Howard Behar’s “It’s Not About the Coffee,” discusses the principles underlying the building of a world famous brand.
Behar spent about 20 years in various senior leadership roles at Starbucks. Despite the fact that he did not have an MBA, he and head of the company Howard Schulz, hit it off and Behar became the one to move the Operations forward and make Starbucks profitable. At the time Starbucks only had 28 stores.
Behar’s belief is that a company will thrive if it is built on a ‘People First’ philosophy.
His emphasis was not on the bottom line, but rather for the employees to know “Why are you here? Are you in the right place? Are you doing what makes you happy?”
This was a shift away from just selling the product and pushing the sale, to service and providing the best product with a smile. It was his sincere goal to make the customers happy to be in that store/chain. If that happened, then customers would come back again and again. An effective approach? Definitely. Today there are over 21,000 stores worldwide – over 11,000 in the USA alone.
“It’s Not About the Coffee” breaks the Principles of Personal Leadership into ten chapters:
1. Know Who You Are
2. Know Why You’re Here
3. Think Independently
4. Build Trust
5. Listen for the Truth
6. Be Accountable
7. Take Action
8. Face Challenge
9. Practice Leadership
10. Dare to Dream
Through it all, Behar appears to set aside the model of manager as a ‘me, my way’ leader and instead chooses the model of ‘we can work together in order to create the best result.’
Granted, there has to be a decent product to sell, but Behar’s guidelines in “It’s Not About the Coffee” give value to the employee as a thinking, contributing being, capable of being a partner in the success of the company.
Starbucks as a company hasn’t always made the best choices in the eyes of its customers – the logo change a few years back, the red holiday cup this year – but, think about it. What other company (besides Coke) has this kind of customer loyalty that lights up the internet with pro/con opinions when something changes? If you are a Starbucks customer, you are welcomed at each and every store, made to feel at home by its very décor, served with a smile and as you leave with that (some would say) overpriced cup of coffee, you know that you’ll come back again.
That satisfied customer feel is something that all companies should strive to deliver. It’s why I never go back to some (other) stores, why some chains fail in tough times, why I will return time after time to certain shops, even if they don’t always have what I need.
Full disclosure: I am a loyal Starbucks customer. It’s not because they brew the best cup of coffee in the world; I don’t think they do. But, they deliver consistency, familiarity, a comfortable environment, a decent product, and most of all, wonderful service from pleasant employees wherever I go in the country.
When I saw “It’s Not About the Coffee” for sale in an airport, I picked it up, curious about the business model that would take a regional company to international success story in a couple of decades. Great read for anyone who is interested in seeing how one of the guys at the top did it.