
Schultz prioritized making the best possible coffee experience and cutting back on costs that didn’t align with this core vision. He started by closing a lot of low-performing stores, then addressing various operational issues with supply chains, computer systems, improving coffee machines, etc. He also launched some initiatives such as a website for customers to voice their opinions, a loyalty program, and instant coffee that tasted like the real thing.
The book was quite annoying in that it reads like a self-promoting, marketing piece, expanded to book length, and unironically thinking that he is doing workers (“partners”) a great favor by employing them. It is apparent that the CEO is passionate about coffee, but it’s not clear how that translates to real outcomes in a large organization. The business decisions were well justified though, especially forward-thinking plans that were initially criticized by analysts but turned out to be good decisions only many years later, which no doubt contributed to the success of the company.