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10 Lessons for Radio from Starbucks’ Howard Schultz

Howard Schultz is the CEO of Starbucks, and you probably know that Starbucks has emerged recently from a dark period of declining sales, store closings, and layoffs.  The company is back now, stronger than ever.  And Schultz tells the tale in his new book Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul


I’m going to pluck out some of the lessons Schultz learned because they couldn’t be more appropriate for an audience of broadcasters.

Think about how these lessons apply to you.

1.  Don’t Lose Sight of what Matters

“Our strategy was to do more of what worked in the past.  But we were not pushing ourselves to do things better or differently.  We were not innovating in lasting ways.  We were venturing into unrelated businesses…and pushing products that deviated too far from the core coffee experience….it was as if we were running a race but no longer knew what we were running for.”

2.  People First

“Starbucks is not a coffee company that serves people.  It is a people company that serves coffee.  Many of the decisions I was making confounded others because they did not grasp the intangible value of preserving the company’s culture.”

3.  Don’t Sacrifice Quality

“[Starbucks got this advice from one outsider:] ‘If you reduce the quality of the coffee you roast by just 5%, no one would know, and that’s a few million dollars in savings right there!’  That was seriously suggested as an option.  But Starbucks would never sacrifice quality for the sake of saving costs. I did not blink.  Every brand has inherent nuances that, if compromised, will eat away at its equity regardless of short term returns.”

4.  Values are Bigger than Profits

“Despite financial challenges, Starbucks was not abandoning its values.  In fact, we doubled down.”

5.  Express Your Brand Identity

“We have got to get on the offensive.  Not on the attack.  But proactively define ourselves, find our voice, and express the personality of the company.”

6.  Innovate

“The best innovations sense and fulfill a need before others realize the need even exists, creating a new mind-set.  With instant [coffee], the intent as to reinvent a commodity, to recast something tired and stale into something magical and fresh, an ambitious goal that was not about stealing market share from existing competitors, but about establishing a new market.  Any market that had not seen innovation for decades was ripe for renewal.”

7.  Stay True to Principles

“In business as in life, people have to stay true to their guiding principles.  To their cores.  Whatever they may be.”

8.  The Power of Story

“At the heart of being a merchant is a desire to tell a story by making sensory, emotional connections.  Every Starbucks store should tell a story about coffee and what we as an organization believe in”

9. The Power of Relationships

“The engaging customer relationships that we create through our partners in our stores – plus the customer connections we foster in digital venues – are paving the way for us to introduce new consumer products and rituals to consumers….”

10.  Worship the Experience

“If coffee and people are our core, the overall experience is our soul.”

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